Brand-New RTÉ Campaign To Choose The Nation’s Favourite Folk Song Launched

January 21, 2019

Ireland’s Favourite Folk Song, is a brand new RTÉ series and national campaign in association with IMRO to identify and celebrate the songs that define us as a people.

Throughout the centuries, folk music has immortalised the real, live experiences of the citizens who have lived on, or passed through this island. Ireland has a vast archive of beautiful folk songs, both in English and in Irish, which its citizens draw on in times of joy and sorrow, to entertain, or to capture big personal or historic moments. Many of these songs have been passed down through families for generations. Some of these songs were written by Irish people, some brought in from other cultures, but what sets folk music apart is that it captures the eternal stories, hopes and struggles of ordinary people.

And every one of us has a favourite: a song we sing at family events and get-togethers, or a song that is dear to us. And now RTÉ is asking the people of Ireland to tell us what their favourite songs are, and why.

Between now and 8th February, we’re asking you to log onto, click on the Nominate section and tell us what your favourite folk song is – and why you love it. It can be a love song, a political song, a song about nature, life, loss, emigration, whatever. It can be in Irish or in English. It can be an Irish song or an international folk song that we have taken to our hearts as a people. As long as it’s a folk song, and you love it, then it’s eligible for consideration.

Once we’ve gathered your nominations, an independent jury of music lovers and experts – see list below – will review the list and put together a shortlist of ten folk songs they feel best capture the public’s favourites, but also the spirit and story of Ireland.  On 19th April, RTÉ will announce the 10 shortlisted folk songs to the nation in a special edition of The Ronan Collins Show on RTÉ Radio 1. Over the following five weeks, people will be invited to discuss the songs and tell us which one is their favourite of the 10.

To help people to make an informed choice, a brand new 5-part series, Ireland’s Favourite Folk Song, presented by internationally acclaimed Irish singer and folk legend Mary Black, begins on RTÉ One on 21st April. Each episode will tell the story behind two of the shortlisted songs. Audiences will be also able to discover more about each song across RTÉ Radio 1 and on

“Folk music is in my blood. Many of these songs have shaped and defined my life. So I’m excited to be part of a conversation that celebrates our rich folk-song heritage”  Mary Black

The song chosen by you as the nation’s best-loved folk song will be announced live on The Late Late Show in May 2019.

We hope the public will embrace the spirit of this campaign, which is to celebrate one of the things we do best – and inspire the nation to sing, perform and love folk music.

For further information on the project and the selection process, please go to



Diarmaid Ferriter is Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD. His books include The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 (2004), Judging Dev: A Reassessment of the life and legacy of Eamon de Valera (2007), Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland (2009) Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s (2012) A Nation and not a Rabble: The Irish Revolution 1913-23 (2015) and On The Edge: Ireland’s Offshore Islands, A Modern History (2018). His latest book is The Border: The Weight of a Century of Anglo-Irish Relations (2019). He is a regular broadcaster on RTE television and radio and a weekly columnist with the Irish Times. He co-wrote and presented the documentary series The Limits of Liberty (2010) and the film Keepers of the Flame (2018) with Nuala O’Connor.

Dr. Aileen Dillane is an ethnomusicologist and musician with research interests in local/global Irish music; musical migrations and diasporas; protest music; popular culture, and soundscapes. She lectures in music at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick, specialising in the traditional, folk and vernacular musics of Ireland and its diaspora, as well as in popular music studies and ethnomusicology.  She co-founded/co-directs the Popular Music and Popular Culture and the Power, Discourse and Society research clusters at UL, both of which have associated book series with Rowman & Littlefield. Aileen’s most recent publications include the co-edited volume Songs of Social Protest: International Perspectives (Sept 2018), which features a number of chapters on Irish song. She has also published widely on the subject of Irish traditional music and song. Aileen is currently working on a monograph on Irish and Irish American music, which is centred on historical and contemporary case studies from Chicago, the site of her doctoral work at the University of Chicago, where she was a Century Fellow and Fulbright Scholar. Aileen was the 2016 recipient of the O’Donnell Research Fellowship in Irish Studies at the University of Melbourne; the 2017 Visiting Professor at the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame; and is currently a research fellow in the Dept of Music, King’s College, London. Aileen plays traditional flute and piano with the Templeglantine Ceilí Band (2010 All-Ireland winners) and has collaborated and recorded with musicians in Ireland and the USA.

