about us

home | gigs | people | the music | guestbook
about navan | tradition | links | contact


We are friends who have come together to share our love of Celtic music among ourselves, and with others. We sing in the languages of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. We have a special feeling for those beautifully worded songs and poems whose tunes have been lost—there are so many. We also enjoy songs which have been carried on in traditional form to the present day. Sometimes we sing them solo, in the manner most often used today by traditional singers who have inherited them; sometimes we sing them in unison, following the traditional rhythm; most of the time we can’t help but add harmonies—that is part of our own tradition.

Celtic songs have proven to have great vitality and so the same songs have been sung for hundreds if not thousands of years. This naturally results in variation of the tune, and words, from age to age and place to place. Sometimes we incorporate several variations of a tune into one song, for example singing some verses in the sean-nós style, and others in the exuberant rhythms of an early American hymn which that sean-nós tune has inspired.

For people interested in the idea of song categories, there are many that can be assigned—and we are still discovering new ones. They are the categories shared by all cultures—children’s songs, working songs, love songs, story songs, lullabies, religious songs both pre-Christian and Christian, tributes, laments, and songs for the dead. It is when we look more closely inside these categories that we are able to see the distinct characteristics of Celtic life. For example, among the work songs we find verses for rowing, churning, waulking (fulling cloth), grinding grain, plowing and blacksmithing. In religious songs we find pre-Christian charms, pre-Christian charms with Christian elements added on, Christian songs which were composed in the manner of the original charms, and Christian songs composed in Irish but in the manner of the foreign Christian priests.

Another aspect of our group is our effort to concentrate on songs that are not currently being sung, have not been recorded recently, or are very little known. Once in awhile we will do a tune which is widely sung, such as “Sally Gardens," though we have restored Gaelic words to it. The temptation is to do popular Gaelic songs, if these can be referred to as such, but there are so many beautiful songs that are buried in books and not accessible to many, or not easily. This is what we love to do—bring these dusty hidden songs out for people to enjoy and learn.

This idea of concentrating on songs not otherwise being sung much leads into our philosophy behind singing only in the Celtic languages. While there are a great many beautiful songs sung in English in the Celtic manner, these tend to be much more widely recorded and otherwise accessible to the public. We sing in the Celtic languages to bring people songs that would not otherwise be heard, and in languages in which many have an interest but few have an opportunity to hear or learn. We do not “avoid" English songs—it is simply that English songs are part of a different tradition. We do not “avoid singing a few songs in English" any more than a concert pianist “avoids playing a few pieces on flute" during his piano recital, even if he happens to know how to play the flute. We make this point only because we have been asked many times to explain our lack of English songs—most often by those who simply wish they could better understand the songs—who love the music but long to understand the meaning.

We definitely want people to be able to understand the songs—in many cases, the lyrics were composed hundreds of years ago by poets whose training was so rigorous, and their art so refined, that we truly have no literary equivalent to the profession today. This is another reason for singing them in the original languages, for it is the intricate and complex rhyming of the syllables which renders the sounds of the verses so pleasing to the ear and so fitting to the tune. It would be folly to attempt to “translate" this. So, sharing the meaning with the audience has been a challenge to us, though a pleasant one. We tell the stories woven in and around the songs, and make translations available in the booklet accompanying cd. In this way, the audience is able to enjoy the beauty of the original language and understand the story as well. This is also in keeping with our desire to share this music with the audience and not simply “perform" it, for traditional music, unlike many other genres, belongs to all.

7 February 2001


Oran nan Tonn
NAVAN ::: Lowena
NAVAN ::: Mairneas
NAVAN: An Cuimhin Leat

home | gigs | people | the music | guestbook
about navan | tradition | links | contact

Last Updated 31 December 1969