Most countries in the world have their own particular type of folk music but the Irish are possibly the best when it comes to Ballads. I was asked recently why our band was called Keltic Jam as we played such an eclectic mix of music. It is mainly because we grew up hearing and loving all genres of music but it got me thinking about the best traditional Irish ballads of all time and I came up with the following list.
I suggest that the top 3 are:
This poignant ballad of longing for home is hard to beat in any man’s top list. The minor chords and the interplay with major chords creates an emotional ebb and flow that last well beyond the first hearing of this beautiful ballad. The role of alcohol to drown the young man’s sorrow, the loss of his love, the passage of time to old age are all woven together in this beautiful ballad. The song has been passed down with no known credit for the original songwriter.
- The Fields of Athenry
A ballad is not a ballad in Ireland without love and loss. This story has a father sent away yo prison in Australia, from Ireland, for stealing food for his starving wife and children during the “Great Famine.” The verses alternate between the young wife left at home and the young man doomed to years in prison. The Irish have the talent of making a song sorrowful in a major key. Songwriters, these days, are taught that minor keys are for sad songs and major keys for happy songs. They need to listen to this ballad to learn the error of their ways. The song was written in the 1970’s by Pete St. John.
- Danny Boy
Although the song was written by an Englishman, Frederic Weatherly, this song is most commonly sung and performed by the Irish. The melody is that of the Irish ballad, “Londonderry Air.” Once again, performed in a major key, the song is as poignant as a ballad can be. The story is that of a father singing from the grave to a son or daughter who has left and gone away. We are not sure why he or she has gone, but the song captures the longing of a parent for their dearly loved offspring in as evocative a fashion as words can portray.