Brehon Music

The Everlasting Voices

by W.B. Yeats

O sweet everlasting voices be still;
Go to the guards of the heavenly fold
And bid them wander obeying your will
Flame under flame, till Time be no more;
Have you not heard that our hearts are old,
That you call in birds, in wind on the hill,
In shaken boughs, in tide on the shore?
O sweet everlasting voices be still.


his site hopes to explore the relationship between Brehon Law and music in Ireland from prehistory up until the mid-seventeenth century and the breakup of the old order and disenfranchisment of the ancient family dynasties. One effect was to create, for a time, a class of itinerant harpers, many of whom are indeed celebrated today. But what came before this, in the preceding 1,000 or more years of reigning Brehon Law?

usic, like every other facet of early and Medieval life in Ireland was regulated by the Brehon laws. There are so many questions as yet unanswered, largely because we have not been able to read our own laws, and many of our early manuscripts lie scattered all over the world, (see Untilled Fields of Irish History, by P.B. Ellis) particularly Europe. Celtic Music or Traditional Music, as it is known today, is of course derived from the great oral and bardic traditions. The period when accurate records of Celtic music begin, as we know it, conicides with the end of the the Brehon system, and the very social structure it celebrated. Some questions we are exploring are:

Was music played in conjunction with recitation of law?

What laws governed the composition and playing of music?

What instruments were used?

What role did the bardic schools play?

How much of the early music survived, and in what form?

What was the role of music in helping the Brehon reach his judgment?

Was music required during legal or official proceedings?

We welcome contributions and discussion on these matters. Below are some links we have found that give some direction in this search.

Brehon Music Links

The Origins of Irish Traditional Music Brilliant article by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh from The Standing Stones site. The link below is a response to it, and gives even more insight into this difficult issue.

Thoughts on the Origins of Irish Traditional Music Very interesting article on The Standing Stones site, in two parts. The author, Michael Robinson, acknowledges that "There is virtually no direct evidence in this subject area, so everything is just an opinion, and nothing can be proven." We hope to change that, by supporting the collection, scanning and translation of our ancient manuscripts.

Giraldus Cambrensis, a very early (12th century) commentator on Irish and Welsh music. Another great article at Standing Stones.

What is Celtic music? Introductory article at Ceolas, the home of Celtic music on the internet, since 1994. Ceolas houses the largest on line collection of information on Celtic music, and has links to hundreds of related sites.

What is Traditional Music? Article on the the Irish Traditional Music Archive site. This is a very vital resource for Irish music.

Ancient Music of Ireland This site is devoted to ancient Irish music, mainly inspired by the collections of Edward Bunting, who had attended the famous Belfast Harp Festival in 1792 and had been engaged to note down the music from the last harpers, before it would vanish with them for ever.

Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) takes up a special place in the succession of itinerant harpers, being one of the last composer in the great oral tradition

The World of Medieval Celtic Music Article by ALTRAMAR medieval music ensemble and their presentation: 'Crossroads of the Celts' hosted by Indiana University.         

"The Uileann Pipes "The earliest bagpipes in Ireland - testified to in the fifth century Brehon Laws - were a mouth blown peasant instrument." This succinct article from Tara Music gives a nice mention of the legal history of the Uileann pipes, along with some nice images.



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