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Sean Nos - Old Style Singing

05 Feb 03 - 11:32 AM (#883141)
Subject: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,Puffenkinty

I am trying to learn more about a traditional
type of singing in Ireland called "Sean Nos".
Can anyone give me some background on the style?
Which performers are adept at Sean Nos? Any good CD's
with some examples?

05 Feb 03 - 11:53 AM (#883166)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Sorcha

There is a lot of stuff here, but the forum search is down and I have no clue how to find it!

05 Feb 03 - 11:57 AM (#883173)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Sorcha

Found this on Alice's page......Sean Nos

05 Feb 03 - 11:57 AM (#883174)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,Puffenkinty

Thanks, Sorcha. I'd tried a forum search and
couldn't find any info. Didn't
realize it was down.

05 Feb 03 - 12:29 PM (#883222)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Alice

I'll refresh some threads for you that I have traced.


05 Feb 03 - 12:35 PM (#883230)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing

Sean-nos singing - A Bluffers Guide

05 Feb 03 - 12:49 PM (#883245)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Alice

See the thread I refreshed about Joe Heaney, an audio file of a program that Ron Olesko did.

Here is also another page on Joe Heaney:
"I never had a steady job" Joe Heaney: A Life in Song

More excerpts from an earlier thread:

From: Barry Finn - PM
Date: 19 Mar 98 - 07:57 PM

Hi Alice, went looking for an old LP of mine that I can no longer find, that had some very nice singing on it , by 3 different sean-nos
singers, cant remember anything about it now, except for the title "The Lambs On The Green Hills". Comhaltas, in 1977, put out a
book, prepared by Seamus MacMathuna, with a tape of trad singers, tape's among the missing , still have the book, "Traditional Song
& Singers". If you hit Boston, there are some great sean-nos singers here. Bridget Fitzgerald, who's performing at Celtic Roots Fest.
Boston & NEFFA ("songs I learnt from Joe"), & I see from the schedule a good few Mudcaters will be there, is a great old style
singer from the Gaeltacht area of Conamara, not far from Spideal, where I believe she & her sister (another geat singer) Sally Coyne,
were influenced by the geat Tomas O Coisdealbha (Tom Phaidin Tom), who I think put out an LP, produced by Comhaltas, back in
the late 70's, when he would've been in his mid 80's.

Alice, I'd have to agree with Martin about Mary O'Hara. I haven't heard her in ages, so I pulled out her "Songs Of Ireland" LP with
her unac'd version of "Sliabh na mBan" & still didn't get to excited, to trained & parlor style for me.

Aine, some of the older Ulster style singers you might like, forgive me if you're already familiar with, Paddy Tunney, Geordie Hanna
& his sister, Sarah Anne O'Neill & Eddie Sweeney.


Subject: RE: fellow sean-nos singers?
From: Martin Ryan - PM
Date: 20 Mar 98 - 03:53 AM

Just remembered that one of the singers clubs in Ireland has a web site.

The Nenagh Singers Circle is based in a small town in Tipperary. They would include a range of styles of unaccompanied singing in
Irish and English.The site includes, among other things, a list of similar clubs, with contacts and phone numbers.


Still can't emulate Wolfgangs trick and make these "clickable"!


Subject: RE: fellow sean-nos singers?
From: MarcB - PM
Date: 20 Mar 98 - 07:04 PM
In The Mudcat Shop: Martin Carthy

Consider me both interested and a traditional sean nos singer(as much as a well-melted American can ever be such). Whether or not I
do an old style authentically probably depends on who you ask(and I'll leave it to others to decide). I have spent more energy in the
last few years finding an unaccompanied style that feels both traditional and LIKE ME, rather than worrying about whether it sounds
like someone else. Only because that's what I wanted to be about, not because I have any itch with striving for truly traditional sounds
as embodied by great singers.

