On this page, read an interview with Brian O'Rourke on the history of Irish pub songs. But first let's listen to examples.
Mhuinse is a place close to Carna, close to the sea in county Galway. Brian translated this song himself from Irish into English to make it more accesible to the English speaking audience. This is a sad Irish song, a lament.
It might surprise you to hear that so-called pub songs, in the old days, were not sung in the pub.Instead,
Irish pub songs are part of a tradition of storytelling by the
fireside. People used to visit their neighbours, friends and relatives
in the evenings after work or on a Sunday after mass, sit with them by
the fireside, and share stories. In between the stories there would be
songs, usually unaccompanied.
It was only in the 1960s at the onset of the folk revival, when singing moved into the pub scene. That’s when a lot of English language songs were made famous by bands such as the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers. These bands would sing the songs accompanied by instrument, most notably guitar. Examples for songs that were made famous that way are The Wild Rover and The Wild Mountain Thyme. Out of many hundreds of Irish traditional songs, only a handful are such well-known songs.
As for the remainder, there were a lot of
traditional Irish songs that were not as easily suitable for
accompaniment. These songs are not as well known, but stand in their own
right and should also be kept alive. Those songs now also started to be
sung as part of Irish music sessions in pubs, but, generally speaking,
many singers were left frustrated with the lack of attention traditional
Irish songs were getting there. In the pub, people are used to talking
when the musicians are playing. Irish music often becomes a background
affair. When an Irish pub song is sung unaccompanied, it can be a bit of
work to enforce the necessary silence for the singer.
Modern Irish songs by Brian O'Rourke
Different types of traditional song explained
The etiquette at singing sessions of Traditional songs
Examples of pub songs and our story of filming them
The lyrics of Amhrán Mhuinghnise
to do? From the 1970s on, all around the country singers started to
form singing clubs or singers circles to cater for this more ‘homely’
type of traditional song, the type that needs a quiet atmosphere of
listening and tuning in on the part of the listener in order to get the
best exposure.One of the first pubs too host such singing
sessions exclusively for Irish pub songs was the Góilín in Dublin. From
the early 1980s on, singing clubs all around the country followed suit.
The biggest and most notable clubs still in operation are those in
Dublin, Cork and Ennis, and some smaller ones that come and go in other
locations such as Galway, Athlone, Forkhill in South Armagh, Inishowen,
and Roscommon, and in recent times in Nenagh, County Tipperary, in
Offaly, and in Rosslare. Typically, singing clubs will hold sessions in a
regular and predictable pattern such as the first Wednesday of the
a highlight of their club year, some singers’ clubs will organise
singing festivals pending funding from an organisation such as the Arts
Council. There was a strong era of singing festivals throughout the
1990s and until the latest recession, notably the festivals in Derry,
Forkhill (County Armagh) and Ballyliffin (County Donegal).
moment, festivals are a bit more sporadic, but, for those who are
interested, they still can be found. A singing festival will be a
whole weekend featuring traditional singing sessions of Irish pub songs
over two or three days. For those interested in traditional songs, they
are a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and to exchange
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