Dublin pub music experiences

Dublin pub music experiences

I just returned from a few days in Dublin- my first time in Ireland- and of course I visited several pubs and heard what music I could.

I was purely being a tourist. I didn’t bring an instrument.

Before this trip I looked over some old threads here of people asking where to go to hear trad sessions. What was interesting about these threads is that the advice of where NOT to go outnumbered the advice of where TO go, and the where not was overwhelmingly Temple Bar.

Being an American tourist of course I went there!

It was exactly as reported: prepackaged music performances aimed at tourists. Too loud. And even though it was only April the streets were thronged with Italians, French, and yes Americans. Did I mention the guy in the leprechaun suit? Oi oi. Got out quick.

I found a nice session right where you all said I would: The Cobblestone. As reported it was conveniently close to a Luas stop. (BTW for someone from the Greater Los Angeles area the Public transport in Dublin is amazing. We have nothing close! You have Luas and DART and buses and trains, and with the wonderful Leap Card in your hand you can go anywhere from Dublin Airport to Howth, and we did.)

The Cobblestone session had fiddles and flutes and a banjo and a singer. Different from sessions here I’ve been to, that session had as much song as tunes. The songs were solo and long, mostly the sort that tell a complicated humourous story.

It being early it wasn’t difficult finding a seat at the bar close to the music. The only thing I did other than listen and drink was to ask one of the fluteplayers about his Radcliff flute (they’re easy to spot).

When we left Cobblestone we got some very good pizza at Bel Cibo, halfway between Cobblestone at the Luas stop.

The next night we went to Pipers Corner. The music was wonderful. There was a terrific young piper, two fluters, three fiddlers, a guitarist, and a fellow who switched between being one of the fluters and singing. He had a massive tone on the flute and was a fine singer too. Once again there was as much song as tunes.

I thought it odd how empty the place was. At most it was less than half full, except when a tour group stopped by for a bit. (They had a half-pint each, then departed.) It was great for us because we could hear the music. The acoustics were far better than at the Cobblestone, it seemed to me.

I don’t know, of course, whether the music at these places were social gatherings or paid perfomers. I did notice that Pipers Corner isn’t listed as being a session on this site.

Overall I felt that those particular sessions weren’t much different from the ones here other than having a higher portion of song. They were around the same size as most of the sessions I’ve seen here, a half-dozen or so players.

We also stopped by O Donoghue’s but there was no music going at that time. Actually several other pubs we visited had "live music" signs but there wasn’t music when we happened to be there.

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Fun to hear about your experience, Richard. My one trip to Ireland was about 20 years ago. In Dublin, I played a terrific session at Oliver St. John Gogarty pub, literally feet away from the Temple Bar. There were no websites then, so I and my companions had to wing it, but we found enough good sessions traveling to and from the southwest of Ireland to satisfy. A golden memory!

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I took my first trip to Ireland this summer. Went to the Cobblestone, decent music but standing room only and not easy to hear. Went to a place with set dancing and a nice trio of accordion, fiddle and piano on the way back to the hotel, though, which was lovely. Only in Dublin for two days, so the Cobblestone was my only session there.

We spent the rest of our trip in Ennis, which was lovely — our inexpensive room was within a short walk of between 2-5 sessions each night, with top shelf Clare and Limerick musicians all around along with the tourists and expats.

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The Piper’s Corner is a great place - anywhere with a giant mural of Seamus Ennis outside is cool with me! I think it is either owned or run by Seán Óg Potts but could be wrong on that point. They also have some really decent beers there.

I think it’s quieter because it’s in a strange little corner of town. It’s only a stone’s throw from O’Connell St, but O’Connell St. isn’t really a night life spot anyway, and in any case that pub is ‘the wrong direction’ away from O’Connell St and although it’s beside the Luas it isn’t on the way to or from anywhere on foot, other than some rather rough parts of the north inner city. It’s the sort of place you’d be unlikely to just happen upon when you’re out and about.

With the Cobblestone, your best bet is to hit some of the early evening sessions before it gets busy. If you’re in there around 6-7pm you’ll be able to hear some great music and might even get a stool at the bar. If you keep your eyes peeled you’ll sometimes run into well-known musicians there who aren’t even playing tunes but just socialising. If you’re planning to head in at 10pm on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll end up somewhere down the back or outside, and won’t hear anything.

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I’d suspect the greater ratio of songs is related to the general tourist theme of Dublin city centre. Most tourists would just get bored with tunes, ‘don’t they all sound the same?’ etc. So the musicians and those paying them have more of a eye for variety. I’ve never played in a Dublin city centre session or even visited one but I’d lay a bet that the musicians or a good core of them in any venue are on some sort of retainer.

