Musicians and dancers bring Irish music to the campus community and beyond

Tin whistles shone in the light, Irish step dancers kicked up a storm, and guests capered across the dance floor—lines forming and unraveling with each melodic cue in the sean-nós (“Old Style”) and social dancing classes. Above it all, set apart from the visitors by a raised stage, the Notre Dame Céilí Band orchestrated the evening.

The Notre Dame Céilí Band’s skill comes from two years of experience at home and abroad. According to Shannon Dunne, Céilí Band Director and acclaimed sean-nós dancer, the band was formed in 2021 to satisfy the growing interest in Irish music on campus. Before the founding of the Céilí Band, Notre Dame students engaged with Irish music only through classes: Tin Whistle, Irish Dance, and Irish Social Dance. These opportunities were not enough for students, many of whom kept approaching Ms. Dunne asking for more Irish music opportunities. Happy to share her passion for Ireland’s music, Dunne began hosting unofficial band rehearsals in 2021, open to anyone who already played Irish music. The first band members included not only students, but faculty and local musicians as well.

In the fall of 2021, the Irish Department hosted two céilís, introducing campus to the Notre Dame Céilí Band for the first time. Over 168 students attended, and the following spring, Céilí Band became an official class. Soon, rehearsals began including Irish dancers to anchor the music, and extra instruments were purchased to loan to beginner students courtesy of the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. In the summer of 2023, the band traveled to Ireland to study with musicians such as Brendan Mulvihill, Aidan Vaughan, Gerard Butler, and the Kilfenora Céilí Band (the oldest céilí band in Ireland). 

Since their return, Notre Dame’s Céilí Band has performed much more frequently, playing weekly at Fiddler’s Hearth on Sunday nights and “busking” (walking about and hosting pop-up céilís) on game days, where their music brings joy to even the staunchest Ohio State fans. The band is also looking forward to collaborating with the Westville Correctional Facility’s musicians—they plan to host a céilí as part of the Moreau College Initiative’s graduation ceremony later in the semester (the initiative allows incarcerated college students to earn credits towards an Associate of Arts degree from Holy Cross College). 

Today, the Céilí Band is made up of 30 passionate musicians of all skill levels and backgrounds. Some had never played music before joining, while others had performed Irish music before college and are now using their time in the band to pick up a new instrument. When asked if the band was looking for new members, Ms. Dunne responded with an emphatic “yes.” The band is seeking dancers and musicians proficient on Irish instruments including fiddle, tenor banjo, whistles, concertina, bodhran, and piano, as well as anyone willing to learn a new instrument. When asked about what drew her to Céilí Band, fiddle player Kateri Castillo said, “I loved how much joy there was in the room … There was laughter, friendship, room to make mistakes and a desire to play music together. It made me fall in love again with playing the fiddle” [Editor’s Note: Castillo is Webmaster for the Irish Rover]. 

In the future, Ms. Dunne sees the band continuing their tradition of bringing Irish music to Notre Dame’s campus and becoming the bearer of traditional Irish music for generations to come. To her knowledge, Our Lady’s University hosts the largest regular céilí outside of Ireland and is the only university céilí band. 

The Céilí Band’s next performance is the Halloween Céilí on October 31—there are no tricks scheduled, and it is sure to be a real treat. 

Katiebelle Thompson loves almost any kind of dancing—so far, she has tried sean-nós, Irish social, waltz, swing, modern, and musical theater. If she’s not dancing, she’s probably in the Museum of Biodiversity chilling with the fishes or roaming the halls of Hesburgh Library. If you have advice on swing dancing or questions about sharks, reach out to

Photo Credit: The Irish Rover

Subscribe to the Irish Rover here.

Donate to the Irish Rover here.