Music is an integral part of Irish culture and has been as potent a force in the lives of the Irish people. The ancient Celts relied on oral tradition, where religion, legend, and history were passed from one generation to the next by way of epic poems, stories and songs.
Conquered by the English and forbidden to speak their own language, the Irish turned to music to help them remember important events and hold on to their heritage and history. "Rebel Music" has existed for as long as the conflicts in Ireland have existed. Various rebellions have inspired songs recounting the lives of heroes, such as Sean South of Garryowen or Roddy McCorley, and were used to rouse passions. Many are still sung today.
As serious and heartfelt as such music can be, there is as vital a traditional of street ballads as well. ;quot;Molly Malone" from the 1750's is the story of a comely fishmonger who died and whose ghost is said to haunt the market. The song is considered the unofficial anthem of the city of Dublin, and a statue of the girl was erected to celebrate Dublin's Millennium. "Finnegan's Wake," a comic story song about a man who died in an accident but was revived when one of the brawlers at his wake accidentally spilled whiskey on the corpse. The song has been perennially popular and also inspired James Joyce's notoriously difficult masterpiece, Finnegans Wake. Many street ballads are devoted to tales of drinking, and these too, have stood the test of time. From the unrepentant declaration of "The Moonshiner," to the winking reprobate "The Wild Rover", to the man whose faithless girlfriend convinces him that his only dependable companion is "Whiskey in the Jar," the Irish drinking song is usually much more of a celebration than a cautionary tale. Many of these songs were introduced to a wider audience during the folk revival of the 1960's, when Irish musicians such as the Clancy Brothers, the Chieftains, and the Dubliners gained popularity throughout the world.
Irish artists have also had a huge impact on popular music. In the second half of the 20th century, the Irish proved themselves to be great popular musicians. Belfast-born Van Morrison has been making compelling music in different genres for over thirty years now. The punk movement of the late 1970's inspired as many young Irish musicians as it did English. It was the Dublin punk scene that produced one of the most beloved of Irish musical exports - U2. The Cranberries and the Corrs have also had huge international success with their gentler pop music.
Several groups have achieved success by combining traditional elements with modern styles to revitalize Irish music and introduce it to new audiences. Glam rock's Thin Lizzy first found success came with a metal version of the standard "Whisky in the Jar." New Age musicians have also found inspiration in Ireland's traditions, notably Enya, who is the most successful female artist in Irish history.
Irish dancing or Irish dance is a group of traditional dance forms originating in Ireland which can broadly be divided into social dance and performance dances. Irish social dances can be divided further into céilí and set dancing. Irish set dances are quadrilles, danced by four couples arranged in a square, while céilí dances are danced by varied formations (céilí) of two to sixteen people. In addition to their formation, there are significant stylistic differences between these two forms of social dance. Irish social dance is a living tradition and variations in particular dances are found across the Irish dancing community; in some places, dances are deliberately modified and new dances are choreographed.
Irish dancing, popularized in 1994 by the world-famous show Riverdance, is notable for its rapid leg and foot movements while the body and arms are kept stationary. Most competitive dances are solo dances, though many stepdancers also perform and compete using céilí dances. The solo stepdance is generally characterized by a controlled but not rigid upper body, straight arms, and quick, precise movements of the feet. The solo dances can either be in "soft shoe" or "hard shoe".
The dancing traditions of Ireland probably grew in close association with traditional Irish music. Although its origins are unclear, Irish dancing was later influenced by dance forms from the Continent, especially the Quadrille. Travelling dance masters taught all over Ireland as late as the 18th and early 19th centuries. During this time, places for competitions and fairs were always small, so there was little room for the dance masters to perform. They would dance on tabletop and even on the top of a barrel. As time went on, larger places for dance competitions and performances were found, so styles grew to include more movement, more dancing across the stage as seen, for example, in Riverdance.