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Celtic Music Recordings and Collections at the Archives of Traditional Music


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Allison McClanahan

Credits and Acknowledgements

This guide was created by Emily Paulson with the assistance of Allison McClanahan.

Image Credits:

Collage created by Emily Paulson featuring recordings from the Bealle Collection

Picture of "Celtic musical entertainment" from; "8 facts about the Celts"

Information on "What is Celtic Music?" courtesy of the National Museum of Wales and "Celtic Life International" 


What is "Celtic Music" ?

"Celtic culture" that we think of today begins with the Celts, a collection of tribes with origins across central Europe beginning possibly as early as 1200 B.C. Historians and archeologists believe these tribes were linked through a similar language, religious beliefs, traditions, and culture. Over time, the Celts spread throughout Western Europe as well—including the territories of modern-day Britain, Ireland, France, and Spain. As Caesar and the Roman Empire began to expand north in the first century B.C., much of Celtic civilization and culture was destroyed in mainland Europe. However, a fragment of tribes untouched by Caesar (at the time) remained to the north in what we know as the British Isles. 

Artist rendition of Celtic harp performance; several noble figures sitting around harpist

The early Celtic tribes rarely wrote about themselves, and this included their music. Instead, they relied on a tradition of oral history to pass down their legacies, stories, and music. What we think of as Celtic music today has evolved into a broad number of musical genres from these folk traditions, referring to both orally-transmitted traditional music and popular music with only a resemblance to the traditional folk styles of Celtic peoples.

Even with the more traditional styles, you can still see a large variance in instrumentation dependent upon region, style, and many more factors. There are, however, several instruments typically seen in what is considered "traditional" Celtic music. Some of these instruments you will find include the fiddle, along with other stringed instruments like the guitar, the Celtic harp, and the bouzouki (a type of mandolin-like instrument). Woodwinds include the tin whistle (otherwise known as the "penny whistle," for once being sold on city streets for a penny), Irish flute, and pipes (this includes uilleann pipes and bagpipes). You may also see the accordion, the smaller concertina, and percussion instruments like the bodhran or bones (modernly replaced by spoons or wooden sticks). 

The ATM holds a number of recordings in both instrumental and vocal works, with published works and recordings spanning from as early as ~1910 to as recently as 2016.