‘A Hidden Ulster – people, songs and traditions of Oriel’ – Order Here

Song Introduction

‘The passing on of a tradition, by old singers who belonged to  a doomed culture, was an act of poignant optimism …’

                                                                                       A Hidden Ulster  p. 30

There are 24 songs on videos here. Most of them are sung in acapella sean-nós; some are with instrumental accompaniment. At the bottom of each video are four TABS giving information, words, music and translations under the following headings:





The singers on film here are mainly from Oriel with three others from the Gaeltacht of Donegal, where Irish is still the vernacular of the community, sharing a dialect that was once spoken in Oriel.

The plan by singer Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, to restore and renew the song tradition of Oriel, was purposeful and strategic, and is explained by her in this following short article which was published in CLÁR MÓR for Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, held in Drogheda, Co. Louth August 2018:  Oriel – a renewal of tradition CLÁR MÓR CCE 2018

Following the publication of A Hidden Ulster – people, songs and traditions of Oriel (Four Courts Press) 2003, the author, as singer, began the process of reassembling and assimilating the songs of her choice into her own repertoire and recording them. Once recorded, the songs took on a life of their own as they found their way back into the living oral tradition of other singers. This renewal and and transmission of the songs into the repertoire of singers, is further consolidated and celebrated here by ORIEL ARTS, by recording 24 Oriel songs on film.

The process of transmission is covered in detail. Story of song and its role in community life is at the heart of the publication, A Hidden Ulster – people, songs and traditions of Oriel,  just as traditional song was once at the heart of community life. People sang out their grief in keening songs, used their voices to create vocables and rhythms for dancing, wooed lovers and patrons with mellifluous harp-songs, lamented the downfall of chieftains and the old Gaelic order with long mournful elegies of sorrow, mesmerised children with repetitive lulling songs, and satirised with invective and vigour anyone foolish enough to offend the community.

Song was powerful: it gave comfort, ease and release from the hardships and demands of daily living; it was a socially acceptable vehicle for releasing strong and intense emotion, not usually acceptable through the spoken word in everyday life. Song was at the heart of the expression of the traditional arts of Oriel.

Singer Bríd Ní Chaslaigh

Singer: Bríd Ní Chaslaigh Omeath c. 1912 (AHU p. 405) © A Hidden Ulster & Oriel Arts 2017

A Hidden Ulster was the first major study of the song-tradition of Oriel, drawing on many traditions associated with the songs: markets, patterns, seasonal folk drama; keening and wakes; harpers, poets, patrons and chieftains, with vision poems, laments, courtly songs, dance songs and occupational songs.

Detailed accounts are given of the rituals associated with it, the people who sang the songs, the poets and harpers who wrote them, and the many collectors who thought it worthwhile to write down and record them.

Oriel is known for its many poets and harpers whose works survive to the present day. The Irish language song-tradition in Oriel absorbed and was enriched by many of these literary works of the poets and harpers. The people liked what they wrote and composed, and they sang their songs.

Song Renewal & Oriel Arts

The disparate manuscripts and recordings of many early 20th-century collectors, were sourced and edited; texts and music manuscripts reassembled as song, to recreate what was once a vibrant and vital song tradition. Renewing a song is a long and slow process, unlike that of renewing an instrumental piece of music. It takes a lot more time. It involves the identification of lyrics and music from various sources; making sense of the music as a carrier for the metre of the song; matching lyrics to notation; learning the song if it suits the vocal range of the singer, or finding a singer whose vocal range it suits and teaching the song; assimilating and internalising the song, and then having an outlet for performance of the work and back into the tradition. For this reason, in many of the videos the singer is Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin who has been researching and renewing Oriel song over a long period.

