The Lost Irish Musical Tradition Found in India

The Lost Irish Musical Tradition Found in India


An archaeologist studying musical horns from iron-age Ireland has found that old Irish musical traditions, thought to be long dead, are alive and well in south India.


Shringa – an Indian trumpet

You might think that before the jet age, ancient civilizations were quite isolated from each other. Apparently not, if musical instruments are anything to go by. An archaeologist from the Australian National University College (ANU) has put forward the theory that ancient Irish musical traditions and instruments are currently being used in south India.

PhD student Billy Ó Foghlú says he realised this after seeing the Indian horn. He says it proves that a there has long been cultural exchanges between India and Ireland, and that they first made contact up to 2000 years ago. He believes the two cultures shared their independently-developed musical technologies and styles. This of course included horns.

The modern-day Indian horns are identical to iron-age Irish horns. With the exception of a very small amount of  instruments, Irish horns were often buried in the bogs as an offering, so very few exist from that era today. However, Indians did not have the same tradition of chucking their instrument in bogs, and continue to play their horns today in the same way as they did 2000 years ago.

The realisation that modern Indian horns are almost identical to many iron-age European artefacts reveals a rich cultural link between the two regions 2,000 years ago, said PhD student Billy Ó Foghlú, from The Australian National University (ANU).

“Archaeology is usually silent. I was astonished to find what I thought to be dead soundscapes alive and living in Kerala today,” said the ANU student. “The musical traditions of south India, with horns such as the kompu, are a great insight into musical cultures in Europe’s prehistory. And, because Indian instruments are usually recycled and not laid down as offerings, the artefacts in Europe are also an important insight into the soundscapes of India’s past.”

The findings help show that Europe and India had a lively cultural exchange with musicians from the different cultures sharing independently developed technology and musical styles. One example of this musical mixing is depicted in a carving of a celebration in Sanchi dating from 300 BC that shows a group of musicians taking part, playing two European carnyces, a horn with an animal’s head.

The musical style of Kerala explains some of the mysteries surrounding the horns that have been unearthed in European iron-age excavations and suggest a very different musical soundscape to current western music said Mr Ó Foghlú. “Some almost identical instruments have been unearthed together, but they are slightly out of tune with each other to western ears,” Mr Ó Foghlú said. “This was previously assumed to be evidence of shoddy workmanship. But in Indian music this kind of dissonance is deliberate and beautiful. Horns are used more as a rhythm instrument, not for melody or harmony in a western sense.”

Mr Ó Foghlú also made news last year, when he discovered that an artefact we all mistook for part of a spear was actually a trumpet mouthpiece. Whoops. He 3-D printed a new one, put it in a horn and proved his theory by busting out some serious tunes.

See more here:

Ancient Irish musical history found in modern India. Credit: ANU Multimedia

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