Ireland is renowned for the lyrical quality of its folk songs, handed down over generations by oral tradition. The emblem of Ireland is the Irish harp, because this was a favourite instrument in earlier centuries dating right back to the Middle Ages. Another traditional Irish instrument is the Irish bag-pipe, which is blown from a bellows, not by the player's breath as in the Scottish bag-pipe.

Dublin was an important musical centre in the 18th century, and its Academy of Music was founded in 1757. Handel's Messiah was first performed in Dublin in 1742.

John Field and Charles Villiers Stanford are two prominent Irish composers from the 19th century. John Field is especially remarkable because he was born towards the end of the classical era, and his piano-playing while a young child prodigy was heard by the grand old master of classical music, Josef Haydn. But he became the pioneer of romantic piano music, and invented the Nocturne.