The Elusive Celt

Perceptions of Traditional Irish Music Communities in Europe

by Rina Schiller (Author)
©2022 Monographs XXX, 180 Pages


The Elusive Celt departs from previous work in the wider ethnomusicological field about traditional Irish music within its home contexts and the English-speaking main destination countries of Irish emigration, by adding a central and eastern European perspective on perceptions of Irish musical culture and images of «the Celtic» Specific attention is given to influences of recent European history on these perceptions. Detailed ethnographies of community music-making contexts in six different countries from the Baltic to the Bosphorus, along both sides of the former Iron Curtain, introduce the reader to cultural intimacies of local community musicians with a long-term dedication to playing traditional Irish music. The emerging images differ widely from common stereotypes. The reader gains an insight into processes of how musical and extra-musical detail is communicated between local native Irish and non-Irish musicians at these locations, for which Rina was able to draw on her knowledge of different European languages.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Plates and Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Genre, Style, and Instruments
  • Chapter 2: What Is ‘Authenticity’?
  • Chapter 3: Selecting Comparative Research Locations
  • Chapter 4: The Irish Pub Session
  • Chapter 5: Creating Meaning through Music at Different Locations: A Selection of Ethnographic Case Studies
  • Chapter 6: The Elusive Celt
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Index

←viii | ix→

Plates and Illustrations

Plate 1. The former Irish Club, a small B&B with bar facilities in the north of Prague

Plate 2. Dave Bradfield’s Tír na nÓg Celtic craft and music shop in Berlin

Plate 3. Performance at the end of Bernard’s Summer School at Prague’s Ponec Theatre

Plate 4. Taksim Square with the Taksim Anıtı – the Monument of the Republic in Istanbul

Plate 5. Taksim Square in Istanbul during the Gezi Park protests in 2013

Figure 1.1. Example of genre-specific ornamentation

Figure 1.2. The uilleann pipes

Figure 1.3. The fiddle

Figure 1.4. The flute and the whistle

Figure 1.5. The concertina

Figure 1.6. The accordion

Figure 1.7. The mandolin, mandola, and bouzouki

Figure 1.8. The banjo

Figure 1.9. The guitar

Figure 1.10. The bodhrán

Figure 1.11. Other instruments

Figure 4.1. Circular formation of the traditional Irish session

Figure 5.1. Tír na nÓg Celtic craft and music shop

←ix | x→

Figure 5.2. Irish session at the Emerald Isle

Figure 5.3. Irish session at the Blarney Pub

Figure 5.4. Irish session at the Molly Malone’s

Figure 5.5. Cover of David Bradfield’s CD Celtic Pulse

Figure 5.6. Cover of Eddie Smyth and Marty Byrne’s CD The Toetapper

Figure 5.7. Cover of The Irish Weavers’ CD The Work of the Weavers

Figure 5.8. Cover of John Shanahan and Marty Byrne’s CD Paddy on the Spree

Figure 5.9. Examples of Sandy Cheyne’s drawings of Berlin community musicians

Figure 5.10. Bodhrán class at Bernard’s Summer School, Prague

Figure 5.11. Irish pub session of Bernard’s Summer School, Prague

Figure 5.12. Irish session at the Whisky and Kilt pub in Prague

Figure 5.13. Cover of Poitín’s CD Wish

Figure 5.14. Cover of Dún an Doras’s CD Bossa Nudski

Figure 5.15. Cover of the Bottlewash Band CD Straight From the Bottle

Figure 5.16. Beckett’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, Budapest

Figure 5.17. O’Hara’s Irish Pub in Bucharest

Figure 5.18. Irish session at the Pickwick Bookshop, Vienna

Figure 5.19. Cover of the Spinning Wheel CD The Maid on the Shore

Figure 5.20. Irish session at the Nâzim Hikmet Kultur Café

Figure 5.21. Irish session at the Café Concerto, Vienna

←x | xi→

Figure 5.22. Irish session at the James Joyce Pub in Istanbul-Beyoğlu

Figure 5.23. Irish session at the Polka Café in Istanbul-Kadıköy

Figure 5.24. Cover of Eamonn Lehane and Celteast’s CD Made in Istanbul

Figure 6.1. Cover of Alan Stivell’s album Renaissance of the Celtic Harp

Figure 6.2. Cover of Tri Yann’s album An Naoned

Figure 6.3. Cover of Tri Yann’s album Suite Gallaise

←xii | xiii→


Many people have contributed at different stages to this project that has been taking shape over the last two decades, and my sincere gratitude goes to them all. First and foremost, I would like to thank all the musicians without whose generous help its completion would indeed have been impossible. They have kept me updated about little changes that had taken place in their local Irish music communities when I revisited their sessions at annual or biannual intervals, encouraging me that my ethnographic notes will eventually materialise onto the printed page. Special thanks go to Václav Bernard and the teachers at Bernard’s Summer School in Prague for allowing me access to their classes.

Many thanks are also due to all readers who have commented on successive drafts of the manuscript, in particular to Méabh Ní Fhuartháin for highlighting an aspect of non-verbal communications at Irish sessions in the chapter about authenticities that needed to be discussed in more detail, to Mary Louise O’Donnell for her excellent detailed reading suggestions, to David O’Kane for reading parts of the draft while holidaying in Berlin (and for his spontaneous contribution to the Irish session at the Blarney Pub), to Martin Stokes for moral support at a crucial phase of the project and for his observant and thoughtful comments what to consider for the final draft, and to the anonymous reader for highlighting the desirability of making discussions of academic issues as accessible as possible to non-academic readers.

Further, I would like to thank the group Bal Feirste and Maryvonne Le Roy for sharing their Breton repertoire with me, David Le Bourhis for the loan of his collection of Tri Yann CDs, Petra Honkysova for help with Czech translations, and the Snapper for a lucky snap. I am also most grateful to Dusty for his patient assistance to numerous little hiccups for which my computer needed attention from time to time, to Sandy Cheyne for permission to reproduce samples of his drawings of Berlin musicians, and to David Bird for providing an essential single note for the manuscript.


XXX, 180
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
Traditional Irish music in Europe contemporary images of ‘the Celtic’ ethnographies of community music-making contexts The Elusive Celt Rina Schiller
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XXX, 180 pp., 39 b/w ill., 5 colour ill.

Biographical notes

Rina Schiller (Author)

Rina Schiller is an ethnomusicologist from a multicultural background, with roots in Ireland and in continental Europe. She lives in Belfast, where she has played and studied music for many years. She plays traditional Irish music on mandolin, whistle, concertina and bodhrán, and Turkish folk music on the baglama (saz). Rina regularly participates in local Irish session playing, and for her Turkish repertoire she has been adopted as honorary representative musician by the Turkish Association of Northern Ireland.


Title: The Elusive Celt
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