Gaelic music (Irish: Ceol Gaelach, Scottish Gaelic: Ceòl Gàidhealach) is an umbrella term for any music written in the Gaelic languages of Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Gaelic music is a type of Celtic music.
Gaelic music is distinguished from Anglophone musical forms in a number of ways. For example, longer narratives such as murder ballads and songs chronicling the many woes of the singer's life, very common in England and lowland Scotland, and later America, are seldom seen in the Gaeldom. Themes frequently found in Gaelic music include the great beauty and spiritual qualities of nature ("Chi Mi Na Mòrbheanna," "An Ataireachd Ard") and laments for lost loved ones ("Fear a' Bhàta," "Ailein Duinn," "Griogal Cridhe"). The latter are nearly always sung from the female perspective, expressing deep grief if the male lover is dead or begging him to return if he is absent or missing.
In Scotland, long complex piobaireachd, or pibroch, compositions, originally on the Gaelic harp but then transposed to bagpipes and fiddle as these instruments came into vogue in the Highlands in the 16th and late 17th centuries respectively, are also characteristic of Gaelic music, as is the highly ornamented style of Sean-nós singing in Ireland. Other subgenres include puirt à beul and waulking songs. In the Western Isles of Scotland, the distinctive Gaelic psalm singing can be found in Presbyterian churches, though this is simply the Gaelic adaptation of an older English tradition that has become rare in the English-speaking world. This is one of relatively few traditions that managed to spread from England to Gaelic-speaking areas, which for the most part tended to maintain their musical independence.
Dance music such as reels and jigs, usually played on the fiddle, were also common—for example, the Strathspey reel, which likely developed in the Scottish region of the same name. These were usually considered to be "lower" forms of music in the Gaelic world, and as such were often referred to as "ceol beag" ("little music") to distinguish them from the more elevated pibroch style ("ceol mor," or "great music").
Scottish Gaelic music could be found in pockets of the Cape Fear Valley in North Carolina until just after the Civil War. In Nova Scotia, particularly Cape Breton Island, where many Scottish Highlanders emigrated in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there remains a thriving Gaelic music community. Irish Gaelic music can be found in Newfoundland.
Famous Gaelic songs
- Amhrán na bhFiann ("The Soldier's Song")
- Óró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile ("Oh, Welcome Home")
- Ailein duinn ("Dark-haired Alan")
- Chì mi na mòrbheanna ("I See the Great Mountains," also known in English as "The Mist-Covered Mountains of Home")
- Fear a' bhàta ("The Boatman")