Friday, May 9, 2014

Musical Pub Crawl

Way back in October 2013, we took the Musical Pub Crawl in Dublin as a nice introduction to Irish trad music. The tour was recommended by a few different travel publications as a nice night out for a tourist, and it was exactly that- a nice night out for a tourist.

The tour meets in Temple Bar and visits a rotating lineup of pubs in and around Temple Bar. It is led by another rotating lineup of local trad musicians, with special emphasis on audience education and participation.

Irish traditional (trad) music is the romantic music the world associates so strongly with Ireland. We imagine dimly-lit pubs with wooden tables, tweed-capped men dancing with green-clad ladies with long red hair, and a small group of musicians playing tin whistles, banjos, and bodhran, a traditional Irish hand drum.

Sadly, that Ireland doesn't exist in Dublin, or if it does, they've hidden it very well and don't want long-term tourists like us to find it. That isn't to say that trad music can't be found in Dublin, far from it, in fact. Many Temple Bar and surrounding City Centre pubs have trad music all day and all night, just replace the tweed-caps and green dresses with English stag and hen parties, Brazilian backpackers, European weekenders, and Americans with huge green shamrock hats. Pubs offering trad music advertise it with gaudy signs and outdoor speakers pumping out a live broadcast of the music inside. Standing in Temple Bar, one can sometimes hear three or more different versions of The Rocky Road to Dublin pumping from pubs competing for business. As far as I know (and please correct me if I'm wrong!) most of the trad music scene exists exclusively for the tourists. Irish people do still maintain a connection to the music of their heritage, but we haven't yet found the nightly sessions.

...But that isn't really all bad. Visitors to Dublin can get exactly the experience they imagined when they arrive. The shows are carefully engineered for English-speaking visitors, and the pubs and players know how to work a foreign crowd. I saw a poster outside of City Centre looking for a trad musician for a group.
"...Must be able to play all the standards, at least two trad instruments, and know how to engage a crowd of drunk Americans."
The trad music scene in much of Dublin City Centre is a very well done fairytale, just like a trip to Disney World. Nothing is real, but it sure is a good time.

How was that Musical Pub Crawl? It was, as advertised, a fun night out for tourists. We were still relatively fresh to Dublin, so our tourist card hadn't quite expired. The musicians described each of the instruments and song forms they played. They told stories about the songs and musical traditions of pub music, and performed a song in the Irish language. We've seen other (free) Temple Bar trad shows, and they gear more to playing the same small lineup of internationally known songs like the aforementioned Road to Dublin and Whiskey in the Jar with increasing crowd work with exaggerated rural Irish accents as the night goes on...
"So 'den, where ye from d'ere? Jairmany? Well, we all know de Jairmans don't know nuttin'  about drinkin', don' dwe?"
Bottom line on the Musical Pub Crawl, check it out if you can spare the money and the time. The cost of the booking only covers the show, not the drinks at each pub you visit. Check out their website for booking details and schedule.

Free Music and Irish Breakfast? Must be Temple Bar Dublin, Ireland
Free Music and Irish Breakfast? Must be Temple Bar!


  1. Corey there are plenty of session pubs in Dublin city.. Check out the cobblestone in Smith field, Hughes by the four courts, O'Donoghues just off Stephens green or the cell on Talbot Street for the genuine article. It's still a vibrant scene in modern Dublin.. You just have to know where to look... As you know yourself Dublin people don't go near temple bar

    1. ...So you have been hiding them! I thought there might still be something, but it's hard to know the real deal from the phonies. Thanks for the tips, as always!

  2. Cory, may I suggest you seek out the new Irish film "The Irish Pub". I just watched it last night, and a few of the pubs they featured had trad music. You may have to travel for some of them, though. Here's a link:
    It's worth watching just for the entertainment, though.

    1. I caught a promo mini-screening of the film, it was interesting. I guess I didn't pay much attention to where the pubs were. I'll have to check it out again, thanks!

  3. There are so many pubs in Dublin, some of them have to be the real deal !! I have to say, I usually stay away from Temple bar unless I have friends over and that's where they want to go. I used to live in Swords and one of the local pubs would sometimes have trad music, it was never planned, usually 3 or 4 people took out their accordion, bodhran and tin whistle and just started to play, it was really entertaining


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