In the world of folklore, folk music is one of the ways a community of people has of expressing their values. It is through the music’s sound (instruments, rhythm), words (message) and use (when the music is played and for whom) that people identify themselves and pass on orally important information, like lessons, from one generation to the next.
In contemporary Western society, the ability of folk music to hold its own – to survive - while adapting to a range of influences proves that folk music is not just a thing of the past. Re-inventing folk music shows how creative musicians can be with timeless and universal folk themes (motifs) such as love, hope, despair, and faith.
For example, consider how Irish folk music has managed to stay alive in the music of U2, Enya, Snow Patrol, the Cranberries, and The Script. Each one of these artists and artist groups combine basic Irish folk music with today’s rock/alternative music Many of the same keys or tunes of yesteryear are still very much alive.
According to the Topographia Hibernica (Topography of Ireland), the Irish were very skilled when it came to playing music. This 12th century account of the landscape and people of Ireland written by Gerald of Wales recounts that the two instruments mostly often used were the harp and the tabor (a small snare drum).
It wasn’t until the 19th century that Irish folk music really began to spread. Ballad printers (ballad collections) made it easier for musicians to record their work and then share it with the public.
Traditionally, Irish music was performed by one person singing, but this evolved as groups incorporated this type of music within their songs. Many of Irish folk songs known today are less than 200 years old as shown by the language. Gaelic or Irish vocabulary was used but English words and phrases soon began to appear. Quite a few of the earlier recorded songs were about emigration and starvation. Songs in which Irish artists lament or express sorrow are called Caoinead. Some of the most popular songs using this style of music are: Far Away in Australia, The Town I loved So Well and Four Green Fields.
Folk music grew slowly. In 1959 the Irish musicians The Clancy Brothers had great success in America which had the most popular music market in the world; their music had integrated a bit of rock n roll sound. In the 1980’s bands such as U2 and Thin Lizzy spiked this music’s popularity incorporating some of the traditional aspects in their most popular songs.