BB's Basic Irish Session Tune List

revised 12/28/16

This list contains a basic vocabulary of tunes that would be played at any Irish traditional session in the world. It is not meant to be exhaustive in the sense that these and only these tunes will be played - you'll discover that each session has its own idea of what constitutes a tune that all players at that session are expected to know.

But based on my experience of 30+ years of participating in sessions, I think the following list should provide a pretty good point of departure for anyone just coming into the music and interested in session participation. Certainly I would hope that you would add to this list at your own speed and level of interest, but it is a place to start.

Click here to go right to the tune list.

Some Preliminary Thoughts (in no particular order)

= You don't have to learn all of these tunes at the same time. Whatever your learning pace has been heretofore, continue with it. Sometimes trying to cram too much new material into your cranium is counter-productive. Some of these tunes have been around for 300 years so you don't have to rush into learning them - they're not going anywhere!

= Some folks find it easier to learn tunes in groups or "sets". That's perfectly acceptable, but the danger is that your idea of a tune set may not be shared by other folks at your session. Comparing notes with your session buddies - so that you're all on the same wave-length as to what might get played when - is highly recommended. (Of course everything might change when you visit a session somewhere else, so a certain degree of flexibility is good to develop.)

= Tune names exist for a reason. Try to become familiar with as many names as you can so that you'll have an idea what to expect if someone mentions "Trip to the Cottage" or "Green Mountain". You don't have to be able to play them yet, but being able to recognize them will be a big help. (I personally find tunes easier to remember and play if I know their names - don't ask me why. On the other hand, some really great players never know names of the tunes they play!)

= If for whatever reason you don't like a tune, don't bother learning it. Chances are you'll never play it correctly. You may however want to re-visit it after you've learned a few others and see if your opinion of it has changed.

= A session is not ordinarily an opportunity for learning or for practicing - it's for playing. The learning/practicing happens at home. If you're at a session and someone starts a tune you're not confident about,  back off - time to let your fingers relax and put your ears to work. A very quick way to lose the respect of other players is to try faking your way through a tune you don't really know. We've all done it and we feel really lousy about it afterwards. (NOTE: Irish traditional music is never played with a "harmony" part or counter-melody like some American music customarily is. If  you're not prepared to play what everyone else is playing, stay out. Anything that's not melody or backup chords is unwelcome.)

= Speed comes with practice and experience but is not an end in itself. If it's my session, I'll try to keep the session tempo reasonable but if it gets out of control, OK to remind me to slow down a little. (This isn't recommended procedure at ALL sessions!)

= The old-timers used to remind us constantly that you can always start slow and speed up. The opposite is nearly impossible. Keep that ancient wisdom always before you as you progress in your playing abilities!

I can't recommend it strongly enough to any novice traditional musician: learn ABC. This is a plain-text program for moving and storing music on the Internet; there are tens of thousands of ABC tune files out there that you can eventually take advantage of. You don't have to know how to read music to use ABC (in fact, if you don't know and would like to learn, it's a great help). A good ABC program will enable you to open the ABC file, view the notation, and play the tune back (and once you've downloaded the file, you can even adjust the playback speed - what could be better for learning?)

The source for all good ABC info is

All of these tunes listed can be found on my webABC site. Clicking on the link in the table below will take you to the Table file for the folder in which the tune is listed. The Table will have further links to a notation file (PDF), sound file (MP3), and ABC. (It sounds complicated but really isn't!)

The unlinked tunes will have links shortly, so keep checking this page.

So, without further ado, the lists:
Banshee Miss McCloud's (McLeod's)
Bird in the Bush Miss Monaghan
Boyne Hunt Mountain Road
Cooley's (Joe Cooley's) Otter's Hole
Cregg's Pipes Over the Moor to Maggie
Cup of Tea Pigeon on the Gate
Devanny's Goat Rolling in the Ryegrass (Shannon Breeze)
Drowsy Maggie Saint Anne's
Foxhunter's (in G) Sally Gardens
High Reel Ships are Sailing
Humors of Tulla Silver Spear
Jackie Coleman's #1 Star of Munster
Kilmaley (Glen Allen) Swallow's Tail
Lady Ann Montgomery                            
Teetotaller (Temperance)
Maid Behind the Bar Wind that Shakes the Barley
Mason's Apron Wise Maid
Merry Blacksmith

Banish Misfortune
Battering Ram Morrison's
Bill Collins' Munster Buttermilk
Blackthorn Stick My Darling Asleep
Blarney Pilgrim Off She Goes
Cliffs of Moher Out in the Ocean
Connaughtman's Rambles Paddy in London (Clare Jig)
Frost is All Over Paddy's Return
Geese in the Bog (A minor) Pay the Reckoning
Haste to the Wedding Pipe on the Hob
Haunted House Rose in the Heather
Humors of (East of) Glendart                 
Sackow's (Trip It Upstairs)
Jim Ward's Saddle the Pony
Kesh Shandon Bells
Lark in the Morning Smash the Windows
Leg of the Duck Swallowtail
Lilting Banshee Sweet Biddy Daly
Mist Covered Mountain Ship in Full Sail

Tobin's Favorite

Boys of Blue Hill Kitty's Wedding
Chief O'Neill's Lucy Farr's Barn Dance
Cuckoo Off to California
Cuckoo's Nest Plains of Boyle
Delahunty's (Wicklow) Rights of Man
Fisher's Sailor's
Flowers of Edinburgh Soldier's Joy
Greencastle Stack of Barley
Harvest Home (Cork HP) Stack of Wheat
Home Ruler
Staten Island

Sweep's (Belfast)

Barney Brallaghan
Boys of Ballysodare
Fig for a Kiss
Kid on the Mountain
Ride a Mile
Rocky Road to Dublin (A minor)


Ballydesmond Polka Set
Boys of Wexford - march
Britches Full of Stitches - polka (A major or G major)
Brosna Slide
Captain Byng - polka
Denis Murphy's Polka
Denis Murphy's Slide
Dingle Regatta - slide
Galway Belle - polka
Girl I Left Behind Me - march
Going to the Well for Water  ("The Kaiser") - slide
John Egan's ("Kerry #2") - polka
Lakes of Sligo - polka
Maggie in the Woods - polka
Maids of Ardagh - polka
Mairi's Wedding - polka
Merrily Kiss the Quaker - slide
Mountains of Pomeroy - march
O'Keeffe's - slide
Peg Ryan's ("Kerry #1") - polka
Port Láirge (Rose Tree / Waterford Polka)
Rakes of Mallow - march
Red Wing - march
Scattery Island - slide
Spanish Lady - polka

= For those of you who look at the above list and find yourself fainting, console yourself with the thought that I could have included at least 5,669 MORE tunes but didn't. Also for consolation purposes: if I learned them, you can learn them!
= Don't forget ABC - easy to learn and genuinely helpful.

Email me at if you need more help.

Have fun and good luck!