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Singing in Irish Gaelic

As you know if you’ve been following these blogs, one thing I highly recommend for any language learner is singing.

Singing regularly in the language you’re learning reinforces your learning in so many ways. It gets the sounds of the language firmly in your mind (and in your mouth). And if you have a good repertoire of songs to draw from, you’ll find it easier to remember such things as the genders of nouns, or how to form the genitive and vocative cases.

(If you’d like to delve a bit deeper into the relationship between music and learning, this article, by Jon Weatherford Stansell of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a good place to start.)

I was lucky

When I first started learning Irish, I was very fortunate in that one of my first teachers was a singer and, as we had several enthusiastic singers in the class, every lesson ended with a song or two.

If you don’t have a teacher, though, or if your teacher isn’t a singer, you may find it a bit difficult to get into Irish singing. Granted there are plenty of CDs out there featuring songs in the Irish language, but many don’t have lyrics in the liner notes.

If you’re very new to Irish, even having the lyrics may not be terribly helpful to you at first, as you’re still learning to associate the look of the written language with the sounds it makes (and singers on performance CDs often don’t enunciate distinctly).

Resources for absolute beginners

Fortunately, there are some really good resources out there for beginners who want to get started singing in Irish:

Singing In Irish Gaelic by Mary Mc Laughlin is a terrific resource for beginners who want to start learning to sing in Irish.  The course consists of a book and an CD. In the book, the songs are organized from easiest to most difficult, and each listing includes the actual Irish lyrics, a phonetic rendering of the lyrics, a translation, and the sheet music.

The tracks on the accompanying CD are in the same order as in the book. For each song, the first track has the words of the song pronounced slowly and clearly, with a pause for you to repeat them after the speaker. The second track has the song sung slowly and distinctly, so you can practice along with the singer.

There is also a second book available in this series specifically geared toward Irish Christmas music: A Gaelic Christmas Songbook. This book is organized along the same lines as “Singing In Irish Gaelic,” and also includes an audio CD.

The CD in this case has only the spoken version of the songs, as it’s meant to be used in conjunction with the performance CD: A Gaelic Christmas. Still, once you’ve worked through the pronunciation on the CD that accompanies the book, it’s easy to sing along with the arranged versions.

As you progress

If you already have some Irish, a great resource for more advanced beginners and intermediates is Fios Feasa’s “Amhrán is Fiche” (21 Songs) series: Amhrán is Fiche (“21 Songs”), Amhrán is Fiche Eile (“Another 21 Songs”), and Amhrán is Fiche don Nollaig (“21 Christmas Songs”).

These CDs can be used by individuals or with classes and study groups. Played on the computer, they allow you to follow along with a bouncing ball as you learn the lyrics. They also have backing tracks, to allow you to sing karaoke style.

The CDs can also be played as ordinary music CDs, so once you learn the songs, you can play them in the car and sing along!

Fios Feasa also has lesson plans available to go with these products, which is handy if you’re teaching a class or leading a study group.

Another good one for intermediates

Another good resource for more advanced learners is Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s CD A Stór is A Stóirín.

This is a performance CD, but it comes with a fat little booklet that includes all the song lyrics, as well as a translation and background for each.

The arrangements are simple, and the singer articulates clearly, which makes it much easier to follow along, once you have the basic sounds of Irish clearly in your mind.

The gold standard

Once you’ve been solidly hooked into singing in Irish and are comfortable reading directly from Irish without aural or phonetic help, there are two song books you’ll find indispensible: Ceolta Gael 1 and Ceolta Gael 2 by Seán Óg and Manús Ó Baoill.

Between them, these two books represent the most complete collection of Irish Gaelic songs available.  Music is included, but no translations, phonetics, or CDs, so you will need to be pretty comfortable reading Irish before these are of much use to you.

Something worth striving for, don’t you think?

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Have you wanted to learn to sing in Irish, but weren’t sure how to get started? Had you thought of singing as a learning aid before? Let us know your thoughts below!

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4 thoughts on “Singing in Irish Gaelic”

  1. Thank you! I’ve been meaning to learn how to sing in Gaelic for quite some time. I mainly wish to learn lullabys, my voice is too soft for other songs. Plus, Gaelic has a more calming effect on children than their native English language.

    1. Thank you so much for your post. I have not thought about the calming effect of the Gaelic music on children. This is very interesting to think about. What will be the first lullaby you learn?

  2. Gearóid, I agree. I sing in a classical Anglican choir, and when I first started learning Irish, I would come home after church on Sundays and look up the Psalm for that day, while it was still fresh in my mind.