Irish Language Blog

Riverdance – Traditional Irish Dance and Music Posted by on Aug 20, 2020 in Culture

Haigh a chairde! Hi friends!

Bridgette is ainm dom, and I am the new Irish blogger. Deas bualadh leat go léir, it is nice to meet you all even if it is just virtually.

I wanted to start off our time together with a cultural blog, especially since it is something I hold dear to my heart. So first, a little background story:

My grandmother was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She came over to the US when she was 28 and met my Sicilian grandfather, and the rest is history as they say. Now, I am extremely proud to say that I am an Irish citizen myself, and I have been delving deep into Ireland’s culture, language, and heritage.

One particular memory seems to have really begun to resurface as I discover my new nationality, and that is of the theatrical show Riverdance. Riverdance has been touring and performing since 1995, and it depicts traditional Irish music and dance. When I was a kid spending the night at my grandmothers, we would always watch Riverdance; she had a seemingly endless amount of their shows on VHS. This was something that I thought was completely normal: that everyone was mesmerized by Irish dance and musical performances at their grandparents house. I now realize that this is just one of many things that were very specific to my childhood and my grandmother’s love of her heritage. It is something I did not understand or maybe I even took it for granted then, but I have a deep appreciation of it now.


In honor of this, I would like to share with you a 1995 Riverdance performance, one that I remember watching many times, as well as some background information and some vocabulary.

As you can see, traditional Irish step dance includes a rigid torso and steps performed high on the balls of the feet. In the late 19th century Conradh na Gaeilge, the Gaelic League, took steps to preserve and promote Irish step dance as a nationalist movement. Conradh na Gaeilge, abbreviated CnaG, is still active today and has been since 1893, promoting Irish culture and language throughout Ireland. (I have also had the pleasure to learn Irish with them!)

Here are some instruments that you hear in Irish folk music:

Fidil – Fiddle (violin)

The most important instrument, Fidil has been played in Ireland as long ago as the 8th century.


Cláirseach – Harp

Cláirseach is a symbol of Ireland and a key for Irish traditional music. An ancient instrument, played as long ago as the 10th century.


Feadóg mhór – flute

Used in Irish traditional music since around the middle of 19th century.


Píobaí uilleann – Uilleann pipes 

Literally called “Pipes of the Elbow” this notoriously difficult instrument traditionally demands seven years learning, seven years practicing, and seven years playing before one can claim to have mastered Píobaí uilleann. It is a type of complex bagpipe, and what makes it unique from other bagpipes is that it is filled with air by a bellows held by the musicians elbow and side, as opposed to their lungs.


Cairdín – accordion

Since the late 19th century, the accordion is integral to more modern Irish music.


Bainseó – banjo

You may be surprised to hear that a banjo has become common in Irish traditional music, seeing as how it evokes a thought of the American south. That is because the banjo was an instrument that was brought from the USA to Ireland by returning Irish emigrants.


Rewatching Riverdance today and hearing the traditional Irish folk music makes me a bit emotional. The sounds of the rhythmic tapping of the feet and the melody of the fidil brings me right back to when I was young drinking tea with my Irish grandmother in front of the tacar teilifíse, TV set. I am happy to say that I was lucky enough to see a Riverdance show live years ago!

Have you ever watched or seen a Riverdance show live? If you grew up Irish-American, what were some of your memories that were directly related to your Irish heritage?

Slán go fóill! Bye for now!

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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Client Engagement for Transparent Language.


  1. John Moriarty:

    Love your blogs, an cairdiuil with good humor.

  2. Maria Carmen Haider- Serrano Childs:

    Beautiful music!

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