I've played a lot of ceilidhs in my time, and it's been a lot of fun. Maybe because I have Irish ancestors I can relate to the music.
Irish and Celtic Music
There are some great Irish and Celtic songs, and some of my personal favourites are:
Star of the County Down
Lakes of Ponchitrain
The best versions of the second and third songs are on Van Morrison's album Celtic Heartbeat. Here's a video of Paul Brady singing Arthur McBride. It doesn't get a lot better than this for a solo performance, though the sound quality has suffered a lot from file compression. Still, the quality of the song still comes across, and you could down load a proper audio track.
DADGAD is a guitar tuning widely used in Irish music. It's not all that traditional though, as guitar doesn't seem to be established much before the 1960s.
The chord pictures work like this: six vertical lines are the strings, and horizontal lines are the frets. Strings you don't play are marked with a small cross, but in addition you should always check if it sounds right. When you use dropped tunings like this, it can be worth considering a more medium string gauge, and sometimes a capo as well.
When you're learning any new tuning, it's a good idea to learn the harmonised scale of chords first. This is the set of seven different chords unique to each key which form the basis of all songs.
In every key the pattern is the same, major, two minors, two majors, minor, m7b5.
In the key of D:
D, Em, F sharp m, G, A, Bm, C sharp m7b5.
The I, IV, V chords are D, G, and A or A7. In simpler songs, you might just find these three chords being used.
DADGAD chord shapes
Guitar tunings can add a lot to Irish songs, and I think Paul Brady is using an open G tuning here, although DADGAD is very common too. Both tunings sound great for solo acoustic guitar. I have hubs on both tunings, and also the chord shapes to get you started in different tunings.
The Chieftains are one of the greatest Irish bands, and well known for collaborations with many other musicians - James Galway and Van Morrison are two prominent examples. On the Old Plank Road albums they play with American country players, showing how closely related the two musical styles are. My favourite Van Morrison track is Raglan Road, a song with bizarre lyrics and a fantastic tune, based on a traditional melody, The Dawning of the Day.
Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on January 24, 2010:
Hello Aya - interesting question.The chords have a lot to do with it.Generally there are no fancy chords with 7ths or 9ths,just plain major and minor chords, no key changes.Mostly songs are just 1,4,5 chords - G,C,D etc.I'm guessing mainly pentatonic scales. Chords with no third (neither major nor minor) and drones also play a part.Another thing is, just verses without any bridge, or verse/chorus structure.And many of them are wistfully looking back to the Old Country, missing it terribly but not enough to actually move back there!
Aya Katz from The Ozarks on January 24, 2010:
Jon, I enjoyed this rendition of Arthur McBride.
Since a lot of filk music is patterned after Celtic, I was wondering what musical patterns give it that recognizable celtic sound. Is it just the chord pattern, or is there more to it than that?