Ancient Irish Musical Instruments

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XV

A German scholar has written a work, to prove that the pentatonic scale was brought over by the Celts from Asia, and that it was preserved longer in Scotland than elsewhere, on account of the isolated position of that country.[7] The Phoenicians are supposed to have invented the kinnor, trigonon, and several other of the most remarkable instruments of antiquity. Their skill as harpists, and their love of music, are indicated by the prophetic denunciation in Ezechiel, where the ceasing of songs and the sound of the harp are threatened as a calamity they were likely specially to feel.

We give at least one evidence that the Irish monks practised the choral performance of rhythmical hymns. Colgan supplies the proof, which we select from one of the Latin hymns of St. Columba:—

"Protegat nos altissimus,
De suis Sanctis sedibus,
Dum ibi hymnos canimus,
Decem statutis vicibus."

Mr. O'Curry gives the names of all the ancient Irish musical instruments as follows:—Cruit, a harp; Timpan, a drum, or tambourine; Corn, a trumpet; Stoc, a clarion; Pipai, the pipes; Fidil, the fiddle. He adds: "All those are mentioned in an ancient poem in the Book of Leinster, a MS. of about the year 1150, now in the Library of Trinity College. The first four are found in various old tales and descriptions of battles."

We shall find how powerful was the influence of Irish music on the Irish race at a later period of our history, when the subject of political ballads will be mentioned.


[7] Country.—Erste Wanderung der altesten Tonkunst, von G. W. Fruh, Essen, 1831. In Conran's National Music of Ireland, he attributes this to the influence of ecclesiastical music. But an article by Mr. Darmey, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, takes a much more probable view. The Ambrosian chant, introduced about A.D. 600, could not have influenced national music which existed for centuries before that period.