Mandolin players’ favourite sets

Updated 1 March 2021

We all have favourite sets. The ones we instinctively turn to playing when we’re sat at home with the mandolin in our hands. Or when we’re given the nod in a session to kick off a few tunes… Sets that we’ve learned from other musicians – from recordings or from sessions. Sets that we’ve put together ourselves… These are some favourite sets submitted by both myself and other mandolin players from around the world. Hopefully you’ll get some inspiration from them… Many thanks to Michael Gregory for suggesting this new feature in the site. I’m always open to new submissions so use the contact me page to get in touch with your suggestions.


Submitted bySets
Aidan CrosseyThe Humours of Glendart ( Pay The Reckoning ( I got these jigs from the Planxty album “After The Break” where they play the set East At Glendart/Bryan O’Lynn/Pay The Reckoning. This is possibly my “go to” set. Both tunes are well-known but not too hackneyed and nine times out of ten this leads to most of the players being able to join in and “give ‘er diddy”.

The Nightcap ( The Frost Is All Over ( I got The Nightcap from an old, scratchy recording from back in the 1920s. It teams well with The Frost Is All Over.

The Nightingale ( Junior Crehan’s (The Luathradain) ( I learned The Nightingale fairly recently after Michael O’Meara sent me a mandolin version. A gorgeous jig, composed by Sean Ryan. It seemed to my ear to lead naturally into the second jig which I learned from now-defunct sessions in the now-defunct White Horse in Bethnal Green. One of my absolute favourite jigs.

The Rakes Of Kildare (Major Version)/ The Rakes Of Kildare (Minor Version) ( I found it really pleasing to the ear to have the minor version of this tune follow the major. I’d never heard anyone else combine the two. However I started this set one night in a pub locally and one of the fiddlers followed me immediately into the minor version and said that it had been one of his favourite sets for many years.

An Paistin Fionn ( Sport ( The first tune I got from a recording by the concertina player Mary McNamara called The Blackberry Blossom. It goes well with the beautiful 3 part jig composed by Peadar O Riada.

An Rogaire Dubh ( Na Ceannabhain Bhana ( A classic set – either played in this direction or the other – i.e. Na Ceannabhain Bhana first.

Condon’s Frolics ( The Eavesdropper ( Learned from the playing of Paddy Keenan and the late Arty McGlynn on the album Poirt An Phiobaire
Michael GregoryEllen O’Leary’s ( Port Dalai ( Learned from a youtube video Eoghan O’Sullivan (accordion) and Paul de Grae (guitar)
John DickinsonPaddy Burke’s (
The Lark In The Morning (
John says: “I think I learned Paddy Burke’s from one of Shane Farell’s youtube banjo videos along with (maybe) The Lark in the Morning but that’s a long time favourite tune I remember being played with vigour on the Uilleann pipes in a bar in Liscannor!” (NB: Aidan Crossey adds – Paddy Burke’s is more commonly known as “The (Rollicking) Boys Of Tandragee” – a small town in my home county, Armagh.”


Submitted bySets
Aidan CrosseyThe Sunny Banks ( The Mills Are Grinding ( The first tune I’ve known since forever. The second tune I got from the album The Smoky Chimney by Gerry Harrington, Eoghan O’Sullivan and Paul de Grae. Together they simply sound sprightly and happy.

The Glass Of Beer ( The Flowers Of Red Hill ( The Monaghan Twig ( The transition from B Minor to a modal A key gives this set a great lift. I got the first tune from a session somehere in the dim and distant past. The second tune I got from a Bothy Band album, And The Monaghan Twig is simply one of my favourite reels and seems to find a home almost anywhere. It’s trotted out regularly at The Blythe Hill Tavern session, often in surprising company! One of my favourite recordings is by James Kelly, Paddy O’Brien and Daithi Sproule.

The Wedding Reel ( Miss Monaghan ( The Monaghan Twig ( I heard The Wedding Reel for the first time at a session and was immediately drawn to the syncopation in the second part. (Which was unusual, because I usually find that syncopation grates on me a bit…) I found it slid quite well into Miss Monaghan – a classic two part reel. And I like to end this off with a cheeky transition to The Monaghan Twig; as I said above, it’s one of my all time favourite tunes and it can give a set a great sense of lift. And I quite enjoy the humour of combining two tunes with Monaghan in the title!

