Sean Williams

Irish Singing

This site is concerned primarily with the art of sean-nós ("old style") Irish singing. However, I have included many Irish song lyrics in both English and Irish that can be explored by surfing through the lists to the left of this page. Please alert me to any errors or broken links; I will do my best to keep everything up to date.

Sean-nós singing is one of the finest of the traditional Irish arts. It is often characterized by unaccompanied performance in Irish or in English; free rhythm, relative lack of vibrato or dynamic change, and especially by the use of rapid, melismatic ornamentation. I first studied sean-nós singing in the early 1980s when I was a graduate student at the University of Washington in ethnomusicology. My teacher was Joe Heaney, one of the greatest singers of his time. We worked together for several years until his untimely death from emphysema in 1984, and I was fortunate to receive many of his songs. This page is intended as a center for dissemination of information on sean-nós singing. Several online articles may serve as resources for further information, and the reader is invited to peruse both the bibliography and discography to find out more about this wonderful music. My article on sean-nós singing, listed below, is specifically about the Connemara style. The sidebar includes song lyrics; some were performed by Joe Heaney, while others are simply ones that I've used in my classes.

Information Online:

McCann, Anthony: Sean-nós Singing: a Bluffer's Guide

Hart, Liam: Amhrán Gaelach (a collection of song lyrics)

Julie Henigan: Sean-nós in Donegal

Information in Print:

Bodley, Seoirse: "Technique and Structure in Sean-nós Singing," in Éigse Ceol Tíre 1:44-54, 1973.

Coleman, Steve: "Joe Heaney and Style in Sean Nós Singing," in Blás: the Local Accent in Traditional Irish Music, ed. Thérèse Smith, Micheál Ó Súilleabháin (Limerick: Irish World Music Centre, n.d.)

Cowdery, James: The Melodic Tradition of Ireland. Kent: Kent State University Press, 1990.

O'Boyle, Seán: The Irish Song Tradition. Toronto: Macmillan, 1976.

O'Canainn, Tomás: Traditional Music in Ireland. Cork: Ossian Press, 1993.

Ó Faracháin, Róibeárd: The Course of Irish Verse in English. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1947.

O'Sullivan, Donal: Irish Folk Music: Song and Dance. Cork: The Mercier Press, 1974.

Shields, Hugh: "Supplementary Syllables in Anglo-Irish Folk Singing," in Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 5:62-71, 1973.

Shields, Hugh: Narrative Singing in Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1993

Williams, Sean: “Joe Heaney,” "Sean-nós: the singing of Joe Heaney," and "An Tighearna Randal: an Irish-Gaelic version of Lord Randall," in Seattle Folklore Society Journal 2(1)2:4-7, 1984.

Williams, Sean: "Melodic Ornamentation in the Connemara Sean-nós Singing of Joe Heaney," in The New Hibernia Review 8/1:122-145 (2004).

to be continued...

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