Great Craic: Pubs and Trad Sessions

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I can say, without reservation, that getting sick while traveling SUCKS.  I came down with a nasty cold last week on the day I went over to Kilkenny to spend a couple of days with my old college roommate and her family.  When I got back to Doolin on Thursday night, I felt like death, and so I missed out on the Doolin Folk Festival this last weekend.

Talk about a heartbreaker– I had been looking forward to this weekend for weeks, especially because the trad sessions at the pubs have become one of my favorite things about the area.  To be honest, if the tickets had been less expensive, I probably still would have gone, sick or not, but I didn’t want to spend so much money and not be able to enjoy the experience to the fullest.   Luckily, I still have the pubs, and since I finally seem to be over the worst of my illness (knock on wood) I’m trying to cram in as much great music as I can into my last couple of days in Ireland.

Doolin is famous for its folk music and trad (traditional Irish music) sessions.  All four pubs in the village feature live sessions nightly starting about 9:30.  That being said, I’ve found that the overall experience on any given night varies widely.  In the month I’ve been here, I’ve been to all the pubs, and the craic has ranged from “meh” to outstanding.  I have yet to figure out the perfect formula for an outstanding experience, though I think it’s largely subjective, based not only on the music, but also on the atmosphere and the crowd on that particular night.  It’s amazing to me how much a session, with the same musicians in the same pub, can vary so much just based on the crowd that night.

Quick tip for those wanting a more authentic trad experience: STAY LATE!!! I’ve noticed that a lot of the tour groups and day tourists leave after the first hour or so, but the later it gets, the better the craic!  At least that’s been my experience.

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Trad session at Fitz’s Pub.

So, getting back to how I got from “meh…” to “wowza!” sessions: I had been here for a couple weeks and had yet to hit a really good session, so I asked around and was told by several locals to look out for signs advertising Blackie O’Connell and Cyril O’Donoghue.  I was on the lookout, but it was still just by chance that I went into McDermott’s one Monday night and they were playing.

Between sets: Live session at McDermott's Pub with Blackie O'Connell, Cyril O'Donaughe and Foolin in Doolin.

Between sets: Live session at McDermott’s Pub with Blackie O’Connell, Cyril O’Donoghue and Foolin in Doolin.

Holy Amazing, Batman!  

This is one of the times I wish I shot video as well as stills. These guys are masters and are an absolute kick to see perform.  Watching Blackie on the Irish bagpipes is incredible.  How he makes such a complex instrument look so effortless, I have no idea, but I love watching him play.  And Cyril’s vocals are mesmerizing. HIs version of “The King’s Shilling” is probably my favorite song that they do (and they played it for me by request last night, which was all kinds of wonderful). I admit that I’ve become a bit of a groupie as I’ve tried to hit at least a couple of their sessions each week!  It’s always a delight.

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The piper and the fiddler.

Non-traditional music is also thriving in the area.  A week or so ago I went with a couple friends to a bar in Lahinch, another small village just a short drive down the coast.  That night we slistened to two Irish bands with completely different styles of music than the trad sessions. These groups had a folky-alternative-bluesy quality (how’s that for a description?) that I happened to love.  It actually reminded me quite a bit of the Seattle indie music scene, so it was almost like a taste of home–with a bit of a twist!

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The group “Mongoose” performing at Kenny’s Bar.

Live music has been a huge part of my travels, and I’ve been blessed to have some incredible experiences: a classical concert in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, featuring an amazing string quartet, a baroque concert in a church on the Piazza Navona in Rome, and now these amazing trad sessions in the local pubs of Doolin.  There’s just something about music that enriches my travel experience and enhances my appreciation of different cultures.  I can’t wait to enjoy more as I continue traveling!

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3 responses to “Great Craic: Pubs and Trad Sessions

  • singersong

    Hey Rachel. Love your blog. One comment. Sessions in Doolin are for the tourists. If you accept that then they are great craic but they are not the ‘real’ thing. This happens in pubs in Ennis and Miltown and Ennistymon and lots of other villages in Clare which only the lucky routines stumble on. In Doolin they are miked up and it is like a concert. Go to Ennis and you can hear Blackie and Cyril or Siobhan and Murty or the Healys or… and you can join in. How long are you in West Clare? I can show you some good sessions if you’re interested.

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    • Rachel

      Oh I wish I knew that a few weeks ago! Sadly, tonight is my last night. I’m leaving for London tomorrow. I’m traveling Europe for about 6 months, but I plan on coming back to Doolin/Clare, and I would love to take you up on your offer! Thanks so much. 🙂

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      • singersong

        Bummer. You’ll miss the summer here. No problem. Hopefully I’ll still be here (visa permitting). The music in winter, though harder to find is actually better ( no tourists 😉 ). Get in touch if you come back.

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