The first day I arrived in Galway,I don’t remember.

The second day I was in Galway, I was sitting by the River Corrib with a cluster of internationals who moseyed out from the dim and dank four-story hostel nearby to pass a few forty-cent americanos around while nursing what was confirmed to be one of the worst collective hangovers ever encountered.  

We had all just met each other the other night under suspect circumstances, I imagine. It’d take a skilled hypnotist to recall some of their names or what exactly happened, but we had the unspoken bond and comradery of a group that’s been through something serious together. 

After pledges to never consuming alcohol again, our recovery seemed sufficient enough to walk a few blocks toward a kabob shop. We ate and everything started to return to normal.

But, all it takes is for one person to make a phone call or visit a gift shop, and an hour later, we somehow ended up back in the pub crawl circuit. 

"We’d been thereand done that."

Photo Courtesy of @michflannerymusic

Through the narrow, winding cobblestone alleys of Shop Street, we rolled. Starting from The Quays Bar were we sang with an acoustic duo playing renditions of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Foo Fighters, and Johnny Cash; to Tigh Neachtain, The Dail, Murphys where the Guinness poured more and more freely to the accompaniment of singer-songwriters singing modern songs like Ed Sheeran; and cycling back to the Front Door where the dance music started.

After an hour of dance music, we decided on a new plan. We’d been there and done that. We had two options as far as we knew: we could go to the Roison Dubh, which had live rock bands, or to a strait-up discotech. After deliberation and some vehement protests, we came to the consensus of Roison Dubh. That the venue was utterly packed — which is more or less the case of any pub in the area. However, the Roison had more of a student vibe and contained a few more of the locals and international hipsters.

The next day, I left my comrades strewn about arbitrarily on hostel furniture. I walked through the canals toward the ornate Galway Cathedral and back toward a causeway leading to a lighthouse on Mutton Island. The tranquility of this town resonated in a way that seemed rare and pure.

Was traditional music a thing of the past in the youthful cities of Ireland?

Featured Photo Courtesy of @ hiimsimonphotography

I wanted more of the Irish experience. I wanted to hear traditional Celtic music. I can hear the Top 40 anywhere. I’m from the US, so Creedence Clearwater and Foo Fighters covers just don’t have the same appeal, even when sung in an accent. 

But, as I walked down the commercial streets, the only Celtic music I could hear was recorded from the gift shops.

There were the occasional duos or soloists in pubs who’d sing one or two of the classics like “Wild Rover” or “Galway Girl” in a set, but the true traditional music session, the seisiún…where were they? I wanted to hear guitars tuned to DADGAD accompanied with several violins, a banjo, bagpipe, or flute. 

Several young Irish folk waved me off when I asked. “Why would you want to listen to that boring stuff?” one naysayd. 

“I’d rather listen to an old man go on and on about their stories. Which, unlike trad music, you can still find anywhere,” another said.

I was confused and slightly upset. What happened to pride in their musical culture? Why was it so difficult to find what was an integral part of their identity? 

Was traditional music a thing of the past in the youthful cities of Ireland? Maybe I’d have to take another train to some small village to hear it again. I knew on Temple in Dublin the Celtic music was still going strong. But, even there it wasn’t done in that certain way, they sat in a circle and shared an archive of tunes. Come to think of it, the last traditional gathering of Irish musicians I’d seen was on the island of Inis Oirr where some of them still don’t speak English. 

It still could be found.

Photo Courtesy of @niamhronane

In my despair, I wandered through the streets alone as the overcast sky began to rain. Seeking shelter, I came upon a pub called the Crane Bar with festive outdoor colors of greens and reds that invitingly drew me in. Inside it was somewhat quiet and you had a sense that many of the patrons were locals. In the back though I heard a fiddle accompanied by a small piccolo-sounding woodwind instrument. Like fairies tempting me to an enchanted land, I finally found my seisiún

There the multigenerational group sat trading songs and riffs. Smiling and swaying to the music in unison, it was the perfect communal experience. There was a young girl who first played a jig on the fiddle and then sang a lonesome ballad about an IRA man missing his family. An older man with long shaggy white hair seemed to be conducting the entire thing but was supremely sharing, offering all the participants their time to lead a tune.

While conversation flowed and people laughed, the main focus was always on the familial group of talented musicians rehearsing the same tunes they’d been playing for years and years. It was amazing for one of the players to call out a song and for another to disbelieve that he or she’d forgotten that song. It seemed they could last all night, and all night they did.

Never once was I bored. No one in the audience seemed remotely bothered to hear another. In fact, most sang along and seemed to know almost all the lyrics, many even those of the obscurer tunes. Musicians would rotate in and out of the circle throughout the night. It was exactly the type of tradition I was looking for. It still could be found.

Photo Courtesy of @kev_in_carr

Galway, Irelandgot you covered

Photo Courtesy of @taaffesbar

I asked a few of the patrons for a few other spots they’d recommend in finding traditional Irish music. They mentioned Taaffes, Tig Coili, and Garavan’s. You can find it in bars throughout the city, but you’d have to know when and where.

Galway is unique in that it’s established itself as the party town of Ireland. If you want to meet people from all over the world, share a few pints, take-in the beatific scenery, and learn about port history in Ireland, Galway’s got you covered. When it comes to finding traditional music, it’s a little harder to come by. But, when you do, it almost makes it more special than it already is.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Talamantes is a 29-year-old writer, editor, and journalist from San Francisco, California, 2015 graduate of National University of Ireland’s MA Writing Program, and 2012 graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Literature and Creative Writing Program. He’s had articles published in the Chronicle, Wall Street International, Santa Clara Weekly, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Medium, the Borgen Project, Business Wire, and other small magazines and newspapers.

His short story “No Promethean Zombie” received an Honorable Mention for the 47th New Millennium Writing Awards. An excerpt of this story can be found in the December 2017 issue of The Write Launch. His short stories and poems have been published in Cathexis, the Alexandria Anthology, The Galway Review, Tract-Trace, Skylight-47, Elderly, and various others.

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