Sailing Into Walpole’s Marsh ( The Boys Of The Lough ( I saw Paul Brady and Andy Irvine play at The Barbican in London a while back. Brady played Walpole’s Marsh on mandolin and it was a moment of pure magic. Although I had found this quite a hard tune to get my head around, I made an effort to learn it. It makes a great companion – in my opinion – for The Boys Of The Lough which is a grand old reel indeed.

Jim Donoghue’s ( Lafferty’s ( John Carty plays the first reel as the opening track on his album “At It Again” – numerous times round, numerous variations. Pure magic. I defy anyone who hears him play to resist learning this great reel. I like to run it into Lafferty’s, a very well-known reel and a great session favourite.

The Green Fields Of Rosbeigh ( The Green Mountain ( Rosbeigh is a tune you’d hear fairly often in sessions. Having said that, for some reason it took me a while to learn it and it’s only made its way in to my repertoire in the past few years. But it fitted in like it had always been there! I like to riff on the “green” theme by following it with The Green Mountain. Many people see a great resemblance between The Green Mountain and the somewhat overplayed Maid Behind The Bar. Apart from the odd phrase, I find them very different indeed, with The Green Mountain far more pleasing to my ear!

The Fairy Reel ( The Old Torn Petticoat ( I would never have thought of combining these two tunes in a set but was very taken by Danu’s pipes-led version on their album “The Road Less Travelled”. Great stuff!

The Duke Of Leinster ( /The Duke Of Leinster’s Wife ( Tommy Peoples’ ( The first two tunes are a classic set, so much so that the second tune – also known as The Ladies’ Pantalettes – has become known as the “wife” of the first! The Duke Of Leinster’s Wife generates a bit of controversy in that some people play the “F”s in the second part as natural and therefore out of keeping with the key signature, whereas others play them sharp. I have recorded the tune in the “learn some tunes” section of the site with the “F”s natural. However after playing some tunes a little while ago with a flute-player friend of mine, I have begun to lean towards playing them sharp. I find that the Duke Of Leinster’s Wife leads very naturally into the final tune – possibly the best-known of the many reels named after Tommy Peoples and I’ve noticed that it has “osmosed” into one or two sessions in which I’ve played locally.

The Humours Of Ballyconnell ( Swinging On A Gate ( I got this set from the second track of a recording by Seamus Quinn and Gary Hastings called “Slan Le Loch Eirne”.

The Corner House ( Jenny’s Wedding ( I got this set from the opening track of Paddy Keenan’s album “Na Keen Affair”, where he’s joined by Tommy Peoples who takes the lead on the first tune. Jenny’s Wedding is regarded as a classic piper’s tune but it fits well on the mandolin and is a pleasure to play – as well as to listen to!
Michael GregoryThe Galtee Rangers ( The Gleanntan ( O’Callaghan’s ( The Galtee Rangers Set -sometimes referred to as the Sliabh Luachra National Anthem. All three tunes are recorded on the seminal album “The Star Above the Garter” but only the first two are played together there.  Jackie Daly added on the 3rd tune and he says that this set is now played in nearly every Sliabh Luachra session, usually at the end. 

The Banks Of The Ilen ( Tom Billy’s ( Another set which could well stake its claim to “national anthem” status!

Rolling In The Ryegrass ( Johnny When You Die ( Anything For John Joe ( Michael got these tunes from the album “Rolling On” by Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly.
John DIckinsonPaddy Fahey’s No. 1 ( Delaney (
John says: “These are newly learned … Julia Delaney’s from your website and Paddy Fahey’s from a facebook post by Rodney Lancaster of Cat Melodeon (Sligo)… he mentions that the set may be called ‘The Cow In The Flowers’.
Bren O’LearyA long-time friend – both in the ether and in real-life occasionally – Bren likes to play these three Scottish reels as his “failsafe” when sitting in on an unfamiliar session. (Bren’s job has seen him globe-trot, always with a mandolin in his luggage and always on the look-out for a good session in any town in which he finds himself…)

