5 Real World Irish traditional albums you should hear

We've had a look back on Real World's catalogue to select 5 albums of Irish traditional music you should know about and compiled a new playlist featuring a selection of Irish traditional tracks from our catalogue alongside essential classics and new music by other labels.

Our Irish Traditional playlist is available on Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer. Listen to the playlist here, and enjoy our quick rundown…

1. Music at Matt Molloy's

Various Artists

Released 27 July 1992

Matt Molloy famously maintained a no-taping policy at music sessions in his iconic Irish pub in Westport, Co. Mayo. That was until one week in the early nineties, when he set about the task of capturing the music in its most untainted form. As a member of The Chieftains, The Bothy Band and the most renowned flute player of his generation, Matt has been involved in of hundreds of commercial recordings, but his plan was to reverse the normal recording process in this instance: it was to be enjoyable for the musicians no matter how severely this inconvenienced the technology. The result is an album which captures the Irish traditional session in all its raw magic and spontaneity. It’s an immersive experience in which even the jolly pub audience, the Westport Set Dancers and the character of the unique venue all play a part in making you feel like you’re right there, armed with a pint of Guinness. Featured musicians include Matt Molloy himself, renowned guitarist Arty McGlynn, Sean, Cora and Breda Smyth, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Paul Doyle and Noel O’Grady.

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2. Lament

Various Artists

Released 01 March 1992

Released in 1992, Lament was a special project conceived by performance artist Nigel Rolfe as a donation to the city of Derry and its people. Each performer on the album was asked to record their saddest air as a memory for the loss of innocent lives during in the Troubles. Amongst those featured on the album are Davy SpillaneChristy MoorePaddy Glackin and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill.

“It is important to make a tribute, a marker to the sad and unnecessary loss of life through violence in the troubles in these islands. This gathering of laments is a monument to this sadness, to innocence, to hope. Whilst listening there is reflection of a landscape, of a human condition and of profound grief. The situation of innocent death served by others for political gain happens nearly daily in Ireland” — Nigel Rolfe

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3. The Seven Steps to Mercy

Iarla Ó Lionáird

Released 22 September 1997

The Seven Steps to Mercy was the first of four solo albums recorded by Iarla Ó Lionáird for Real World Records. The success of the first album by Afro Celt Sound System in 1996 album meant that Iarla’s solo career had to be put on hold for over a year, but eventually he entered the studio with the noted Canadian producer Michael Brook. “He’s one of the first producers I’ve met who shared my vision,” Ó Lionáird said of the pairing, “Everyone else seems to want to tart up the raw, ancient stuff to make it palatable. Michael, who comes from an experimental rock’n’roll background, didn’t want to do that, and observing this ultra-modern musician getting to grips with a deep, ancient approach was amazing.”

Born in Cúil Aodha in Gaelic-speaking Co Cork in 1964, Iarla’s mother, grandmother and grandfather all sang sean nós (literally “old style”), the unaccompanied music of Celtic ancestors. His grand aunt, Elizabeth Cronin, was also a noted singer, recorded by (among others) the great collector Alan Lomax during his travels in Ireland in the 1940s.

The album closes with a magical recording of Iarla from his childhood singing the haunting ‘Aisling Gheal’, perfectly encapsulating the rare beauty of his voice and the musical heritage which he represents.

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4. The Gathering

Various Artists

Released 10 March 1997

The Gathering documents a homecoming of the Irish diaspora made in triumph and strength. The album was recorded live in Cork at Éigse na Laoi 1995: The Gathering. This was the fifth in a series of traditional music festivals presented by the Music Department of University College Cork featuring traditional musicians from Donegal and Shetland, the United States, Cape Breton Island and England. Several of these musicians returned to Cork for The Gathering and were joined by musicians from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, Galicia, Ontario, Quebec, Northumbria and New Zealand. This album includes some of the musical highlights of the extraordinary event, featuring Kathryn TickellKaren TweedMartin HayesBrendan PowerPierre SchryerAlasdair FraserCarlos Nunez and many others.

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5. Live at the NCH

The Gloaming

Released 02 March 2018

In March 2018, The Gloaming will play seven sold-out shows at Dublin’s National Concert Hall. To mark this occasion, they have released Live at the NCH, a collection of performances recorded at the venue which has become a home from home for Martin HayesDennis CahillIarla Ó LionáirdCaoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett.

To put Live at the NCH together, producer Thomas Bartlett sifted through two years of performances and settled on six tracks: ‘The Booley House’, ‘Cucanandy’, ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’, ‘The Pilgrim’s Song’, ‘The Rolling Wave’ and ‘Fáinleog’. Using the studio recordings only as points of departure, these performances stretch out and roam in unexpected new directions, incorporating new tunes and rearranging old ones, filled with the excitement and delight of five master musicians coming together as one —a fine exclamation mark following two landmark studio albums by the band.

More about this album

Listen to our Irish Traditional playlist on Spotify:

By Oran Mullan

Published on Fri, 16 March 18

Further reading

The Gloaming announce 2019 National Concert Hall dates in Dublin

The Gloaming return for their annual run of shows at the Dublin venue in 2019.

New album by The Breath out now

Let The Cards Fall is the follow-up to the band's 2016 debut Carry Your Kin

Real World Sessions: Totó la Momposina, 20 August 1991

A look back on The Wood Room session with producer Phil Ramone and mix engineer Richard Blair.

Real World Sessions: Remmy Ongala & Super Matimila, 17 August 1991

Rupert Hine and Stephen W Tayler look back on the 1991 session which yielded Remmy Ongala's 'Mambo'.