Although a good deal of my repertoire is Irish I am probably more akin to traditional acappella English singers, ala Louie Killen,
Martin Carthy, and tons of others. Am also heavily into Shantey singing so Stan Hugill has been a big influence in person and in

I'll give some more thought to singers I believe in! Marc

Subject: RE: fellow sean-nos singers?
From: Barry Finn - PM
Date: 24 Mar 98 - 12:33 PM
In The Mudcat Shop: South

Aine, That's Ossian they have a good collection. Close by me (southern NH), I don't know where in
the states you are, there are some very nice folks who have a good working knowledge of Sean-Nos recordings there E-Mail is ( ). Good Luck, Barry

Subject: RE: fellow sean-nos singers?
From: Cliff McGann - PM
Date: 26 Mar 98 - 08:42 PM
In The Mudcat Shop: Say A Song

I wouldn't consider myself a Sean-Nos singer although I do sing some Irish songs. I studied Scot's Gaelic in Nova Scotia and teach it
here in the Boston area but since Irish is more prominent here I have learned some songs. One of the best sources for Sean-Nos
recordings is the Irish record label Clo/-Iar Chonnachta(CIC) based in Conamara. Their website is @ I
would suggest gaining an understanding of the different styles of Sean-Nos by obtaining recordings that are representative of those
styles. Some suggestions would be Connemara singer Sea/n 'ac Dhonncha's CD An Spailpi/n Fa/nach or Donegal singer Lillis O/
Laoire's CD Bláth Gach Géag dá dTig or the CD Bruach na Carraige Báine by Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin which features sean-nós
songs from Muskerry, Co. Cork (ALL Avaialbel FROM CIC). Another recording of Sean-Nos many people are not aware of is Joe
Heaney's Say A Song which was recorded while he was an artist in residence at the University of Washington. Some Good stuff on
it. For more info check

Good Luck, Cliff.

Subject: RE: fellow sean-nos singers?
From: Martin Ryan - PM
Date: 02 Apr 98 - 11:02 AM
In The Mudcat Shop: A Compilation

Two recommendations for anyone who'd like an idea of what sean-nos singing is - and its relation to Irish traditional singing in

(i) "Amhrain ar an Sean-Nos" is a compilation CD drawn from the archives of RTE, the national radio station. Mostly studio
recordings in the late fifties/early sixties, with some field recordings.Songs (in Irish) and singers from all over the country. Words in
Irish, outlines in English and good notes.

(ii) "Hurry the Jug" is a compilation CD drawn from classic Topic label recordings of Irish traditional singers around the same period.
Mostly field recordings. Almost all in English. These are the sources from which many of the later well-known singers drew
inspiration and songs.

Where to get them? try "Ulstersongs" at
Tell John Moulden I sent you! I'll add him to the links page.

Each of the above is 78 mins long - so there's great value as well.


Here also is a link to National University of Ireland, Galway, where you can find audio clips of samples of sean nos singing by several different singers.


05 Feb 03 - 01:17 PM (#883259)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,Claire

I have a question.

What would you call the performance style if many of the criteria for singing sean nos are met, but the song is in English. I am putting A Stor Mo Chroi on our new cd and I might like to have a couple words to describe the style of singing in the liner notes.

Thanks, Claire

05 Feb 03 - 01:49 PM (#883281)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Frankham


Would Margaret Barry (The Irish Tinker Lady) be considered Sean Nos?
Her version of "She Moves Through The Fair" is a classic.


05 Feb 03 - 02:35 PM (#883322)
Subject: RE: macaronic song
From: Desert Dancer


The fancy technical term to sling about in the liner notes is "macaronic". As in, "This lovely macaronic song combines both Irish and English lyrics..." The term applies to any song or poem incorporating any two (or more?) languages.

I'm not getting any results on a Mudcat forum search; I think it's trouble with the search engine. But here's a substantial thread that came up with a filter on thread titles: Macarónachas / Macaronic Songs. Language mixi.

I did a Google search on "Irish macaronic song" and came up with a lot of hits (often from other people's liner notes or reviews). Here are a few: "Ó Muirithe, Diarmuid has lectured in Irish at UCD, has published on dialectology, his major research being on the macaronic song."
"Broadly speaking the repertoire of the Irish song tradition can be divided into five categories, songs in Irish in the sean nos style, Anglo - Irish songs, macaronic songs (songs in both England [English] and Irish), songs of British origin, and others."

