Traditional Music Sessions in Ireland

Irish musicians in action in the O'Connor's Pub, Doolin.
Doug McKinlay/Getty Images

One of the most Irish of evening entertainments is the "session." An informal gathering of amateur musicians in a local pub leading to a communal appreciation and celebration of traditional music.

Most sessions start at around 9:30 pm or whenever a few musicians have gathered. Somebody starts beating a rhythm on a bodhran or improvising a tune on a banjo, somebody joins in with another instrument, suddenly the whole pub appears to be filled with music.

The actual choice of music can be description as "pot luck" - depending on the proficiency of the musicians, their ability to actually play together and the general mood. You might be induced to hop up and down by rousing jigs and reels or moved to shed a tear to slow, plaintive airs. On (thankfully very rare) occasions you might finish your drink quickly and head straight for the door. But most of the time you will simply enjoy the variety.

By the way ... most sessions tend to be dominated by the instruments, with singing being relegated to second fiddle. And you will hear more "new" melodies than familiar tunes. Do not expect the "Fields of Athenry" unless the session is specifically geared towards tourists.

The more regular a session is advertised, the more modern or the larger the venue, the more urban the area - the more likely you are to stumble upon a "professional session." Here at least part of the musicians are hired by the landlord to provide traditional entertainment. not necessarily a bad thing as the musicians will be competent and the choice of material popular. Some venues might even throw in Irish dancing, a pocket edition of "Riverdance" or quite good ballad singers. All of which is certainly more entertaining than the piped Europop beloved by most "trendy" pubs!

Tips and Etiquette

Should you be lucky enough to chance upon a "real" session, here are some helpful guidelines regarding acceptable behavior:

  • Refrain from asking for your favorite tunes unless invited to do so.
  • Even if the low volume and (to your ears) dubious quality of an octagenarian's "sean nos" (old style singing) is not to your liking - do not start a loud conversation while everyone else is trying to listen.
  • If you want to take photos, do so without causing too much disturbance - and remember that most participants in a session are there for fun, not as paid cast members.
  • Should you have bought a bodhran or a tin whistle the day before and just started to read the instructions ... please refrain from joining in as a "musician" and thus embarrassing yourself.

And finally - where would you find a session on your travels? Here are some venues known to attract musicians on a regular basis, sorted county by county:

Antrim

  • Aghalee - "Moira Clenghan's" - Tuesday
  • Ballycastle - "The Central Bar" - Wednesday
  • Ballycastle - "House of McDonnell" - Friday
  • Ballycastle - "McCarrolls Bar" - Thursday
  • Ballintoy - "Carrick a Rede" - Tuesday, Friday and Sunday
  • Bushmills - "Distiller's Arms" - Tuesday
  • Bushmills - "Smuggler's Inn" - Saturday
  • Cairncastle - "The Meeting House" - Saturday
  • Cushendall - "Johnny Joe's" - Friday and Sunday
  • Keady - "Cassie's Bar" - Wednesday
  • Newtowncrumlin - "The Skerry Inn" - Wednesday
  • Portrush - "Harbour Bar" - Wednesday
  • Portrush - "Springhill Bar" - Thursday

Armagh

  • Ballymacnab - "O'Toole's Bar" - Friday
  • Forkhill - "Welcome Inn" - Tuesday
  • Lurgan - "Railway Bar" - Wednesday

Belfast

  • "Culturlann" - Wednesday from 1:00 to 3:00 pm
  • "Hatfield Bar" - Saturday
  • "Hercules" - Friday and Saturday
  • "John Hewitts" - Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, Sunday at 5:00 pm
  • "Kitchen Bar" - Friday and Sunday
  • "Madden's Bar" - Friday and Saturday
  • "Menagerie" - Wednesday
  • "Parador Hotel" - Thursday
  • "Pat's Bar" - Wednesday
  • Queen's University Students Union - Saturday
  • "Robinson's" - Sunday
  • "Rotterdam" - Thursday

Carlow

  • Baganelstown - "Lawlor's" - Thursday
  • Carlow Town - "Carlowian Bar" - Thursday
  • Carlow Town - "Sergeant Pepper's" - Monday
  • Carlow Town - "The Seven Oaks" - Wednesday
  • Carlow Town - "Teach Dolmain" - Thursday and first Friday of the month
  • Cloneagle - "Osborne's" - Sunday
  • Leighlinbridge - "Rainbows" - Sunday 5:00 to 7:00 pm
  • Muine Bheag - "Lawlor's" - Thursday
  • Palatine - "The Border Inn" - Thursday
  • Tullow - "The Bridge House" - Friday