Colgrave Soond (can’t find a decent link to dots, abc or tab for that – sorry. Here’s a link to Jenna Reid showing you how to play it on fiddle ( Robertson’s (


Submitted bySets
Aidan CrosseyThe Harp And Shamrock ( The Tailor’s Twist ( I’m ashamed to say that it took me quite a while to appreciate the sheer glory of hornpipes. Possibly because – truth be told – some of the most gorgeous hornpipes are also quite hard to play! These two tunes, however, are very easy on the ear and very easy on the fingers!

The Stack Of Barley ( The Showman’s Fancy ( The Stack Of Barley is a quintessential tune and – incidentally – one of the tunes mentioned in The Galway Shawl (alongside The Blackbird, Rodney’s Glory and The Foggy Dew). If pushed to do that impossible thing and name a single tune to name as my all-time favourite, I’d be very inclined to nominate The Showman’s Fancy. It’s simply infectious – and infectiously simple!
Michael GregoryThe Wicklow ( The Plains Of Boyle ( Suggested to a friend of Michael’s by Paddy O’Brien.


Submitted bySets
Michael GregoryDan Jeremiah’s ( Paudy Scully’s ( The Game Cock ( Hear Michael play these tunes via the following links.

The Scart ( Is It The Priest You Want? ( / Barrack Hill ( Learned from the wonderful album with the title Midleton Rare by Daithi Kearney (banjo) and John Cronin (accordion).

The Brosna ( The Scartaglen ( Padraig O’Keefe’s Favourite ( Nelly Mahony’s ( This big slide set was a favourite of the Sliabh Luachra legendary box player, Johnny O’Leary. To those in the know, it’s simply called “The Brosna Set”…


Submitted bySets
Aidan CrosseyFarewell To Whiskey ( Number 5 ( The first tune in played “northern polka” style – unlike the sort of Kerry polkas with which we’re all probably more familiar. Hence it leads very well into the march Number 5 – a tune from the Orange fife and drum tradition which I learned from the (ecumenical) playing of Gary Hastings.

Leather Away The Wattle-O ( The Lakes Of Sligo ( Sometimes in a session there’s a need for something just a little bit different to leaven the jigs and the reels. This is one of my go-to sets when a 2/4 time signature is called for!
Michael GregoryThe Knocknaboul Polkas ( and These are both in Matt Cranitch’s Irish Fiddle Book, an indispensable resource for Sliabh Luachra afficionados.  

The Ballydesmond Polkas ( and Egan’s ( People ascribe numbers to the Ballydesmond Polkas, but they don’t always agree which tune is which number. Follow the links to get the tunes in the order in which Michael plays them.


Submitted bySets
Aidan CrosseyPearl O’Shaughnessy’s Number 1 ( – the first two parts as notated in transcription number 1)/ Pearl O’Shaughnessy’s Number 2 (the final two parts as notated in the transcription linked in the above) (barndances) I got these two rather tricky tunes from “The Smoky Chimney” by Eoghan O’Sullivan, Gerry Harrington and Paul de Grae. A classic album that I always return to when I need my spirits lifting!

The Dances At Kinvara ( The Hills Of Tara ( (barndances) The first of these tunes – and to my ear a thing of great beauty – was written by Ed Reavey, who gave the world of Irish music so many grand melodies. The second is another tune which I got from “The Smoky Chimney”.
Aidan CrosseyBean Pháidín (Bean Pháidín (slip jig) on The Session) / The Whinny Hills Of Leitrim (The Whinny Hills Of Leitrim (slip jig) on The Session) A set of slip jigs which has recently grabbed me. The first tune I came across originally as a song by Johnny Moynihan on De Dannan’s highly-regarded debut album. The second I heard as “The Fisherman’s Lilt” played by Flook as an interlude/addendum to Susan McKeown’s version of “The Wee Birds Have All Come And Gone”. I’ve subsequently found that the tune is more commonly known as “The Whinny Hills Of Leitrim”.
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