Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Music in Ireland isn't Irish (mostly)

Last week I had an array of posts here on the blog while I was out of town.

Where was I? Ireland. The homeland, as it were. See, I'm part Irish and myself and others decided to make a trip over and check things out. We saw a lot of sights, took lots of pictures and drank more Guinness than I'd care to admit.

While I was there, we tried to see a lot of music. My brother and I, especially, are fans of traditional Irish music and have seen groups like the Turfmen play around town countless times. While we were on the Emerald Isle, we saw a good handful of traditional Irish groups, the best being the guy we saw at Oliver St. John Gogarty's in Dublin's Temple Bar district as well as Seamus Conroy, a wonderful violinist we spotted at Bunratty Castle in the town of Bunratty.

But the thing we noticed most is how ridiculously popular American popular music is over there. Everywhere we went, we heard TONS of American music. Most popular was '60s and '70s rock music, which was played in almost every pub and restaurant we went to.

Here's an example: When we were in Galway (west coast of the island), we asked a friendly, talkative bartender where we could go catch some live music. He pointed us in the direction of The Quays (pronounced like keys), which was a really cool pub. Well when we talked to the bartender, we meant traditional Irish stuff, but when we showed up, the band was playing Guns 'N Roses, Van Halen, Rolling Stones and a bunch of other rock songs.

Now, the band was pretty freaking good for a cover group, but what was astonishing to me was that by "good live music," the guy was thinking of American rock. It kinda threw me off.

One thing that was really cool to me was listening to the radio. We did a lot of driving (we drove ourselves instead of taking a bus tour or some such thing) and mostly stuck to Today FM. First, it allowed me to perfect my fake Irish accent. Second, they played a lot of indie rock.

While we drove around, we heard Temper Trap, Goldfrapp, She & Him and a ton of other indies. And this was on a very popular, mainstream station. That's freaking unheard of here in the States.

Another interesting note on radio over there: Stations don't have formats. Here, you tune to Z-92 and you know you'll hear classic/alt rock fare. No matter what time you tune in (except during Todd n Tyler), that's what you'll get. There, it depends on the show that's on at that time. It might be rock music for two hours. Then it's more indie-flavored songs. Then it's talk radio. Then more rock again. I have to admit, I liked it a whole lot better than the radio we have around here.

As for the traditional Irish music, it was pretty good though not much more spectacular than seeing the Turfmen play at the Brazen Head on any given week, to be honest. One difference I noticed was that in Ireland itself, they do more instrumentals. And they like to play the Irish national anthem, which is pretty cool because everyone in the bar stands for it.

The highlight, as mentioned before, was a guy named Seamus Conroy. He played violin at a dinner we had at Bunratty Castle, a 14th century castle that's been restored. The guy played violin like no one I had ever seen before, completely effortlessly. At one point, somebody at the dinner made an audible joke about Masterpiece Theatre. Without skipping a beat, Seamus was playing the theme to the television show.

He's one of those people that exists on a different level, musically, than you or I ever could. I bet he thinks in notes and clefs and bridges. I mean, his first language isn't English. It's playing that violin.

We found out later when we talked to him at the pub across the street from the castle (Durty Nelly's, established 1620) that Seamus was a Fullbright Scholar. Oh yeah, and he studied at Juilliard. Not a bad resume. Here's hoping he gets himself out of Bunratty Castle.


  1. New Irish/Zambian music family

  2. As I'm posting this, I'm listening to Seamus Conroy's cd "Breaking Waves". We just returned from a wonderful trip to Ireland, and also had dinner at Bunratty Castle. We met Seamus afterward at Durty Nelly's Pub and were so impressed with him AND his beautiful, haunting music. Listening to his music transports me back to Ireland. I wish him all the success he truly deserves.


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