Green Sleeves: Traditional & Classical

Seven decades of LP covers in Ireland

This section of the Green Sleeves exhibition draws together a range of different musical areas, including céilí, traditional, folk and classical. These areas embody certain cultural connotations such as authenticity, longevity and prestige. As can be seen from the examples selected there are clear efforts to develop distinct visual styles in each. Yet also evident is an effort on the part of some of the styles to appropriate visual signification from other areas, as with traditional music labels which consciously sought to adopt the stature of classical and jazz through the use of modernist photography and design.

The intro and overview page for the Green Sleeves exhibition is here.


Dating from the 1950s these records are both in the smaller 10 inch format which was popular during that decade but soon replaced by the larger 12 inch format.


As a genre, Céilí is a traditional form focused on live renditions and dance. The visual imagery is one rooted in the landscape and imagery of Ireland. Even where modernity is evident, as with the English based Liverpool Céilí Band, it is framed within a strongly Irish context. The image of the band portrayed on the steps leading up to an Aer Lingus aircraft is suggestive of the theme of emigration and return.

Classical Music

Many classical music records were released during the heyday of the vinyl record. Often recorded with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra or the RTÉ String Quartet, notably these featured frequent collaborations between traditional and classical musicians.

Peter Wildbur, who was primarily responsible for the visual imagery of Claddagh Records/Ceirníní Claddagh and Bill Bolger, who worked with the New Ireland Recording Company (a classical offshoot of the Mulligan label), were amongst those designers who introduced a strongly modernist typographic and visual approach.


Irish folk from the 1960s onwards  saw a growing popularity with groups and individuals drawing on a range of musical forms. This is reflected in the confident, strong and assertive visual formulations that on occasion draw upon traditional Irish imagery and at other times utilise strikingly contemporary approaches. Many of the groups in this selection would go on to significant national and international success both in folk and other genres.

Modern Traditionalism

This display shows albums in a traditional vein which played on modernist visual formulations. There is a conscious effort to reframe this genre as a contemporary strand of Irish culture. This is achieved using the sans serif typefaces, photography and avoidance of illustration or imagery traditionally associated with Ireland. Notable is the emphasis on photographs of the musicians involved which underlines the genre as a living tradition.

1980s Traditional  Divergence

The iconic cover of Johnny the Fox illustrated by Jim FitzPatrick uses an overtly Celtic Christian visual imagery. However Thin Lizzy were by then writing and performing largely in a hard rock style. Similarly, Horslips’ career spanning Best of is also framed in a Celtic Christian context – and unlike their other albums was not designed by group members. As with Thin Lizzy the group had moved away from their original musical approach and had incorporated both rock and some new wave elements into their songs. By contrast both Moving Hearts and Stockton’s Wing use a more modernist visual approach despite their music being positioned in more overtly traditional and folk styles, albeit with strong contemporary aspects.

Voyagers and Heritage

Using folk and classical instrumentation, composer Shaun Davey released a series of albums in the 1980s and early 1990s, including The Brendan Voyage and The Pilgrim. The former is inspired by Tim Severin’s voyage retracing a journey attributed to Saint Brendan, in a currach across the Atlantic from Ireland to Newfoundland. The latter describes the voyages of exploration by medieval Celtic seafarers.  Displayed here is the original painting by Pat Musick for The Brendan Voyage which is the centrepiece of the album. The Pilgrim was designed and illustrated by calligrapher and illustrator Tim O’Neill. The albums are rooted both musically and visually in a sense of Irish history and culture.