There are few things as important to Irish culture and tradition as traditional Irish music. So, here are some facts about the Irish flute, one of Ireland’s very own instruments.
As long as there have been pubs in Ireland, there has been traditional music played in them. Plus, we are sure there were mighty trad sessions even before pubs came into existence.
Since its introduction into trad music, the Irish flute has since been a staple instrument that is very common in trad sessions.
It is an instrument that is compact and easy to travel with, easier to learn than some other more complex instruments, and the beautiful high notes of the flute add a lot to any tune’s sound in any session.
What is an Irish flute? – and how does it work?
An Irish flute is a cylindrical wind instrument that is traditionally made from wood.
Concert flutes are generally made from silver or nickel, and as a result, they sound quite different than an Irish wooden flute that is used in traditional Irish music.
A traditional flute typically has eight holes. Six of which you cover with your fingers to change notes, the hole on the top is to blow into to create resonance, and the hole at the bottom is where the air and sound come out of.
Depending on how many of the finger holes you have covered the air will resonate differently inside the flute and produce a different note.
The flute can be quite hard to play at first as you have to blow into it at a specific angle and you can’t just blow into it any angle like you can with a tin-whistle or a recorder.
Traditionally Irish flutes come in the key of D, which means they play the notes D E F# G A B C#. Still, the flutes can also come in different keys or come in the key of D with additional holes that allow you to play other notes aside from the standard D E F# G A B C#.
History of the Irish flute – the story of the Irish flute
Traditional music is a significant part of Irish culture. Although the Irish flute is a traditional Irish instrument, the flute itself is not native to Ireland and was only introduced to Ireland in the mid-1800s by the English.
Flutes were initially made from bones and then wood, but by the time the flute was introduced to Ireland by a German inventor called Theobald Boehm who had made the first flute out of silver.
The Irish people preferred the mellow tones of the old wooden flutes and chose to play those.
There have been several changes between original flutes and the current Irish flutes we know and love today. Most notably, an inventor called Charles Nicholson Jr made lots of positive advancements to the traditional wooden flute.
The origin of the instrument is most associated with counties in the mid-to-west of Ireland such as Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim, Fermanagh, Clare, and Galway.
Some of the most renowned flute makers in Ireland are Eamonn Cotter and Martin Doyle, both based in County Clare. Other prominent Irish flute makers are Hammy Hamilton, who is based in Cork, and Terry McGee, who is based in Australia but exports his flutes worldwide.
Famous Irish flute players – great musicians
Now that you know all about the history of the Irish flute, here is a list of very talented flute players so you can experience the best of what this great Irish instrument has to offer.
Matt Molloy is one of, if not the most, famous players in the world. He is renowned for playing the flute in The Chieftains and a famous player in his own right.
Catherine McEvoy is a very well known among musicians even though she was born in Birmingham, England. Her family, just like many other flute players, are from Roscommon, and that is where she developed her love for the flute.
John McKenna from Leitrim was born in 1880 but left for American in 1909. McKenna began recording his flute playing in 1921 and has greatly influenced flute players ever since.
Born in Sligo in 1926, Peter Horan is another one of the most renowned Irish flute players. Peter played with fiddle player Fred Finn for decades until his passing in 2010 and the duo were huge in the Sligo music scene.