Sacred Irish Art and Music


Many kinds of religious art can be found in Ireland. The ancient and beautiful art form of iconography is not as old as many of the Celtic art Ireland is known for but in 1992, a group of people in Dublin started the Irish Association of Iconographers. That association continues to grow. It’s not hard to understand why the people of Ireland embraced this ancient art form. It is considered in many parts of the world as one of the most holy art forms. The word Icon comes from the Greek word eikon, meaning image. It is the word used in the Bible in Genesis, “God made man in His own icon” meaning image. St. Paul tells us that Christ is the image, ikon, of the invisible God. Colossians 1:15

Artistically speaking, icons are paintings of saints and religious themes that have a strong composition and vibrant colors. Gold is often used to accent parts of the icons, especially halos around the heads of saints. Creating an icon is a lengthy, month long process in which many steps must be completed in layers. When creating an icon it is called writing an icon instead of painting an icon. First, a panel of seasoned wood is chosen, sanded, and sealed with natural glue. It is covered with linen and several layers of gesso are applied. Once the gesso is completely dry, [similar to primer] it is sanded down to a super fine finish. The paints are made by hand with egg whites and raw pigment.

Iconographers regard their art form as a form of prayer. They do not strive to create work with a distinct style, nor do they sign their work. Iconography, through centuries, has a similar style and the artist feels the Holy Spirit guides them to create art in God’s image. It is a mirror in which the Divine is reflected. Every material used has a symbolic meaning of Christ.

wood, recalls the suffering on the cross
linen, reminding us of the shroud Jesus was wrapped in
egg, the symbol of resurrection
blue pigment, eternity and infinity
green pigment, earth and humanity
brown pigment, humility
red pigment, royalty and dignity
white, wisdom, innocence or invisibility
gold, the symbol of light and holiness, the situation in which the holy person in the icon now lives.

For information in general about icons, Iconofile is an excellent resource. Most information can be found on their website:

The Irish Association of Iconographers offers resources for creating and learning the art of writing icons. Applications to join this association can be requested using this information:

Sr. Majella O’Keeffe,
47 Forster Street,


Secretary, the Very Rev. John Reynolds
K.C.H.S., School Cottage, Kells, Co. Kilkenny (phone: 056-7728468).

Liturgical Music

Many Irish composers and performers of liturgical music are known throughout Ireland and abroad. The people of Ireland view music as part of the symbolic language of worship. Although not heavily funded, liturgical music is still a passion among religious circles and supporters. One composer, a priest, described liturgical music as a symbol of unity in a worshiping community between the people and their God and among people themselves. The ancient Gregorian Chant was a real expression of beauty as was the music of the great composers, but today the people of Ireland have to find other means of expressing this beauty using the resources and the means at hand.

The Archbishop’s Certificate Course for Church Musicians, which is organized by the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Church Music Committee, is vital for continuing the tradition of liturgical music in Ireland. Students of this course must commit to one year at a time, keeping in mind the course lasts three years. Focusing on the range of musical knowledge and craft that musicians within local churches would need, the course covers a diverse range of topics. This includes organ playing, training in choral conducting and rehearsal techniques together with tutorials on the structure of the Church’s liturgy and the role of music in it. Students are expected to pay tuition and most of the time the costs are shared between parish and student.

Music Associations and Societies

The Irish Guild of Organists and Choristers

An independent learned society based in Ireland, founded to promote the highest standards in liturgical music.

Friends of Cathedral Music

The Friends of Cathedral Music web site includes service times for choral services at UK and Irish cathedrals and other choral foundations.

UK Incorporated Association of Organists

Complete with links to any aspect of the instrument, ‘the IAO encompasses the professional organist, church musician, amateur player, organ builder, and music lover.’

Christ Church Cathedral Society of Change Ringers, Dublin

A section of the Cathedral’s web page devoted to its famous bells and the people who ring them.

Choral Public Domain Library

A site that collects and makes available public domain choral works, many of a religious nature, available for download. The amount of free music is amazing.

Church and Choral Sheet Music

A web site which ‘allows you to download and print as many copies of the listed music as you like. The site asks people to contribute and submit original music and arrangements. The music on this site is intended to be in the traditional vein, however other music styles can be submitted’, which the web master will review and include at his discretion. The site includes a list of music especially desired, from anthems and motets to descants and voluntaries.

Anglicans Online – Music Resources

The most comprehensive directory of music sites, associations, and information we could find.

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