Irish Studies Würzburg

Guest Lecture: Michelle Zirkel (University of Bamberg, Germany), "Northern Irish Songs in the EFL Classroom"

Datum: 15.12.2022, 10:00 - 12:00 Uhr
Ort: Online
Vortragende: Michelle Zirkel

Music is deeply ingrained in (Northern) Ireland’s cultural DNA, with numerous scholars (McCarthy 1999, O’Flynn 2009, O’Shea 2008, Smyth 2009, White 1998) illustrating that “a range of factors that were specific to Ireland’s cultural and political history would lead to a dominant conception of the relationship between music and nation that was at considerable variance with patterns observable elsewhere in Europe” (O’Flynn & Fitzgerald 2014: 1). In addition, both songs by Northern Irish artists and songs about Northern Ireland, which will be subsumed under the umbrella term Northern Irish songs for the purpose of this talk, hold great potential for ELT since they are cultural artefacts through which students can explore (Northern) Irish identities, cultures, history, and (Northern) Irish varieties of English. This talk will provide an overview of both contemporary and traditional songs about Northern Ireland’s history and cultures, as well as popular songs by Northern Irish singers, songwriters, and bands. This overview comprises bands of different genres, i.e. Irish folk, (electro) pop, (alternative and indie) rock bands, and Northern Irish rappers. With regard to the first category of songs, a focus will be placed on two historic events which have shaped Irish history and contemporary society: the Great Famine (1845 - 1849) and the ensuing Irish diaspora, as well as the Troubles (the late 1960s - 1998) and their repercussions, which are still palpable in today’s society. These key events have also been reflected in (Northern) Irish songs, especially, though not solely, in traditional Irish music, as traditional songs and Irish identity are closely linked to one another (Vallelly 2014). The second category of songs includes pieces by famous Northern Irish musicians, such as Two Door Cinema Club, Northern Irish rappers Jun Tzu and Wee Goose, and Northern Irish singer Brooke Scullion who represented Ireland in the Eurovision song contest this year. It also lists Belfast’s music patrons Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol and Hannah Peel, who composed the theme song of the well-known Game of Thrones: The Last Watch series, as well as Van Morrison, who won numerous music awards and wrote the song “Down to Joy” (2021) for the film Belfast (2021), which was nominated for various prizes as well. Furthermore, a specific noteworthy genre will be highlighted, namely (Northern) Irish sea shanties, as sea shanties have gained considerable popularity among teenagers since Scotsman Nathan Evans performed the sea shanty “Wellerman” on TikTok (Renner 2021). Both the linguistic characteristics and the educational potential of some of these songs and shanties will be exemplified. For this purpose, a list of pre-, while- and post-listening tasks and other teaching ideas will be elucidated, which can be used to foster music literacy, literary literacy, English language skills (such as listening and reading skills, developing language awareness, lexical and grammatical competence, writing and speaking skills, among others) and to achieve general educational goals (such as education for peace and social justice, as well as inter- and transcultural learning) when teaching these Northern Irish songs in the EFL classroom.


Belfast (2021). Directed by Kenneth Branagh. [Feature film]. Germany: Universal Pictures.
McCarthy, M. (1999). Passing it On: The Transmission of Music in Irish Culture. Cork: Cork University Press.
O’Flynn, J. & Fitzgerald, M. (2014). “Introduction”. In: O’Flynn, John & Fitzgerald, Mark (eds.): Music and Identity in Ireland and Beyond. Surrey: Taylor  & Francis Group, 1–18.
O’Flynn, J. (2009). The Irishness of Irish Music. Farnham: Ashgate.
O’Shea, H. (2008). The Making of Irish Traditional Music. Cork: Cork University Press.
Renner, R. (2021). “Everyone’s Singing Sea Shanties (or Are They Whaling Songs?) Hauling sail into 2021 like ‘soon may the Wellerman come’”. The New York Times. (, last accessed 4 February 2022).
Smyth, G. (2009). Music in Irish Cultural History. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.
Vallelly, F. (2008). Tuned Out: Traditional Music and Identity in Northern Ireland. Cork: Cork University Press.
White, H. (1998). The Keeper’s Recital: Music and Cultural History in Ireland 1770–1970. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Michelle Zirkel is a lecturer, research assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of Bamberg with an interest in global education, inter-/transcultural learning with a focus on Irish Studies, popular culture, and media literacy (particularly (web) apps and virtual reality) in the EFL classroom as well as interdisciplinary teacher education. She is a member of Irish Studies Würzburg and spent several months in Ireland, working as a language assistant and participating in an Erasmus+ project. She graduated from the University of Würzburg with a teacher’s degree in English and Spanish, and in her thesis, she focused on different ways of teaching Irish culture, using various kinds of texts and media (e.g. songs, web apps, comedy sketches, TV series, critical incidents).

If you are interested in participating in this online event, please sign up by sending an email with the subject line “ZIRKEL” to by December 14, 2022. Please include your full name and affiliation or address. All participants will receive a zoom link to the event in due time. 
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Irish Studies Würzburg (ISWÜ)

Prof. Dr. Ina Bergmann & Prof. Dr. Maria Eisenmann