See the notes at the bottom of this page for an interesting related thought on the source of nonsense syllables:
~ Becky in Tucson (as you know!)

05 Feb 03 - 02:41 PM (#883330)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Fleadhman

I'm lucky enough to be going to Rosslare Co. Wexford on Friday for a weekend of traditional singing. (sean nos). This weekend is organised every year by well known Wexford singers Phil Berry and John O Byrne. I have been going for the last six years and would'nt miss it now. There are singers there from all over Ireland and England and hundreds of Traditional songs will be sung before the weekend is over. I won the All Ireland traditional singing competition in the year 2000 and was second in 2001.
I will write a report of the weekend when I come back.

05 Feb 03 - 04:59 PM (#883460)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing


Does macaronic refer to songs that mix Irish and English, or does it actually refer to the style of singing.... lyrical, melody varied with every verse, stretched rhythm, flat dynamic, unaccompanied, and other sean nos syle characteristics being applied to an English language song.

The trip to Rosslare sounds wonderful, please report the details here.


05 Feb 03 - 05:50 PM (#883507)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: mack/misophist

Twenty years ago or more, the winners of a competition called Keltis Keltorai Eirann (I think that's right) performed at San Francisco's Irish Cultural Center and KPFA broadcast the whole show. It included over half an hour of 'solo singing without instruments'. The singing reminded me a lot of solo whistle music. On a couple of songs they bent the rules and had a clog dancer stepping in the background. A treat, a real treat! Don't miss a chance to hear it. It must have been Sean Nos, I guess.

05 Feb 03 - 06:54 PM (#883553)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Alice

A macaronic song is a song that has words in two different languages mixed together (like a verse in one language and the chorus in another or phrases of a different language mixed into the lyrics). Macaronic and sean nos (old style singing) are two different things.

05 Feb 03 - 07:00 PM (#883555)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Noreen

Claire, macaronic songs contain two different languages, eg Irish and English.
A song in the sean-nós style in English would (in my experience) be still accurately described as sean-nós, although the original meaning was Irish language songs.

05 Feb 03 - 09:25 PM (#883636)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Sorcha

Or, macaronic could be Italian and Gaelic...........just 2 diff languages.

06 Feb 03 - 06:19 AM (#883847)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing

We should be careful not to attempt to delineate too narrowly what is or isn't 'sean-nós. There are no rules about it, only time-honoured conventions. The term 'Sean-nós' itself is just Irish for 'old style' or 'old custom'. Thus we have sean-nós dancing as well as singing. When applied to singing in Irish it means sung in the traditional style. Styles do vary from district to district but they are all correctly called 'sean-nós'( notice the long 'oh') . If the song is an English-language song then I'd say just announce it as a song 'in the traditional Irish style'.

06 Feb 03 - 06:42 AM (#883855)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: HelenR

Did anybody post this link yet, to an article on mustrad about Sean Nos in Donegal? 'Sean Nos in Donegal' , article from Mustrad

Sorry, haven't had time to read the whole thread as I'm at work - printing it to read later!
x H

06 Feb 03 - 08:32 AM (#883924)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,allen woodpecker

There's a fundamental difference between style and content. Speaking puristically (is that a word?), sean nós MUST be sung in Irish. Irish language songs are basically emotive, with little in the way of narrative (and I am being very general here), as opposed to English language songs, which tend to be more narrative and balladic. Thus, the style of sean nós is very much about the emotion of the piece, and this is done through vocal technique and localised stylings. Joe Heaney is one of the finest examples of the genre - not what everyone would call a wonderful singer in terms of his actual voice, but in terms of technique, quite a class apart. English language songs can be a sung in a traditional "style", sure, but the proper sean nós exists on a deeper level than vocal purity and/or dexterity. Someone like Liam Weldon has been described as singing in a sean nós style, which is accurate in terms of emotional intensity. I've been described as having a sean nós influence, but this was probably by someone who was unfamiliar with Ulster style, and needed a convenient adjective.
peace and love a.w.