Leagues O’Toole has spent most of his adult life writing about records and promoting live music, with a diverse love of sounds from across all genres. He began writing as part of Dublin’s underbelly of punk-fanzine culture is the early 1990s, graduating to Music Editor of the street-wise Dublin Event Guide before becoming a regular contributor to the NME, Melody Maker, The Irish Times and a slew of music magazines and newspaper across the globe. In the early 2000s he presented and edited the RTE leftfield music television programme, No Disco, focusing on numerous movements within the culture from the home grown Irish independent scene to hip-hop, electronic and folk music, including a special one-off documentary about 1970s pioneering folk-trad ensemble, Planxty. After his tenure with No Disco he wrote the band endorsed biography, The Humours of Planxty, published in 2006 by Hodder Headline, contributed as guest radio presenter for the likes of Tom Dunne and Donal Dineen on Today FM, and began publishing his own aesthetic-driven music magazine, Foggy Notions for a number years. He also programmed the famous Whelan’s venue for five years before joining the ranks of Aiken Promotions where he currently works with hundreds of international and Irish artists including The National, Damien Dempsey, John Prine, Father John Misty, Villagers, Future Islands, Will Oldham, Mitski, Jon Hopkins, Agnes Obel, Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Andy Irvine, Paul Brady, Lankum, Lisa O’Neill to name a few.

Nuala O’ Connor In 1987, Nuala established Hummingbird Productions with Philip King to produce high quality music and arts documentaries. With Philip King she worked as assistant producer on Bringing It All Back Home and is the author of the book which accompanied the series. Nuala won an Emmy award for writing a one-hour version of Bringing It All Back Home for the Disney television channel in the US. Nuala has written, directed and edited amongst others Sult – Spirit of the Music (Series 1 & II), Sruth na Maoile, Freedom Highway, One Faithful Harp: The Life and Music of Thomas Moore, Se Mo Laoch (Series 1 to 6), The Raw Bar (Series 1 and II), documentaries on the life of Sinead O’Connor and Mary Black, and Donal Lunny: Following the Music. She is currently working as co-director and series editor of An Droichead Beo / The Living Bridge.  Nuala also worked as the traditional music reviewer for the Irish Times for many years.

Brian Mullen was born in Derry where he still lives. His mother’s family were all singers and he sang pop and folk as a teenager. At university in Bangor, North Wales he met musicians who had links with Ireland and, travelling with them, he met such singers as Nioclás Tóibín in Ring and Mick Flynn in Miltown Malbay. While studying Irish at NNU Coleraine he met Len Graham, Joe Holmes and Eddie Butcher, the last of whom had a lasting influence on his style and repertoire. He gathered songs at home while a teenager, then in Wales, around Ireland and in Coleraine, assembling an eclectic repertoire which has English, Scottish and American ballads, music hall ditties and songs in Irish. In 1986, he joined the BBC’s Irish Language Unit as a producer and shortly afterwards began presenting Caschlár which features music from all over the world and styles including pop,  soul, country and traditional Irish music.

Ruth Smith is a performer, broadcaster and musician based in County Clare. As a regular presenter on RTÉ Radio 1 she shares her knowledge and passion for folk music every Sunday evening on her show Simply Folk. In October 2018, alongside well-known broadcaster John Creedon, Ruth was co-host for the inaugural RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards in Vicar Street. An experienced MC & events producer, Ruth has worked with The Volvo Ocean Race, The London Olympics and closer to home with the GAA, MCing the All-Ireland Hurling and Football finals at Croke Park. At the 2018 Fleadh Cheoil Ruth was one of the presenters on TG4’s FleadhTV along with Hector Ó hEochagáin and Doireann Ni Ghlacáin. A multi-instrumentalist on fiddle, piano & guitar, singer & songwriter, Ruth has performed at many festivals and events around the country including Doolin Folk Festival, Temple Bar Trad Fest and Body & Soul. Ruth’s academic studies span the traditional, classical and theatrical worlds with a BA in Music, Drama & Theatre Studies and HDip from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Trad Performance from The Irish World Academy of Music & Dance, University of Limerick.

Vincent Woods is a writer and broadcaster who has worked extensively with music and musicians in public performances and as a critic and editor.  He co-edited The Turning Wave: Poems and Songs of Irish Australia and Fermata: Writings Inspired by Music and has written liner notes for a number of albums. He has written song lyrics set to music by Mairtín O’Connor, Aidan Brennan and Charlie McGettigan and recorded by a number of singers in Ireland the U.S. He was part of The Leitrim Equation stage performance (2015/16) and with composer/musician Danny Diamond and dancer Edwina Guckian has developed a new performance piece, Open Room. His plays include At the Black Pig’s Dyke and A Cry from Heaven. Recent publications are Leaves of Hungry Grass: Poetry and Ireland’s Great Hunger and Borderlines (with Henry Glassie). Vincent lives in Dublin and is a member of Aosdána.



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