Finding the Music in Ireland



Traditional music in an Irish pub. Creative commons photo by KHoffmanDC.
Traditional music in an Irish pub. Creative commons photo by KHoffmanDC.

It would be difficult, indeed, to travel through Ireland for any length of time without coming across some of its unique music. There are many places to find the music – just about any pub will, if they don’t have music themselves, know where the nearby sources are. My advice is to go off the beaten path. Ask your B&B hosts for the best local spot; go to a local pub which might have a traditional seisiún.

A seisiún (session) is a group of local musicians who have gotten together in a pub and just started playing some of the songs they all know. They may have never played together before, or may do so every night. They may not even know each other – but they all know the tunes. And they are playing for the joy of playing and entertaining. This won’t be a polished performance, like Riverdance or a concert, but it will be heartfelt and genuine, nonetheless.

If you are looking for a more polished show, there are several pubs that offer those as well. Some castles, such as Bunratty, offer medieval banquets with performances, as well as their ‘Ceilidh in a Corn Barn.’ Kate Kearney’s Cottage in the Gap of Dunloe offers a nightly performance of song and dance for people to enjoy along with their pints. There are many places in Dublin’s Temple Bar area for such entertainment.

If you are in a city, like Dublin, where tourism is common, it may be more difficult to find the local traditional pub. Your host at the hotel or B&B may give you the standard tourist answer and direct you to a staged performance. If that is what you are looking for, that’s grand. However, if you tell them you really are interested in a traditional session, they will likely give you a recommendation to find something appropriate.

In some places, you can just walk down the street and follow your ears. Dingle, Doolin, Ardara, Donegal, Kilkenny – I’ve done this in all these places. There is a decent resource at Irish Abroad online for those who wish see an online pub directory.

Some of the instruments you are likely to find, both in the informal sessions and the professional performances, are fiddle, harp, bodhran (hand drum), guitar, flute, and perhaps even banjo and accordion. While the later don’t sound like traditional Irish instruments to American ears, they have become an integral part of Irish traditional music, and do add to the sound nicely.

There is a joke that asks, ‘How do you walk through Dublin without passing a pub?’ The answer is to go into each pub, and therefore you are not passing any of them. This would be a great way to find all the music on offer in any given place!

Author Bio: Christy Jackson Nicholas works as an accountant in West Virginia with her husband, Jason, dog, Dax, and cat Zathrus. She is an artist as well as a writer, and an avid traveler. You can read more in her new e-book, Ireland: Mythical, Magical, Mystical; A Guide to Hidden Ireland and find out more about Christy on her site,

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Brian O'Neill
Brian O'Neill
October 5, 2013 4:46 pm

Ennis and County Clare are known worldwide as the home of traditional Irish music and you will find trad sessions all over the county almost every night. Check out

October 11, 2013 6:41 pm

The Thatch Pub located at Grannagh Castle on the N24, 2 miles from the heart of downtown Waterford, Ireland is another great place to visit – Wednesday Session – Every week 10pm with
“Paddy O Keefe & Friends”
The owner Dave Ryan is a great guitar player and singer too.. twist his arm he’ll surely play you a song or two.. (Hours that is!!!!) Many a great night have been had at the Thatch!!!

Simon Brooks
Simon Brooks
February 22, 2016 8:23 pm

I agree that traditional Irish music does have a certain note to it that makes it very easy to enjoy, especially if you’re out having a party with a bunch of friends. I’m surprised to learn that the banjo and accordion are starting to be implemented into the songs more, as you said, I wouldn’t really think of those as classic Irish instruments. It has been a while since I sat down and listened to some of the music though, so the addition of these instruments might have made it even better; I can’t wait to here them!

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