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Live Venues: Traditional Irish Music

Carlotta Cutrale
By Carlotta Cutrale / November 8, 2019

After spending enough time in Ireland and with Irish people, you’ll be probably hit by the great epiphany (or inducted realisation!) that no matter who you talk to, anyone will tell you that their surname has origins infused with mystery and legend. But above all that they descend from a centenary lineage of bards or storytellers. And most probably it is true considering their skill and aptitude in telling anecdotes. Along with music which seems to run in the blood of the Irish and once you set foot in the Old Sod, you will never be disappointed.

It seems almost natural that in a country like this with so many cultural stimuli and artistic skills, an entire independent folk genre has been created using traditional instruments such as Flute, Fiddle, Tin Whistle, Low Whistle, Uilleann Pipes, the Bodhrán and the Harp. 

That’s why if you fancy a good pint and a good listen to the deeds of some daring Irishman, or simply to the sad story of a fishmonger over the sound of a rhythmic violin together with a lively acoustic guitar, take a look at the list of these Irish pubs below, away from the super touristy areas where you can fully breathe all the possible Emerald Island spirit.

Dolans

Go big or go to Dolan’s. Let’s start this Traditional journey in the splendid city of Limerick. This pub, the best-loved and award-winning place for being a great live music venue, is the perfect spot for listening to Irish music seven nights a week all year round. The two twin venues the Upstairs and the newly built Kasbah social club host a variety of different acts and events for any kind of new approach to Irish Trad Music. 

Where: 3-4 Dock Rd, Limerick, V94 VH4X

 

O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub

With its gigantic guitar hanging at the entrance, O’Sullivan’s pub plunged into the delightful Irish countryside close to Tralee, is where the musicians from the other pubs head after their sessions finish. In other words, where the real magic happens. Great people, great music, and great atmosphere!! If you’re in Dingle (and why wouldn’t you be!) this is a must-stop shop for a good time!

Where: Dingle, Co. Kerry

 

The Cobblestone

Away from the chaotic Temple Bar lies this awesome Traditional pub. The Cobblestone offers a genuine Irish atmosphere where the music is not put on for a show: musicians and singers hand on songs, tunes and skills that keep the tradition alive. Everyone is welcome. The Cobblestone is in one of Dublin’s oldest neighbourhoods, Smithfields, nowadays becoming always more popular. Great Guinness and regular live music sessions. Honestly, the best live session in town, if you do want to dive into the Irish world. 

Where: 77 King St N, Smithfield, Dublin, D07 TP22

 

Johnnie Fox’s

Whether you are looking to enjoy your pint or to get a glimpse of ‘old Ireland’ and to listen to some traditional Irish music, Johnnie Fox’s has something for you, hand down. Live music and entertainment have always been a brand of Johnnie Fox’s and likely to be enjoyed seven nights a week and during the day time every weekend and bank holiday Monday’s. Top Irish musicians from around the country entertain you with Irish music and Irish ballads with guests raising their drinks, tapping their toes and some even show off their dancing moves on the flagstone floors.

Where: Glencullen, Co. Dublin

 

The Brazen Head

Dating back to 1198, The Brazen Head is officially Ireland’s oldest pub and pretty well know to host a live show every night, as well as a fantastic Sunday afternoon session. Carrying on also some very legendary nights (not only for the quality of the music, most likely for the content: folklore and fairies: 100% fun), ever since, it manages to keep its historical heritage pretty safe. A chance to find a decent pint, excellent music sessions, set-dancing and shaggy-bearded locals with misty eyes, ready to tell you great stories while playing their banjo.

Where: 20 Lower Bridge St, The Liberties, Dublin, D08 WC64 

 

O’Donoghues

Keeping our attention in Dublin, O’Donoghues is one of those pubs that since the beginning give you the feeling to be steeped in folk history and to host great night Trad sessions. Christy Moore and the Dubliners listed it as one of their favourite venues, where to play and of course to listen to some music in Dublin. It has been an attraction not only for tourists from all over the world but is also a favourite refuge of local Dubliners, who for seven nights a week come to the bar for the real Irish Music Experience.  

Where: 15 Merrion Row, Dublin

 

The Crane Bar 

Migrating to Galway, among all the great pubs scattered all over this exciting city, the Crane Bar pops out. The colourful Crane is one of the few remaining authentic traditional bars with live sessions nightly, highlighted even more by the local people presence. The music is exactly how it should be: toe-tapping, addictive, jammy and crafty. Try real tradition, try The Crane Bar.

Where: 2 Sea Rd, Galway

 

 

Buckley’s Bar 

Oak panelled walls and a cosy fireplace are the trademarks of Buckley’s Bar, reflecting exactly that timeless golden Irish pub in everyone’s imagination. Founded by Tim Buckley, also the mind behind the Arbutus Hotel in Killarney, where actually the pub is located, started to become a lighthouse in the misty Irish night: some of the country’s finest musicians often drop in for an ‘unplanned, unprogrammed and unamplified’ session, much to the delight of visitors. Start your engines and reach the lovely county of  Kerry, the Irish-est of them all. 