Cavan

  • Ballinagh - "Mary Brady's" - first Sunday of the month
  • Cavan Town - "The Farnham Arms" - Wednesday
  • Cavan Town - "McCaul's" - Thursday
  • Killeshandra - "Dickie's" - Thursday
  • Killeshandra - "The Shamrock Bar" - Sunday
  • Virginia - "Healey's" - Thursday

Clare

  • Ballyvaughan - "Monk's Bar" - Wednesday
  • Ballyvaughan - "O'Brien's Bar" - Friday to Sunday
  • Bunratty - "Durty Nelly's" - Tuesday and Thursday
  • Bunratty - "Fitzpatrick's Hotel" - Thursday to Saturday
  • Bunratty - Folk Park - every day
  • Bunratty - "Mac's Pub" - Wednesday
  • Carrigaholt - "The Long Dock" - Wednesday to Sunday
  • Cooraclare - "Walsh's" - Thursday
  • Cooraclare - "Tubridy's" - Friday
  • Corofin - "The Corofin Arms" - Tuesday and Friday to Sunday
  • Corofin - "Inchiquin Inn" - Friday
  • Crusheen - "Fogarty's" - Saturday
  • Doolin - "McGann's" - every day
  • Doolin - "O'Connor's" - every day
  • Doonbeg - "The Igoe Inn" - Monday
  • Doonbeg - "Ocean View" - Tuesday and Sunday
  • Ennis - "Ciaran's Bar" - Wednesday to Sunday
  • Ennis - "Cruises" - every day
  • Ennis - "Fawl's" - Friday
  • Ennis - "Kelly's" - Saturday and Sunday
  • Ennis - "Lucas Bar" - Wednesday and Thursday
  • Ennis - "Mary Kearney's" - Wednesday to Sunday
  • Ennis - "Mickey's" - Friday
  • Ennis - "O'Halloran's" - Wednesday to Sunday
  • Ennis - "Paddy Quinn's" - Saturday
  • Ennis - "Preacher's" - Saturday
  • Ennis - "Tailor Quigley's" - Wednesday and Thursday
  • Ennistymon - "The Archway" - Friday to Sunday
  • Ennistymon - "Colley's House" - Thursday to Sunday
  • Ennistymon - "Daly's" - Thursday to Sunday
  • Ennistymon - "Murtagh's" - Friday to Sunday
  • Fanore - "O'Donoghue's" - Tuesday and Saturday
  • Feakle - "Lena's Bar" - Thursday
  • Killaloe - "Anchor Inn" - Wednesday
  • Killaloe - "Piper's Inn" - Friday to Sunday
  • Kildysart - "The Alders" - Thursday and Sunday
  • Kilfenora - "Linnane's Pub" - Saturday and Sunday
  • Kilfenora - "Vaughan's Pub" - Monday, Thursday and Saturday
  • Kilmihil - "Daly's Pub" - Saturday and Sunday
  • Kilrush - "The Coleen Bawn" - Thursday
  • Kilrush - "Crotty's" - Tuesday
  • Kilrush - "The Way Inn" - every day
  • Lahinch - "The Nineteenth" - Saturday
  • Liffeycasey - "Fanny O'Dea's" - Friday and Saturday
  • Milltown Malbay - "Bridie Cleary's" - Tuesday
  • Milltown Malbay - "Tom Malone's" - Monday
  • Sixmilebridge - "McGregor's" - Saturday, Sunday from 5:30 pm

Cork

  • Allihies - "Beara Jimmy's" - Thursday
  • Castletownbere - "Ivy Bar" - Friday
  • Cork City - "The Corner House" - Monday and Wednesday
  • Cork City - "Counihan's" - Sunday
  • Cork City - "Gables" - Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
  • Cork City - "Lobby Bar" - Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
  • Cork City - "The Phoenix" - Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
  • Kinsale - "The Spaniard" - Wednesday and Friday
  • Midleton - "The Meeting Place" - Tuesday and Thursday
  • Midleton - "The Town Hall Bar" - Sunday
  • Youghal - "The Nook Bar" - Monday and Wednesday

