Music has always been an essential part of daily life in the Celtic world, which reaches beyond Ireland, Scotland and Wales to include portions of France, Spain and Portugal and even extends to parts of Eastern Canada. Irish and Scottish migration to America began in earnest during colonial times, expanded considerably with the Irish potato famine in the 1840s and continued intensively into the 1930s. The millions of Irish and Scots brought with them their instruments and songs, forever changing America’s musical landscape. Many traditional American folk and roots songs can be traced back to Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic nations.
Women have long been at the forefront of Celtic musical expression. For example, waulking songs, or Scottish work songs whose rhythmic rhymes reduced the monotony and sped up the process of beating wool, have traditionally been sung almost exclusively by women. Many of the best-known performers of puirt à beul, or mouth music, are women. These songs feature phonically complex verses with melodies that rise and fall to represent the dynamic emotional characteristics of the stories told within them. Additionally, female sean-nós (or “old-style”) singers have moved countless people to tears with their emotional depth.