06 Feb 03 - 09:01 AM (#883946)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,Philippa

two corrections:
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Misophist 05 Feb 03)

new website for Cló Iar-Chonnachta (Cliff McGann 26 Mar 98, repeated in message from Alice)

does Cliff still participate at Mudcat?still teach Gàidhlig in Mass.?

Fleadhman, any chance you'll come north to Portaferry for a Mudcat gathering the weekend beginning 28 Feb? I'm afraid Wexford is far for me, especially as I want to be home Sun night for concert of Ann Martin and Ingrid Henderson on tour from Skye.

The term seann-nós is also used by Scottish Gaels.

I've heard Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin say that her husband Len Graham is an English-language "sean-nós" singer.

In my book, the use of just the phrase "A Stór Mo Chroí" doesn't qualify that song as "macaronic". By the way, Celia Ní Fhlaithearta (Fhlatharta? Síle??) has a nice recording of the song translated into Irish. Despite her singing style, that version probably doesn't rate as "sean-nós" because of the modern accompaniament.

06 Feb 03 - 09:26 AM (#883959)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: pattyClink

Helen, thanks for linking that article! Very informative and DOCUMENTED!!!

06 Feb 03 - 11:31 AM (#884045)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,Claire

I would not class A Stor Mo Chroi as macaronic either, rather it is an English song (written originally in English). However, when Sara and Rita Keene sing the song, it definitely meets my idea of traditional Irish singing, even though it is two-voiced. I really like the term traditional Irish style because on a cd I don't want to be discounted by calling it English Sean nos, even though to me that would be my personal definition.

You might enjoy this....I first learned this song based on the singing of Maire Ni Cheileachair's cd GUTH AR FAN. She has wonderful tone, rolls and wonderful expression. I highly recommend listening to her, if you haven't. I learned the song, but found it missing something... basically I didn't get shivers, it was so technical and so straight in that version. I went back to listen to the Keane sister's version -what a difference. I relearned it with the intervals in their version, adding some of the same rolls, but others just seem to come out when I sing it. This dissonant version gets to me every time. I shiver up a storm and my audiences seem to feel it too. It feels ancient and lonely - to me that is singing from the emotional quality, not from the view of the balladier. I will privately think of this as English sean nos -it may be as close as I will get, not being born in Ireland, nor a native Irish speaker.

Hope this wasn't too long... I wonder if others have made this type of journey with a song.


06 Feb 03 - 11:45 AM (#884057)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Declan

As others have said Sean-Nós is a term which is usually reserved for singing in Irish. The term tends to be much abused and is used by some people to define any unaccompanied singing. All unaccompanied singing is not sean-nós, nor is a song sung in Irish necessarily Sean Nós. I'd find it hard to say exactly what defines this particular style, but I know it when I hear it. That is not to say that other styles of singing are any less traditional, or good than Sean Nós, in fact I find I really like to hear this particular style in fairly small doses, but that's my own preference.

Sean Nós shares much of its ornamentation with other Irish singing styles and many who sing in English will have a style that is influenced to some degree or other by it. As I usually say in topics of this nature I'm much more interested in hearing people puting the style into practice than in long debates about whether it fits into a particular category.

06 Feb 03 - 12:05 PM (#884076)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing

the Cló Iar-Chonachta link does seem to be working
Try or

06 Feb 03 - 12:15 PM (#884082)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Alice

Some sound samples here:

06 Feb 03 - 12:44 PM (#884098)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,JohnB

Sean Keane has taught Sean Nos singing at the Goderich Celtic College for the last two years.

06 Feb 03 - 02:34 PM (#884195)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy

info here about U. Wisconsin Milwaukee's Celtic Center Sean Nos Weekend with concert and workshops by Lillis O Laoire Feb. 28 & March 1, free lecture, $ concert, $10 workshops & Session in the evening on Saturday at a nearby Pub, sounds good. call 414-229-6520

06 Feb 03 - 04:23 PM (#884247)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Felipa

Lilis is excellent. Go to that workshop if you are in the area.

06 Feb 03 - 06:13 PM (#884325)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Frankham

Sounds like it's another "what is a folksong?" discussion. I know it when I hear it but am I hearing it right?