Donegal

  • Annagary - "Jack's" - Thursday
  • Bunbeg - "Húdai Beag's" - Monday
  • Culdaff - "McGrory's" - Saturday
  • Donegal Town - "McGroarty's" - Thursday
  • Donegal Town - "Scotsman's" - every day
  • Dungloe - "Beedy's" - Tuesday
  • Dunlewy - Dunlewy Centre - Tuesday
  • Dunkineely - "McIntyre's" - Wednesday
  • Falcarragh - "Shamrock Lodge" - Saturday
  • Fintown - "Teach a Cheoil" - Thursday and Friday
  • Glencolmcille - "Roarty's" - Friday
  • Glenties - "Glen Tavern" - Friday and Saturday
  • Glenties - "Highland Hotel" - Sunday
  • Gortahork - "Teach Ruari" - Thursday
  • Gortahork - "Teach Billie" - Tuesday
  • Gweedore - "Húdai Beag's" - Wednesday
  • Kilcar - "John Joe's" - Friday
  • Letterkenny - "The Cottage" - Tuesday
  • Meenaleck - "Tessie's" - Sunday
  • Moville - "Rawdon's" - Friday
  • Raphoe - "The Diamond" - Thursday
  • Teelin - "Cul a Duin" - Saturday

Down

  • Bangor - "Fealty's" - Friday
  • Downpatrick - "Speedy Mullan's" - Sunday
  • Newry - "The Cove" - Tuesday
  • Portpatrick - "The Fiddler's Green" - every day

Dublin

  • "Angler's Rest" - Monday
  • "Auld Dubliner" - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
  • "Brazen Head" - every day
  • "Cavanagh's" - Thursday
  • "Clifden Court" - every day
  • "Cobblestone" - every day and Sunday afternoon
  • "Cuckoo's Nest" - Sunday
  • "Aras Chronain" -Friday
  • "Fitzsimon's" - every day and Sunday afternoon
  • "Fleet" - Thursday
  • "Harcourt" - Monday, Friday and Saturday
  • "Hilton Stakis" - Friday in Summer, Tuesday in Winter
  • "Hughes'" - every day
  • "International" - Sunday afternoon
  • "JJ Smyth's" - Tuesday and Sunday
  • "Johnny Fox's" - every day (very professional)
  • "Keating's" - every day
  • "Knightsbridge" - every day (very professional)
  • "Man O' War" - Monday
  • "Merchant" - every day
  • "Molloy's" - Wednesday and Sunday
  • "Mulligan's" - Sunday
  • "Norseman" - Friday to Sunday
  • "O'Donoghue's" - every day
  • "Oliver St. John Gogarty's" - every day (very professional)
  • "Paddy Hannah's" - Sunday
  • "Radisson Hotel Lounge" - Thursday
  • "Rolestown Inn" - Friday
  • "Royal Dublin Hotel" - Friday
  • "Searson's" - Thursday
  • "Shell's Restaurant" - Wednesday and Sunday (5:30 pm)
  • "Slattery's" - Thursday to Sunday
  • "Taylor's Three Rock Bar" - every day (very professional)
  • "The Villager" - Wednesday and Saturday
  • "Whelan's" - every day
  • "White Horse" - Wednesday
  • "Wood Quay" - Thursday to Sunday
  • "Wynn's Hotel" - Thursday and Friday

Fermanagh

  • Enniskillen - "Blakes of the Hollow" - Friday or Saturday
  • Enniskillen - "Bush" - Monday
  • Enniskillen - "Railway Hotel" - Sunday
  • Enniskillen - "Vintage" - Friday

Galway

  • Ballinasloe - "Maud Millar's" - Sunday and Monday
  • Clifden - "Barry's Hotel" - nearly every evening
  • Clifden - "EJ King's" - Friday and Saturday
  • Clifden - "Lowry's" - Saturday
  • Clifden - "Mannion's Bar" - every day
  • Corrandula - "Cregg Castle" - every day
  • Furbo - "Ost na Mara" - Friday to Sunday
  • Inishbofin - "Doonmore Hotel" - every day
  • Kinvara - "Ould Plaid Shawl" - Thursday
  • Oughterard - "Boat Inn" - Thursday to Saturday
  • Oughterard - "Corrib House Hotel" - Saturday
  • Spiddal - "Hughes'" - Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Spiddal - "Taafe's Bar" - every day
  • Spiddal - "Tig Coili" - every day
  • Spiddal - "Tigh Neactatin" - every day
  • Spiddal - "The Quays" - Monday and Tuesday

