Here stories and jokes are told, pacts are made and traditional music is heard. Whilst the “Irish pub” can now be found across the globe, the authentic experience in Ireland with live music is an experience not to be missed.
Irish music and songs have been passed down through generations in the oral tradition and the pub has become the place to experience the pipes, fiddles, tin whistles and bodhráns. Traditional music, and sometimes the best sessions are the spontaneous and surprising acts, add to the best of the Irish pub, which is the craic – that distinctively Irish combination of drink-fuelled chat, banter and fun. Here are some of the best pubs for traditional Irish music in the Emerald Isle.
The Cobblestone, Dublin
Arguably the best traditional-music venue in Dublin, this dark, cosy, wooden-floored bar and venue in Smithfield, about 15 minutes walk from the city centre is run by the Mulligan family who have been playing Irish music for five generations. Music is put on nightly and here you can hear some of Ireland’s finest musicians.
Everyone is welcome to these sessions which begin at 7pm on Mondays, 5pm the rest of the week except Sunday when traditional music sessions begin at 2pm until closing. Meanwhile, the Back Room hosts a variety of gigs, sessions, classes and talks. Bluegrass, country, folk, singer songwriter nights, Sean-nós singing and dancing, set dancing, céilidh, history talks and more.
O’Donoghue’s in Dublin has a rich heritage in traditional Irish music, with modern legends who have shaped Irish traditional and contemporary music playing music here. These include Christy Moore and the Dubliners. This spirit is kept alive today ensuring that O’Donoghue’s remains a favourite pub for locals as well as tourists.
The pub itself is quirky, seemingly built without reference to any architectural guide, and few straight lines, with a floor that bucks and slopes considerably. There are various nooks and crannies in this pleasantly gloomy pub, which adds to the charm. If you arrive on a cold day in January, order a hot whiskey in place of a Guinness.
De Barra’s, Clonakilty
DeBarra’s Folk Club is one of the institutions of Irish music and has played host to the likes of Noel Redding (one third of the Jimi Hendrix Experience), uileann pipes player Paddy Keenan, who played with legendary Irish folk group the Bothy Band, Villagers, Bell X1 Sharon Shannon and Christy Moore over the last 30 years.
Christy Moore remains a regular. There is live music every night in a pub covered in music memorabilia. Monday night is a popular traditional session, with an acoustic session on Tuesday. The Sitting Room Sessions take place every other Wednesday, attracting a diverse collection of musicians, John Spillane has had a residency at De Barras for around 15 years, performing on the first Thursday of every month.
Part of the Arbutus Hotel in Killarney Buckley’s is a homely, yet unique, bar. Named after Tim Buckley, a great lover of traditional music who could often be heard singing in his bar. Today, Buckley’s remains at the heart of the traditional music scene in the area, providing regular live music, with traditional session on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Some of the country’s finest musicians will often drop in for a spontaneous and unamplified’ session amongst the oak-panelled walls and turf-fire combining character, characters and a good craic.
Tigh Coili, Galway City
This family run pub in the heart of Galway city’s Latin Quarter, hosts some of the finest traditional Irish music in the county all year round. From locals and visitors, music is on offer over 14 sessions each week.
The history of this social pub can be seen on the walls, decorated with pictures of local and famous musicians who have played a tune or two in Tig Choilis over the years. Whilst it can get busy, they serve a good pint and the staff are attentive despite being busy. Overall there’s a great atmosphere.
Reel Inn, Donegal Town
Winner of the Best Pub in Ireland at the Irish Hospitality Awards in 2017, the Reel Inn is the place to be in Donegal Town for traditional music. Every night of the year there is music at this pub which has masses of character. The walls are lined with pictures of those who have played here and the staff put as much importance on taking care of their customers as they are in the high quality of music they share.
One of the regular sessions invite local students to play music at a slower pace. They are typically aged six and up, but they also welcome adult beginners to “sit in and tip away”. The pub also has its own collection of instruments in case musicians arrive without theirs and want to get in on the session
This unpretentious pub in the Cathedral quarter is worth a visit. Its two large rooms (one upstairs for traditional music and downstairs for others. Filled with locals, Madden’s offers excellent traditional sessions as well as set dancing. Back in May 2018 after a sell-out concert, Ed Sheeran arrived unannounced in Maddens Bar with some of his backing musicians after finishing on stage and performed a secret gig.