Real Irish Banjo Pickers at Dayton Celtic Festival, 2015

Originally Posted, July 29, 2015

As a folk-style banjo player since the 1960s, I was encouraged to hear Mumford and Sons put banjo back on the radio, at least temporarily. However, it’s also led to some interesting conversations as I’ve tried to explain to my musician friends the difference between “Irish” banjo (Celtic, actually) and what I do on my 5-string.

One friend was not convinced that a 4-string banjo picking single-note melodies (a classical Irish Banjo technique) would really add anything to the Celtic sound. I did find a couple Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem recordings that made him rethink that position. But hearing the We Banjo 3 band at the Dayton Celtic festival in July, 2015 made an even bigger dent.

We Banjo 3 is led by a several-time champion of the Irish banjo – Enda Scahill. Although they once had three banjos, the present configuration has two banjo pickers (picking 4-string banjos made in Galway), one guitarist who has the low strings on his guitar electrically augmented so he can play bass parts, and one fiddler, Enda’s brother.

One thing fun about them for me is that their sound often borders on US-style Folk Revival music as performed by the Kingston Trio and the Limeliters. But the most fun part is hearing banjos drive the song – a job that – in modern Celtic music – is more likely to be taken by the fiddle, mandolin, or button accordion. And drive, they do – picking so fast with a single thumbpick used like a flatpick that they’d give most Bluegrass pickers a run for their money.

Check them out:


It’ll change your attitude toward the banjo. 


About Paul

Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like,, and to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.