Where: College St, Killarney, Co. Kerry

 

McGann’s Pub

The village of Doolin is home to one of Ireland’s most historic and enigmatic pubs, steeped in mystery and tradition, and located in one of the most admired places, the Cliffs of Moher.  The influence of those free and rebellious spirits hanging around the surrounding areas made this place the safe heaven for all the fathers and mothers of “spontaneous” Traditional music sessions: run almost non stop and can happen any time now. Grab your guitar and let’s have a pint, singing out loud about those unspoken stories and fairytales. 

Where: Main Street, Roadford, Doolin, Co. Clare

 

Maddens Bar

The real Belfast headquarters for traditional Irish music. If you ask around this place will come up as first when listing the live venues for traditional music. Irish musicians, dancers and storytellers will tell their unique stories, ‘The Belfast Story’ in here. Traditional Irish music instruments line the walls and provide the perfect backdrop for top-quality traditional music seven nights a week.

Where: 74 Berry St, Belfast BT1 1FJ

 

 

An Spailpín Fánach

Yes, it’s not just your Gaelic exam topic. An Spailpin Fanach takes its name from the infamous poem, part of the Celtic heritage, drenched in legends and myths ready to be discovered out loud. If that’s not tradition, I don’t know what is. This amazing place with its lively atmosphere managed to be that popular as with locals as with tourist. In fact, in the heart of Cork city, it offers live music every night as well as being considered a lovely soothing place, where to enjoy the authentic atmosphere. A spot where to have a lovely chat with some melodic notes of an Accordeon on the background.

Where: 29 S Main St, Centre, Cork

 

Gogarty’s

Let’s take a step behind, back to Dublin again. Even if this place is set in the very core of the Temple Bar, the most touristy spot in Dublin, it fights very hard to maintain its name as a proper and not-so-contaminated Irish pub with Trad sessions. Upstairs, on the first floor is possible, if you’re quick enough, to find yourself a small table, a stool, a wall where to rest and appreciate the show. Enjoy the very best of traditional music every day from 1 pm till 2.30 am.

Where: 18-21 Anglesea St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

 

 Joey Watty’s Bar

That’s definitely a goody! As bizarre and distant as it may seem just to listen to good Irish music, well, this legendary pub, located in Inis More, an island part of the Aran Islands, is frankly a real gem and you’re almost guaranteed a dance. Some regulars might object to the come-al-ye attitude but, frankly, the music spirit never disappoints. It’s the place to peacefully nurse a drink and let the melody waft over you.

Where: Stáisiun Doiteain Inis Mor, Kilronan, Aran Islands, Co. Galway

 

De Barra’s

Flutes, fiddles, bodhráns, pipes and mandolins fill the air of this temple of the traditional folk Irish pub.  From intimate gigs in the sitting room (really) to wild and lively jam sessions it has earned a musical reputation thanks to its music cooperations with Noel Redding (the Jimi Hendrix Experience), Paddy Keenan (The Bothy Band) and folk artists Christy Moore and Roy Harper. The very same Moore stated, “There’s Carnegie Hall, The Royal Albert, Sydney Opera House and then there’s De Barra’s”. I honestly believe this.

Where: 55 Pearse St, Scartagh, Clonakilty, Co. Cork, P85 RH95

 

Robinsons Bar

Soaked in Irish tradition and packed with bits of history, the Robinsons Bar is its genuine item and is one of Belfast’s most renowned spots for live Irish folk music. It has an entire level only dedicated to Fold Irish Music: Fibbers. Grab a stool by the fire, sip a pint of stout and enjoy the tunes. With violins, pipes and bodhráns: the craic is guaranteed 7 nights a week!

Where: 38-40 Great Victoria St, Belfast BT2 7BA

 

Matt Malloy’s

Matt Malloy, the fife player from the Chieftains, runs this old-school pub where his personal musical heritage comes vividly to life. Divided in sever areas, there’s going to be a good craic for sure, no matter where. Whether you’d head to the back room where you’ll probably catch live céilidh (traditional music and dancing), or perhaps a veteran musician crooning a few classics, this old school pub will be able to help you sort out your night. Irish style, of course.

Where: Bridge St, Cahernamart, Westport, Co. Mayo

 

The Beach Bar

Whether you’re a thirsty surfer just off the waves or a traveller seeking out an other-worldly Irish adventure, this place right on the beach, is the safe heaven you were looking for.. With a well-established reputation as a live music venue, The Beach Bar caters for all music tastes from an evening of traditional  Irish music with a twist. NB: every Saturday night at 9,30 the real Irish night begins and all musicians are welcome to join in.

Where: Aughris head, Templeboy, Co. Sligo, F91 YE98

 

Tigh Neachtain’s

Sharon Shannon, Brendan O’Regan, Deirbhile Ni Bhrolchain, Kevin Hough, Breda Smyth and Brian Lennon. These are just some of the well-known names to hang around in this typical and authentic pub, Irish-styled. Tigh Neachtain’s strong connection with Galway’s arts and musical communities adds to the charm of the already welcoming interior. Exactly what you want from an Irish Pub to be: interesting, cultural great atmosphere, excellent entertaining.

Where: 17 Cross Street, Galway, Ireland

About the author

Carlotta Cutrale


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