Exploring the Irish Traditional Music Scene

Clodagh Schofield

Visiting Student

Departments at Trinity: Economics, English, Sociology

Home University: University of Sydney, Political Economy and Cultural Studies

One of the reasons I applied to Trinity was because I wanted to immerse myself in the Irish traditional music scene in Dublin. Many people’s understanding of Irish music is limited – it involves fiddles, maybe Riverdance, Guinness, Enya? Traditional Irish music is played in sessions, where people meet up, often at a given night at a pub, and then play sets of tunes pulled from thousands that most players have memorised. Often these sessions will be open to anyone who wanders in with an instrument, but many have a certain level of proficiency they expect of you (I have learned).

I’ve grown up in Sydney, Australia, but my family is Irish, and my mum’s been playing me traditional music since I was in nappies. But when I first started learning Irish trad on the flute a year ago, I had two very distinct feelings simultaneously. Firstly, I was overwhelmed by how much there was to learn – even after playing for a year, I still generally only know one in every ten tunes someone starts in a session, if I’m lucky. There are a bunch of unspoken rules that I really haven’t gotten a grip of yet. Secondly, I was amazed and excited by the opportunity to engage with such a strong and living folk culture – some of the tunes played in sessions are hundreds of years old and they are still going off.

Clo_Blog Pic (2)

Above: Clo Schofield

If you’re keen to go to Irish traditional music in Dublin, the best place to go is the Cobblestone Pub in Smithfield, D7. Friday and Saturday nights are great if you want to see a session with experienced players. If you want to play, and you’re still learning, there’s a slower session after 9pm on Mondays and a repertoire building slow session on Wednesday from 7.30pm. O’Donoghues on Merrion Row also has nightly sessions at 9.30pm, Hughes’ Bar in Dublin 7 has sessions most nights and Mother Reilly’s in Rathmines has a Monday session from 9.30 too.

On campus, the Traditional Music Society are absolutely amazing and really inclusive. As well as being multi-award winning players, TradSoc are also running an incredible series of recitals this semester. They’re every fortnight on a Wednesday and the next one will be on the 2nd of March. Every recital the society brings in musicians who play different styles, from different areas. Afterwards, musicians from the society go to the Blarney Inn on Nassau St just outside the college and play tunes together – all are welcome.

TradSoc is very welcoming to visiting students. Myself and another exchange student, Gitte, travelled up to Derry in Northern Ireland for the Derry International Irish Music Festival in early February and it was a fantastic experience. TradSoc’s secretary and resident keyboard player Rachael Masterton made sure to find myself and Gitte, and guide us through the confusing streets of Dublin onto our bus to Derry. We stayed in a gigantic 6 storey Airbnb house, and spent both nights out until the early hours playing tunes in pubs and kitchens.

All the local students were super friendly, and we felt like a part of the gang in no time. TradSoc’s chairwoman, Aine Ní Fhlanagáin, taught Gitte and I the Monaghan jig (from her home county), and the weekend is a blur of in jokes, jigs, reels, hornpipes, and very late night Chinese take away. I would highly recommend getting involved in TradSoc as a visiting student – it’s a great way to meet domestic students and get a taste of Irish culture.

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