Captain Fiddle Music

Ryan and Brennish


Common Irish Session Tunes

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Ryan Thomson's List of Common Irish Session Tunes

Learn some of these if you want to play along at sessions!

There are several thousand different Irish dance tunes either on recordings or in tune

books. Out of these there is a smaller collection of what traditional musicans call "session

tunes." There are probably about 400 to 500 tunes in the general pool of commonly played

pieces. I travel widely and have attended hundreds of Irish sessions from California to


This is a list I've compiled from memory of what tunes seem to be played the most often in

my experience. I don't yet play all of them myself, because I'm learning as I go. Sometimes

I attend a session and get sidetracked, and decide to learn some new tune that I've never

heard before. Therefore, this is merely my personal list, not intended to be the be-all and

end-all authoritative source for session music.

This isn't a complete list since I haven't yet learned the names of many other regularly

played tunes. I've purposely left out dance tunes that I like personally but that I don't

consider "common" session tunes. For example, I like playing "Flowers of Edinburgh" and

"Banish Misfortune," but I don't hear them often in Irish sessions where the standard format

is three different tunes, three times each, so they're not on this list.

I will keep updating this list as I go along however. Many people categorize O'Carolan's harp

tunes in a different class than "traditional Irish music," so I haven't put them on the list

either even though I play a number of them personally. Then there is the class of newly

composed tunes. Many experienced players compose new tunes and if others like them

enough, they may enter the general session repertoire. One of my own tunes - New

Hampshire Hornpipe, is beginning to be played widely in New England. I've even heard of

someone playing it in a local fiddle contest.

To be able to attend a serious session and play most of the time, one's repertoire needs to

be a bit over 200 tunes. However, if you are just getting started, I'm confident that you

could learn any 5 or 10 of these tunes listed below, and go to any regular weekly session in

the US or Ireland, and someone else there would know at least half of them to play along

with you. The more tunes you learn, the less you'Il have to sit out at a session and wait for

the regular musicians to play a tune that you know.

Violinists often ask me for sheet music that they can read along with at sessions.

Unfortunately this is not very practical for several reasons: A medley of  3 tunes is often

spontaneously selected by the person who starts a set. If that person has to preselect the

tunes and playing order to announce to the group, it takes away a bit from the fun and

continuity of the session.

Yes, a lot of the fun for experienced players is TO NOT KNOW what tune is coming up next!

There is often a noticeble quieting of the music when a set reaches the third time through

the first or second tune, and then everyone leans forward to hear what the next tune is

going to be - like unwrapping a present! Those that know it jump right in, and those that

don't listen carefully to it, and make a note to put that one on the "to learn list."

I have witnessed frustrated players trying to shuffle through written music at sessions, in

dimly lit pubs, desperately trying to locate a tune before the session leader finishes

playing it and gets on to the next tune in the set. Also, there is no one particular source

for written session tunes, rather, there are several different tunebook compilations which

cover about 90% of the common tunes. Each tunebook is likely to have a different version

of each tune. You can listen to alternate versions of most tunes on Youtube to get ideas

about creating your own personal version.

Session playing is a "style" of music. To participate fully, one need to memorize the music,

since this meets one definition of a "session." There's an old saying, "when in Rome, do as

the Romans do." This advice is true for other styles of music as well. To play classical

chamber music, for example, one must brush up on sight reading and technical violin

playing skills. You can't just show up at a chamber group expecting to play by ear!

The standard session format is three tunes of a similar type, each played 3 times: jigs,

reels, hornpipes, slip jigs, and slides. Some special tune types can be played by themselves

and not in a set: aires, waltzes, mazurka, O'Carolan tunes, set pieces like "The Blackbird,"

and "barn dances."

Its important to keep in mind that most of these tunes have alternate names, though I've

tried to pick the name that is used most often in my experience. Also remember that the

traditional repertoire doesn't remain constant, but gradually changes as new tunes are

composed and older obscure tunes are rediscovered and released on recordings by popular

groups. Sometimes tunes also seem to get "worn out," from being played too much, and

lose favor at sessions.

I've started adding the "key" of the piece after the name, but I'm not finished yet. Note

that I haven't labeled any tunes as to whether they are jigs, reels, or other tune type.

Session Tunes in Alphabetical Order:

Another Jig will do

Bank of Ireland

Battering Ram

Behind the Haystack ...D

Blackthorn Stick

Bobby Casey's

Boyne Hunt

Boys of Blue Hill....D

Boys of Wexford

Brenda Stubbert's


Chicago Reel

Chief O'Neils Favorite.....D

Clifs of Moher.....Am


Concertina Reel

Congress Reel....Am

Cannaughtman's Rambles.....D

Convenience Reel

Cooley's Reel......Em

Crabs in the Skillet

Cup of Tea...Em

Dennis Murphy's Slide

Dick Gossip.......D

Dingle Regatta



Doctor Gilbert's...Em

Drowsy Maggie......Em

Drunken Landlady.....Em

Dust on the Windowsill......Am

Earl's Chair

Egan's Polka......D

Far from Home......G

Faral O' Gara

Farewell to Ireland

Father Kelly's Foggy Dew......Em

Foxhunter's reel....G

Frieze Britches

Garret Barry's

Gravel Walk....Am

Hardiman the Fiddler

Harvest Home......D

Haste to the Wedding......D

High Reel

Home Rule/Hangman's Noose.......D

Humours of Tulla

Hunter's House....G

Hunter's Purse

Hunting the Hare

Jackie Coleman's......D

Jenny's Chickens

Jig of Slurs

Julia Delaney......Dm

Kid on the Mountain.......Em

Kilarney Boys of Pleasure

King of the Fairies

Lark in the Morning.....D

Longford Collector

Love at the Endings......D

Maid Behind the Bar......D

Martin Wynnes 1 &2

McMahon's(The Banshee).......G

Monaghan's jig......Em


Morning Dew........Em

Morning Star...G

Morrison's jig.......Em

Mountain Road........D

Mug of Brown Ale

Musical Priest

My Darling Asleep........D

Nine Points of Roguery

O'Keef's Slide

Off to California.......D

Old Copperplate

Out on the Ocean...D

Paddy on the Turnpike

Plains of Boyle

Providence reel

Rights of Man.......Em

Road to Lisdoonvarna.......Em

Rocky Road to Dublin.......D

Rolling in the Ryegrass........D

Rose in the Heather

Sailor's Bonnet

Saint Annes's reel........D

Salamanca reel

Sally Gardens reel.......G

Scholar, the

Sculley's Reel.......D

Sean Ryan's jig(the Banshee)


Ships are sailing........Em

Silver Spear

Silver Spire

Sligo Maid

Star of Munster......Am

Swinging on a Gate.........G



Ten Penny Bit

Tobin's Favorite.......D

Top of Cork Road(Father Kelly's)

Toss the Feathers

Tripping up the Stairs......D

The Virginia

Walker Street reel.......G

Wind that Shakes the Barley.......D

Wise Maid......D

This article by Ryan J Thomson 2001, revised 2016