Kerry

  • Ballybunion - "Cliff House Hotel" - every day
  • Caherciveen - "Park Hotel" - Friday and Saturday
  • Caherdaniel - "Derrynane Hotel" - Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday
  • Castleisland - "Tagney's" - Thursday
  • Dingle - "Conair Bar" - Monday, Wednesday to Friday and Sunday
  • Dingle - "Droichead Beag" - every day
  • Dingle - "Skellig Hotel" - Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday
  • Fenit - "The Tankard" - Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Finugue - "Angler's Rest" - Saturday
  • Glenbeigh - "The Red Fox" - Wednesday and Friday to Sunday
  • Glencar - "The Climber's Inn" - Thursday to Sunday
  • Kenmare - "Kenmare Bay Hotel" - every day
  • Kenmare - "Lansdowne Arms" - Thursday and Friday
  • Killarney - "Arbutus Hotel" - every day
  • Killarney - "Castle Ross Hotel" - Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday to Sunday
  • Killarney - "Gleneagle Hotel" - every day
  • Killarney - "Killarney Heights" - every day
  • Killarney - "Killarney Tower" - Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday
  • Killarney - "Lake Hotel" - Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Killarney - "O'Donoghue's Bar" - Friday
  • Killorglin - "The Fishery" - Thursday to Sunday
  • Tralee - "Bailey's Corner Pub" - Tuesday
  • Tralee - "Betty's Bar" - Friday to Sunday
  • Tralee - "Grand Hotel" - Wednesday and Friday
  • Waterville - "Butler's Arms Hotel" - Thursday

Kildare

  • Athy - "Clancy's" - Thursday
  • Kilcock - "Aidan Byrne's Pub" - Thursday
  • Kildare - "Goaban Saor" - Wednesday

Kilkenny

  • Kilkenny - "Anaconda" - Monday
  • Kilkenny - "Caislean ui Cuain" - Tuesday
  • Kilkenny - "Cleere's" - Monday
  • Kilkenny - "Matt the Miller's" - Tuesday
  • Kilkenny - "Metropole Hotel" - Thursday
  • Kilkenny - "Pump House - Wednesday
  • Kilkenny - "Ryan's" - Tuesday and Thursday
  • Mullinavat - "Murphy's" - Saturday

Laois

  • Portlaoise - "Ramsbottom's" - Monday and Friday

Leitrim

  • Carrick - "Anderson's Thatch Pub" - Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday
  • Drumshanbo - "Paddy Mac's" - Friday

Limerick

  • Abbeyfeale - "Central Lounge Bar" - Saturday and Sunday
  • Adare - "Bill Chawke's" - Thursday
  • Adare - "Collins' Bar" - Saturday
  • Castleconnel - "Bradshaw's" - Tuesday
  • Castleconnel - "Guerin's" - Wednesday
  • Foynes - "Shannon House" - Friday and Saturday
  • Kildimo - "Slattery's" - Saturday and Sunday
  • Limerick - "Dolan's" - every day
  • Limerick - "Eric's Bar" - Wednesday and Sunday
  • Limerick - "Glen Tavern" - Thursday
  • Limerick - "Hanratty's" - Thursday and Friday
  • Limerick - "Locke Bar" - Tuesday
  • Limerick - "Nancy Blake's" - Monday to Wednesday
  • Limerick - "Royal George" - every day
  • Limerick - "Sally Port" - Tuesday, Thursday and Friday
  • Limerick - "Tait's Tavern" - Friday
  • Patrick's Well - "Punche's" - Wednesday

Longford

  • Lanesboro - "Loughree Arms" - Wednesday
  • Longford - "Tally Ho" - first and third Tuesday of the month

Louth

  • Ardee - "Danny Boy" - Tuesday
  • Drogheda - "Bridgeford Arms" - Monday
  • Dundalk - "Cheers Bar" - Monday
  • Dundalk - "Lisdoo Arms" - Thursday

Mayo

  • Ballyhaunis - "Manor House" - Wednesday
  • Cong - "Bannagher's Hotel" - every day
  • Louisburgh - "Bunowen Inn" - Sunday
  • Louisburgh - "O'Duffy's" - Saturday
  • Westport - "Henehan's" - Thursday to Monday
  • Westport - "Matt Malloy's" - every day
  • Westport - "The Towers" - Saturday

Meath

  • Laytown - "The Cottage Inn" - Thursday

Monaghan

  • Carrickmacross - "McNally's" - every second Friday
  • Derrynoose - "Tossey's Barn" - first Saturday of the month
  • Monaghan - "Market House Theatre" - laste Thursday of the month
  • Monaghan - "The Shambles" - Thursday

Offaly

  • Banagher - "J.J. Haugh's" - every day in Summer; Friday to Sunday in Winter
  • Ferbane - "Tom's Tavern" - Saturday and Sunday
  • Kilcormac - "Feigherty's" - Saturday and Sunday
  • Shannonbridge - "Village Tavern" - Tuesday