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Stayed near Christchurch Cathedral during our visit in March this year, and went to the Brazen Head several times, just to listen. 3 guys singing and playing a variety of instruments in the smaller bar on 2 mid-week nights, but not a join-in session: very pleasant and friendly and never a Wild Rover in sight: we knew most of the songs, which were a mix of traditional and more contemporary, including some Simon & Garfunkel! However they did go through the exact same repertoire of songs on the 2 nights. At the weekend, music was in the bigger bar and VERY LOUD! We also tried O’Shea’s one night: button accordion + guitar, but again unnecessarily loud. Had hoped to try the Cobblestone, but didn’t make it there this time.

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I wouldn’t look for pub session experiences, especially in Dublin, but try to connect with friends and have an impromptu session somewhere welcoming. It could be a house session. Doesn’t have to be in a pub. The following are the only prerequisites:

1) No singing, ever
2) Few or no tourists, especially Irish American tourists (I have my reasons, mostly related to #1)
3) Maximum 1 bodhran playing at any one time
4) Minimal chit chat. Heads down, tunes, tunes, tunes, tunes…

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I went to Ireland for the first time last June and got the same advice. I did not go into Temple Bar itself but I enjoyed the craziness of the neighborhood on the afternoon of an Ireland vs.? football game. It reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans. I did have at pint at Oliver St. John Gogarty but there was no music. Bought a couple of CDs and my favorite tipper at a nearby music store. I went to the Cobblestone on the first non-rain day of our visit and I spent a couple of hours listening to a session right next to the musicians. I suspect the place was empty because of the nice weather. I heard all the music later in my visit to Dingle. It’d be hard not to find good music in Dingle.

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Interesting thread…I will be in Dublin (as well as Galway and Kenmare) 7/3-7/13. I plan to connect with a friend in Spiddel and hit a session and maybe see if I can join one in Kenmare one evening if I come across one. I am connecting with a hard playing friend in Dublin, and she has not spoken highly of the Dublin pub session scene. I will staying in Dublin just off Grafton street, so if anyone has any tips for a real session in that areas, please let me know. Otherwise, I just enjoy my time in Dublin sans sessions.

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A few years ago, I asked the fellow at Claddagh Records (the one on 2 Cecilia street, Temple Bar) and he recommended Hughes’ bar (Four Courts) and Cobblestone (both on the same side of the river, and within walking distance from each other). A pretty relaxed session at Hughes’ (a trio, two fiddles and one accordion, if I remember correctly - I was happy listening to them). The Cobblestone sessions sometimes had (has?) a lot of musicians. One session was very welcoming to pipers (I think I counted four or five, and that’s a lot). I remember a nice session where I played and chatted with people I had seen gigging here in Sweden. Another night, I met a lad whom I had played with in Glencolmcille two years before. Two nights in a row there was someone who just had to start Whiskey Before Breakfast. An American girl was showing off (kind of) by starting three circus tunes. Nobody joined her, so she tried a standard polka (which shall remain nameless) and played harmony throughout (one third above!).

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Jayhawk said: "…maybe see if I can join one in Kenmare one evening if I come across one."

Our last time in Ireland (two years ago, in 2016) the mrs. and I rented a house in MacGillycuddy’s Reeks for a couple of weeks, and Kenmare and Sneem were the closest towns. Kenmare is a pleasant place, but being right on the Ring of Kerry it is jam-packed with tourists especially during the summer season. I didn’t come across any real sessions there, but I didn’t look very hard. There was some decent music at the Blackwater Tavern on Derrygarrane Rd, northwest of Kenmare, but only on certain nights so ring them in advance.

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"The following are the only prerequisites:
1) No singing, ever
2) Few or no tourists, especially Irish American tourists (I have my reasons, mostly related to #1)
3) Maximum 1 bodhran playing at any one time
4) Minimal chit chat. Heads down, tunes, tunes, tunes, tunes…"

Those two Dublin sessions (a very small sample size!) had:
1) more singing than usual here in the US
2) there was me, who sat and listened quietly
3) no drums
4) more chat than usual here in the US

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With respect to prerequisite #2. I’ve been playing for about 8 years now, not an expert, but certainly not a newbie (and no, I don’t play a frickin bodhran). I am an American. What is more, my genetic makeup is about 50% of Irish descent. If I was to visit Ireland, I would by definition, be a tourist. Therefore, I would fall under prerequisite #2.

I’d been considering a visit to Ireland for a couple years now, both to hear good music, but also to tour some of the great seabird breeding colonies on the west coast. Several in the group I session with tell me I really should go. But I am consistently coming across comments/statement that are some version of prerequisite #2. Not very welcoming, and I am disinclined to spend a bunch of money to go someplace where I’m not only unwelcome, but ridiculed.

