"Drowsy Maggie" is one of the most well-known of all Irish reels, so commonly played that some may consider it hackneyed. It appears in "O'Neill's Music of Ireland," published in 1903. Its earlier origins are unclear. It was famously used in the 1997 James Cameron, "Titanic," catapulting its performers, Gaelic Storm, to international stardom. It also appeared in the 1973 cult classic "The Wicker Man," played whilst Sgt. Howie searches a house for Rowan.
Known by many names, different versions of "Miss McLeod's Reel" also vary considerably in their melodic characteristics. It is commonly played throughout the United Kingdom and in Canada and the United States. According to the Traditional Tune Archive, the tune first appeared in Nathaniel Gow's Fifth Collection of Strathspey Reels of 1809, the melody possibly referring to one of the sisters of Mr. McLeod (of Raasay), who communicated the reel to Gow.
Though some have claimed it for Shetland or the U.S., "St. Anne's Reel" probably originates from French-speaking Canada—it may be named after one of the St. Anne's Bays on the eastern side of the country. It was popularised by Canadian folk musician, band leader and radio broadcaster Don Messer, its popularity causing it also to enter into the repertoire of traditional Irish musicians.
The "Woodchopper's Reel" was written by New Brunswick fiddler Ned Landry around the middle of the twentieth century. It was also popularised by Don Messer, who recorded it in 1952 under the title "Pea Soup." It has also become popular in the American Mid-West, having, for example, been played by Nebraska fiddlers Bob Walters and Cyril Stinnett.
"Chicken Reel" was composed and published in 1910 by Joseph M. Daly (1883–1968). It is probably one of the best-known poultry-related folk tunes. It is frequently found in early animated cartoons as a catchy tune used to represent farmyard activity, or a gathering of fowl. Originally composed as a novelty song, it has since passed into modern folk tradition, normally played without words. It was popularly recorded by Les Paul, his performances whimsically mimicking chicken sounds on his guitar.
"Tam Lin," also known as the "The Howling Wind" or "Glasgow Reel" originates from Scotland. It is associated with the legendary ballad of the same name, the story of which revolves around the rescue of Tam Lin by his true love from the Queen of the Fairies. The motif of capturing a person by holding him through all forms of transformation is found throughout Europe in folktales.
Whist Irish traditional music, reels included, is often swung, here the effect more is of the blues rather than of more conventional reels. This is reinforced by some of the harmonic and melodic details (e.g. dominant to subdominant movement in the B section and flattening of the 7th degree of the scale). Taken together, these details suggest a North American origin for this piece.