Sean Nos has to be sung in Irish? That is unless it's not Sean Nos but "Old Style"? I would think that if it were sung in half in Gaelic and Italian it would be macaronic. :)

Anyway, long live Joe Heany!   Loved what he did regardless of what musical box he's put in.

Margaret Barry apparently sang in English which disqualifies her from being a Sean Nos singer.



07 Feb 03 - 02:34 PM (#884942)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: pattyClink

I agree Frank. All this learned categorization is going to straitjacket the old songs like the mechanized stepdancers who can only dance to their special taped competition music. I think of old-timers house-ceili'in around, open to whatever kind of amusement their neighbors cared to share, and I think they would laugh long and merrily at the judgmental ideas people have formed about sean-nos.

08 Feb 03 - 04:35 AM (#885376)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Felipa

for those who can get to Wisconsin events, the details are at>

What a coincidence, "Celia Ní Fhathartaigh" is listed as one of the singers listed for the concert at the Sean-Nós weekend
(maybe some Mudcatter can get the words she has for A Stór Mo Chroí)

08 Feb 03 - 05:10 AM (#885383)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Felipa

Other web citations spell her name Celia Ní Fhatharta

if you want to read In Japanese about Irish sean-nós see Michael's website

08 Feb 03 - 11:13 AM (#885506)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Peg

I second that, Felipa! I heard Lilis sing and also give a talk on sean nos at Harvard some years ago and he is amazing...I believe he is considered one of the top male singers in the world of this style of music.

re: your PM about Cliff McGann. I don't know him. I have not seen his name anywhere that Gaelic is taught here in Boston, so not sureif he has moved on? It would be nice to hear soe of his music though. Looks like he is no longer on Mudcat either...

I like the singing of Maireadh ne Dhomnaill; very lyrical and lush in that modern way, but she also does a cappella sean nos style...

13 Feb 03 - 04:08 PM (#889746)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Fleadhman

I have just returned from the trip to Rosslare for the Wexford Traditional Singers fabulous weekend. I was MC on the Friday night and had a list of 56 singers from all over Ireland, Scotland and England. the singing lasted until 5.30am Sat and continued from 11.30am Sat until 6.00am Sun. We then started the final session on Sun at 12.30 and finished up at 7.30pm. I will write a fuller report later but believe me it was a weekend not to miss.
Seamus Brogan

22 Nov 10 - 02:43 PM (#3038141)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,H!

I love Iarla O'Lionaird, he is from Munster (south West ireland) and he sings some very famous songs, you can look him up in itunes, i love his Buchallin Bhán! brilliant!

23 Nov 10 - 12:25 PM (#3038763)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: peregrina

Veteran has just released the CD 'Round Top Wagon' by London based Irish Traveller Tommy McCarthy, a wonderful sean nos singer; CD and info on the Veteran site and EFDSS site, a review in FRoots which can't be read by non-subscribers begins with the words 'gently intoxicating voice.'

23 Nov 10 - 02:54 PM (#3038872)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,PatrickH

here's a fine resource on Carna singer Joe Heaney:

23 Nov 10 - 03:02 PM (#3038883)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: peregrina

23 Nov 10 - 03:10 PM (#3038889)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Herga Kitty

Mick Ryan wrote Desperate Dan to sing in Sean Nos style, as a humourous tribute...


23 Nov 10 - 03:13 PM (#3038891)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: Amos

We have a highly accompllished Sean Nos practitioner in the person of our own David Ingraham of Portland. Just in case you want to compare notes or some such.


09 Oct 13 - 08:05 AM (#3565380)
Subject: RE: Sean Nos - Old Style Singing
From: GUEST,Joe Heaney Festival | Sean Nós Singing

If you like Sean Nós Singing (Old Style Singing) - come to the annual Joe Heaney Festival of Traditional Singing in Connemara.

You can watch last year's concert here:

More info:

This festival celebrates the life and achievements of the renowned sean nós singer, Joe Heaney, a native of Aird Thoir, Carna, who died in Seattle, USA, in 1984 and is buried in his native parish.

Phone        095-33599 / 087-1826970