Searching for an authentic Irish session

Ireland – the land of flutes and fiddles, harps and ceilidhs, where strangers can sit down together and play music thanks to a deep well of traditional tunes.  However, finding authentic Irish music is not as easy as one might expect.  I am just back from a couple of weeks on the Emerald Isle.  I found many breathtaking vistas, ancient valleys, great food & drink, friendly people – but it was surprisingly hard to find a genuine session where musicians could sit in.

Part of the problem was a relentless travel pace which allowed us to fit in as many friends, relatives and landscapes as possible in a brief period of time.  I saw posters in more than one small town that advertised sessions just before or after my stay.  We headed for Galway City in search of music.  We found some valiant souls – guitars, banjos, accordion, singers – who could hardly be heard over the crush of tourists (yes, I know I was one of them) streaming in and out of the crowded pubs.  They seemed as Irish as the foil shamrock and leprechaun decorations and smacked of St. Paddy’s Day kitsch more than an authentic session.

I guess I had been prepared for this by my friend Eugene – musician and Irish ex-pat living in Canada – who told me many real sessions are “underground” so that the focus is on the music and not the tourists.  I was hoping for some cosmic dispensation that would overlook my tourist status and lead me to something for a true music lover.

We were just about ready to head back to our lodgings when I spotted a sign for an open mic, every Thursday.  Lo and behold it was a Thursday!  So we entered Garvey’s Bar on Eyre Square – at the far end of the bar was a little alcove with a half a dozen tables dedicated to an open mic.  Not a traditional session – not a flute or fiddle in sight – but some good tunes by opening band, 15 Jugglers, and great guitar work by host, Aidan Ward.  Happy to have stumbled onto this venue – wish I could visit again but the distance makes that unlikely!

The next day we were treated to a variety of delightful street musicians and performers – my favourite was a uillean pipe and guitar duo.  They called themselves “probably the best band in Ireland” – I didn’t disagree.


  1. Nicole R

    Thanks for sharing Julie! Its funny that we crave the “authentic” experience when we are tourists, its out there waiting to be discovered but in a subtle and sometimes unassuming way. Were you with locals when you found Garvey’s Bar? If not how did you find it? I always like getting just a little bit lost in a city to find the treasures that are off the beaten track.

  2. Hadaway

    you have a great site, I`ve been a frequent reader of your blog and will continue to do so. The content here is valueable for me!! Excellent job. Keep at it!

  3. Orla

    Did you get to Doolin, Julie, and still not find music??? I agree with you that often tourists do not seem to realise that listening to the music being played is polite.

    Great idea to set up a blog like this. We were talking the other night about how we no longer sit around the table and have a sing-song after dinner or at a party – (unless, of course, we are actually in Ireland.:))

  4. Julie

    Traveling as a foursome meant I wasn’t able to arrange the whole itinerary around the pursuit of music – my fellow travellers were more into sports or history than Celtic music. But I tried to let go and let the trip be what it was: wonderful friends and family, achingly beautiful scenery, and accents that tugged at my memories of my grandfather. But if I ever go back I may be more strategic about finding music based on what I learned.

  5. Julie

    NIcole – No guidance from locals, just stumbled upon it as we roamed the the streets of Galway City.

  6. cassandra

    hey julie – this post reminded me of the great film Once. just wanted to check in and make sure that you’ve seen it. if not, rent it! 🙂

    Irish film, lots of street busking music, with some added Czech content!


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