Roscommon

  • Ballaghadreen - "The Hatch" - Thursday and Sunday
  • Ballinasloe - "Minnie Sullivan's" - Thursday
  • Boyle - "Kate Lavin's" - Wednesday
  • Boyle - "O'Dowd's" - Friday
  • Dysart - "Fallon's Bar" - Sunday from 19:00 to 22:00 Uhr
  • Knockcroghery - "Murray's" - first Saturday of the month from Mai to September
  • Lecarrow - "Coffey's" - Monday to Wednesday (Mai to September)
  • Lecarrow - "Kelly's" - Thursday (Set Dancing)
  • Roscommon - "Foxe's" - first Tuesday of the month

Sligo

  • Sligo - "Carney Laura's" - Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday
  • Sligo - "Donaghy's" - Sunday
  • Sligo - "Earley's" - Thursday
  • Sligo - "Harp Tavern" - Monday
  • Sligo - "Journeyman" - Wednesday
  • Sligo - "McGarrigle's" - Wednesday and Sunday
  • Sligo - "McLaughlin's" - Tuesday
  • Sligo - "Sheela na Gig" - Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; Saturday at 7:30 pm
  • Sligo - "Shoot the Crows" - Tuesday and Thursday
  • Sligo - "Stables" - Monday

Tipperary

  • Ardfinan - "The Pure Drop" - Monday
  • Ballina - "Irish Molly's" - Thursday and Sunday
  • Birdhill - "Boland's" - Wednesday, Friday and Sunday
  • Borrisokane - "Friar's Tavern" - Friday and Sunday
  • Cahir - "Irvin's" - Monday
  • Carrick on Suir - "Drowsy Maggie's" - Wednesday to Sunday
  • Cashel - "Davern's" - Monday and Wednesday
  • Cashel - "Cantwell's" - Thursday
  • Clonmel - "Allen's" - Sunday
  • Clonmel - "Brendan Dunnes'" - Tuesday
  • Clonmel - "Lonergan's" - Monday and Thursday
  • Fethard - "O'Shea's" - first Monday of the month
  • Tipperary - "Spillane's" - Tuesday
  • Templetouhy - "Bourke's Pub" - Tuesday
  • Thurles - "Monk's" - Wednesday
  • Roscrea - "Good Time Charly's" - Monday

Tyrone

  • Coalisland - "JT's Place" - Monday from 10:30 pm
  • Cookstown - "The Belfast House" - Monday
  • Cookstown - "Kelly's" - Sunday
  • Dungannon - "The Lark Bar" - Thursday and Sunday
  • Dungannon - "Roper's" - Tuesday
  • Moy - "Tomney's" - Friday

Waterford

  • Ballybricken - "Bobby Grace's" - Wednesday
  • Ballybricken - "Ned Kelly's" - Thursday
  • Dungarvan - "Bean a Leanna" - Thursday, Friday and Sunday
  • Rinn - "Marine Bar" - Monday and irregular on weekends
  • Rinn - "Mooney's" - Friday to Sunday
  • Waterford - "Bridge Hotel" - Monday
  • Waterford - "Croker's Bar" - Thursday
  • Waterford - "T.H. Doolan's" - every day

Westmeath

  • Athlone - "Sean's Bar" - Sunday noon
  • Athlone - "The Thatch" - Thursday
  • Moate - "Egan's" - Thursday

Wexford

  • Carrick on Bannow - "Colfer's" - Thursday
  • Duncannon - "Bob Roche's" - Saturday
  • Enniscorthy - "Rackard's" - Wednesday
  • Gorey - "Arthur Quinn's" - Monday
  • New Ross - "Mannion's" - Friday
  • Wexford - "Centenary Stores" - Wednesday and Sunday morning and noon
  • Wexford - "Mooney's" - Wednesday
  • Wexford - "O'Faolain's" - Monday and Sunday afternoon
  • Wexford - "Sky and the Ground" - Sunday to Thursday

Wicklow

  • Aughrim - "O'Toole's Traditional Bar" - Thursday
  • Blessington - "Avon Ri" - Saturday
  • Bray - "Harbour Bar" - Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
  • Bray - "The Hibernia" - Tuesday, Thursday
  • Bray - "Hollands Bar" - Thursday
  • Enniskerry - "Johnnie Fox's Pub" - every night
  • Laragh - "Jake's Bar" - Wednesday
  • Redcross - "Mickey Finn's Wicklow Brewery" - Wednesday, Saturday
  • Roundwood - "Kavanagh's Vartry House" - Thursday
  • Tinahely - "Murphy's Bar" - Tuesday
  • Wicklow Town - "Ernie's Bar" - Thursday
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