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10 Irish Jigs You Should Know (An Introduction)

Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.

10 great jigs.

10 great jigs.

This is a compilation of ten well-known and well-loved Irish jigs. Few musical forms are as stirring as Irish jigs. They lift your mood and engage you from start to finish.

The artists performing the jigs in this compilation aren't just from Ireland but also from other countries including the UK, France and the United States. There are lovers of Irish music worldwide, simply because it's hard not to love it, wherever you're from.

Alternative Names

Many Irish jigs have several different names, which can be confusing to say the least. I've listed a few of the alternative names for each jig that's included in the list, but the first name given is the most common and familiar, at least to me.

1. "Morrison's Jig"

"Morrison's Jig" gained popularity during the 1930s thanks to its coming to the attention of the famous Irish Fiddler, James Morrison, who published and performed it. He originally called it "Maurice Carmody's Favourite", but his name is now forever attached to it. Morrison's Jig is my favourite Irish jig and one that I play on guitar. Nothing, however, beats the sound of it being played on the fiddle, so enjoy Kate Adelson's excellent performance.

2. "Swallowtail Jig"

Also known as "Drioball Na Fáinleoige" and "The Custom House", the Swallowtail Jig is tuneful and lends itself well to improvisation as the recording shows. This version of the Swallowtail jig is performed by the American bluegrass group, The Petersens.

3. "The Kesh"

Also known by the alternative titles "The Castle" and "The Kesh Mountain" among others, "The Kesh" is one of the most frequently performed Irish jigs. Here it is performed by The Celtic Sailors, a French group based in the Seine-et-Marne district of Paris.

4. "The Lilting Banshee"

Sometimes called ""Ballinasloe Jig", "The Miller of Glenmire", "The Whistling Banshee" or "The Wailing Banshee", this is a tuneful jig in A minor (actually A Dorian for any pedants). Enjoy this version played on the tin whistle. The artist performing it is The Whistler, a talented devotee of the tin whistle. Originally from Cork, he shares his talent and knowledge of this ancient Celtic instrument via his YouTube channel and website. If you're interested in the whistle, he is your go-to guy.

5. "The Blackthorn Stick"

"An Maide Draighin" is another name for "The Blackthorn Stick" jig, and it has many more. This version by the American, Baltimore-based Fiddle Studio is followed by a lesson on how to play it (on the fiddle, of course).

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6. "Donnybrook Fair"

Also known as "The Humours of Donnybrook", the title refers to Donnybrook Fair, a permanent fixture in Dublin from the 14th to the 19th century. This version is by the multi-talented, husband and wife duo Dulahan Ireland, who teach Irish traditional music as well as performing it.

7. "Old Hag You Have Killed Me"

Another of my favourites and one that I learned as a guitar arrangement from the legendary folk guitarist, Davey Graham as his student in the 80s. The jig is also known as "Chailligh Do Mhairis Mé", and this fiddle version is by Peakfiddler, whose YouTube channel contains a great collection of Irish tunes.

8. "The Banks of Lough Gowna"

Calum Stewart and his bandmates play this interesting jig effortlessly and with feeling. It's named after Lough Gowna, a lake that straddles the boundary between the counties of Longford and Cavan in Ireland. The Calum Stewart Trio are actually from Scotland, which may explain the spelling of "Lough" as "Loch" in the video captions.

9. "The Rose in the Heather"

Also known as "The Humours Of Corofin", this jig is performed by the Irish champion fiddler and banjo player, Cathal Hayden and his friends. The jig lasts for two minutes in this recording and is followed by a medley of reels.

10. "The Exile's Jig"

Also known as the "Emigrants Jig", "The Exile's Jig" is a slip jig, so the time signature is 98 (three triplet beats per bar) instead of the usual 68 (two triplet beats per bar) . This version is performed by Sweeney's Men.

Types of Jigs

Being a dance form in addition to a musical form, Irish jigs can be classified according to their dance steps as well as to their rhythmic patterns. Musically, Irish jigs are classed as:

  • Single Jig: The 'long note-short note' rhythm of single jigs seems to have less appeal for dancers as they are relatively uncommon.
  • Double Jig: These are the most common jigs and feature the familiar jig rhythm of two triplet beats per bar with most bars made up of six 8th notes.
  • Slip Jig: As noted in "The Exile's Jig", (no.10 in the list above) the slip jig has three triplet beats per bar or measure and a time signature of 'nine-eight'.

Other forms of the Irish jig are based on the type of dance steps involved and include, light jigs, hop jigs and treble jigs. Historically, Irish jigs are thought to have evolved from the 'gigue', a French (and mainland Western European), 16th-century dance. Music written for gigues can be found in the works of Renaissance-Period and Baroque-Period composers such as J.S. Bach's "Orchestral Suite No.3 in D Major."

Try Seeing Live Sessions

I hope you have enjoyed this compilation of Irish jigs on video. To experience traditional Irish music sessions at their most exciting, however, nothing beats seeing and hearing them live, and preferably in a pub setting.

Fortunately, traditional Irish music has spread far and wide across the globe, and just about every major city has at least one Irish pub. Even Phnom Penh in Cambodia, where I was based for a while, has an Irish pub that is warm and welcoming with music provided by expats.

© 2021 Chas Mac

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