Oriel and Donegal sean-nós singers Pádraigín Ní Uallacháín and Lillis Ó Laoire Oriel Arts 2016

There has been a longstanding linguistic and song connection between the Donegal Gaeltacht and Oriel, since the collector County Louth man, Lorcán Ó Muirí founded an Irish language summer college in Rann na Feirste in 1926. Indeed Oriel enriched the Donegal song tradition with many songs which had found their way into the Donegal repertoire such as Ceol a’ Phíobaire  AHU p. 69 (T with the Maggies), Dúlamán AHU p. 59 (Clannad), Casadh Cam na Feadarnaí AHU p. 90 Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill), An Cailín Rua (Skara Brae), Jinny Dheas a Dhéigh Bhean (Hiudaí Phadaí Hiúdaí Ó Duibheannaigh), An Bonnán Buí AHU p. 44 (Hiúdaí Phadaí Hiúdaí Ó Duibheannaigh), Bruach Dhún Réimhe AHU p. 42 (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh) , Séamus Mac Murfaí AHU p. 241 (Toraigh & Lillis Ó Laoire), Úr Chnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte AHU p. 228 (Aoife Ní Fhearraigh), Úirchill a’ Chreagáin AHU p. 250 (Hiúdaí Phadaí Hiúdaí Ó Duibheannaigh) etc.

This close connection with the Gaeltacht of Donegal continues to enrich the repertoire of both regions.

‘It greatly surprised the old people and terrified some of them to hear the songs back to them from the music machine  ….’

Chuir sé iongantas mór agus sceón air na seandaoine na h-amhráin a chluinsint arais chucu ón ghléas cheóil’                                                             Lorcán Ó Muirí, collector

The singers who gave their songs willingly to the collectors at the turn of the 20th century were many.  They were fully aware of the value of what they were transmitting. They gave their songs freely and enthusiastically, and the process of transmission and collection is both poignant and moving:

Frank Wings Campbell

Singer: Frank Wings Campbell Forkhill County Armagh (AHU p. 304) c.1950 © National Folklore Collection UCD with kind permission

‘Stories and images that emerge during the oral transmission of these last strands of a once vibrant and ancient tradition have left a deep impression; they have a power that moves beyond words; stories that reveal an acute awareness, by the singers themselves, of an art no longer valued but still they sang the songs; accounts of their joy at being heard and their willingness to repeat songs over, and over again for the collectors, knowing full well that their art was in rapid decline; stories of how one collector found a man singing alone in his garden, which he would do each Sunday, in fear ‘that he might lose’ his songs, when no one locally was interested in hearing them any longer; of another woman who, when she met an interested listener one day, sat on a ditch and sang to her heart’s content as her cattle strayed over meadows without her; how another woman refused to share her songs because of the discourteous way in which one young man asked her for them, showing, as she said, ‘a disrespect for the songs’; and an old man who, though destitute, still sang a jaunty ‘Cailleach Riabhach’ in the Carrickmacross Poorhouse where he was visited by Éamonn Ó Tuathail; while yet another singer on his deathbed sent for the collectors, Enrí Ó Muiríosa, a Catholic, who wrote down from him ‘An Dán Breac’ by Séamus Dall Mac Cuarta with the help of Joseph Lloyd, a Protestant: the dying singer believing that he was the last in the locality to have this epic piece and was as concerned for that which was going with him to the grave as he was for the family he was leaving behind.

Under these circumstances, this passing on of a tradition, by old singers and storytellers who belonged to a doomed culture, was an act of poignant optimism.’

A Hidden Ulster p. 29-30

Song workshops at Éigse Oirialla

Siubhán O’Connor Oriel song workshop 2016

Máire Ní Choilm, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Edel Ní Churraoin, Róisín White, Dónall Ó Baoill. Oriel song workshop 2016

Oriel song workshop. Piaras Ó Lorcáin 2016

Singers: Máire Ní Choilm, Geraldine Bradley & Diane Cannon. Song workshop 2016




















ORIEL ARTS is an ongoing project of research, recording, publication and performance, and as songs are renewed and recorded they will be uploaded in the SONG category on ORIEL ARTS.

Oriel Arts © 2019