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Yep CWB, as us Brits had to get used to the end of Imperial power, your bunch are going to have to get used to the contempt many people now have for a nation, once the envy of all, that is apparently now divided, ruled by a succession of morons and populated by a sizeable group of religious fruitcakes armed to the teeth. Welcome to the end of the "American Century", fortunately I believe Richard’s experience is probably more representative of the welcome you are likely to receive, were you to visit, than MP1966 post might suggest.

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CWB said: "But I am consistently coming across comments/statement that are some version of prerequisite #2. Not very welcoming, and I am disinclined to spend a bunch of money to go someplace where I’m not only unwelcome, but ridiculed."

All I can do is relate my own experiences, being an American of Irish ancestry and having lived in Ireland for years at a time and visited frequently from 1975 on, but I have found the Irish to be the most friendly and welcoming people ever in the whole world. Most of them love visitors and are very keen on you having a good impression of their home. This includes all the sessions I have visited. But I will say that the vast majority of my time has been spent in small towns and villages, and not in the (few) larger cities. Dublin may be different; I dislike the place and avoid it - it seems to have the same problems as every other big city in the world. But rural Ireland is a very different experience; don’t miss the opportunity to spend time outside of the larger cities.

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"With respect to prerequisite #2…If I was to visit Ireland, I would by definition, be a tourist.
I am consistently coming across comments/statement that are some version of prerequisite #2. Not very welcoming…"

I was an American tourist and I found the people of Dublin very friendly. When my wife and I looked lost (as we did most of the time) people would come up and offer help.

Having come from a week in London, where everyone seemed to be in a continual rush, it was refreshing to arrive in Dublin. (After a while one gets tired of people in expensive navy blue suits carrying elegant leather briefcases pushing past you all day.)

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"populated by a sizeable group of religious fruitcakes armed to the teeth"

It’s a pity that people overseas have such an inaccurate impression of this country. The media tends to do that, and is the reason we in the US have an equally distorted image of the rest of the world.

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Divide and conquer Richard, it was ever thus and we are merely the pawns.

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@CWB
I wouldn’t pay too much attention to what people write here, including myself. Having said that, visitors are mostly very welcome in Ireland. Sure you’ll get the glad handing speel from some and maybe the odd rude comment from others but on the whole Irish people are happy to be polite and welcoming to people from other countries.

As regards trad music & sessions, remember it’s a minority past time here. If you stopped your average person in the street, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a jig and a reel. Trad is a bit of a money spinner though, pubs in the cities and bigger towns will often want to have ‘sessions’ running at set times, so as to attract in the tourists. They pay musicians to turn up and play. You can usually spot them fairly quickly, musicians with mics are a give away as are a good sprinkling of rebel ballads and schmoltz. These musicians usually don’t want people joining in as it throws them off their play list and things can go pear shaped in terms of quality etc.

You want to look in the smaller towns and villages. It’s still possible that pubs in these places will pay or have some other arrangement with 2/3 core musicians so as they will turn up but on the whole if you listen for a while and then ask can you play a tune, they’ll be more than happy to facilitate you. And if you’re handy, then you’re away.

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And the west coast of Ireland is a great place, where the ocean sweeps in and the next parish is America.

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"Few or no tourists, especially Irish American tourists…"

As a non-Irish visitor (albeit English, not American), I have been to countless sessions in Ireland, some of them in Dublin, and have rarely been made to feel unwelcome - and on those very rare occasions that I have, I would have put it down more to the individuals concerned than their nationality (and perhaps more just to my being an outsider than to my non-Irishness per se). Of the occasions when I have been coolly received in sessions and made to feel ‘not Irish enough’, by far the most of these have been on my home turf, in London (and this was by no means my general experience, even in London).

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I’ve visited Ireland from the US four times now and have never been ridiculed (although I may deserve it) or made unwelcome. On the whole, the Irish are lovely and hospitable.

Finding good sessions, even in places like Dingle, has become more difficult over the years. I’ve mentioned here before that the "live music" advertised by pubs tends to be mostly amplified duos, and though there must be real sessions going on, they appear to be kept secret.

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Because of the tourist thing, virtually all of the "informal sessions" in the better-known Dublin bars are paid gigs. Obviously amplification is a dead giveaway, but a lot of acoustic sessions are gigs too. The main exception that I am aware of is Hughes’s snug which is so small that it won’t accommodate many listeners. As far as I’m aware, the sessions in the main bar are gigs.

In general, the extent to which visiting musicians are welcomed varies a lot. However if you are reasonably proficient, you will usually be accepted pretty easily. But there’s always the chance that you choose to get involved in a session that for one reason or another, doesn’t want you included. The best advice I can give any visiting musician is - don’t take it personally. If you have a reasonably accurate sense of how good/improving/bad you are, you should be able to read the signals and act accordingly.