A hush comes over the crowd in the pub as three men rise from the bar and carry their instruments to a table in the center. For the next few minutes, the only sounds in the pub are the tuning of instruments and the clink of glasses hitting tables. Then an older man rises, with difficulty, from the crowd. He grasps the arm of another man as he makes his way to where the musicians sit, waiting for him to join them. The man, tall with a weathered face and a shock of white hair, steadies himself on his one remaining leg. With a nod to the musicians seated below him, he begins to sing, with a surprisingly strong voice, a haunting Irish folk song about the sea. I close my eyes and let the music take me back in time.
We spent every evening in Ireland like this – tucked into a small booth as close to the musicians as we could get. The musicians changed from evening to evening, as did the instruments played. The atmosphere in the pub each night was a reflection of the type of songs the musicians chose to play, but the goal was the same every time – to share centuries of Irish stories through music with locals and visitors alike. Songs about war, famine, rebellion, love, and of course, drinking were played and sung well into the night. Some in the crowd sang along, but most were content, like me, to sit back and just enjoy the show.
To get caught up in the spirit of Irish music being played in an Irish pub is second to none, but having the opportunity to do so in Doolin, home of traditional Irish music, made the experience that much more exceptional. All three nights we stayed in Doolin, we ate dinner at Gus O’Connor’s Pub and then stuck around to hear the first session of tunes played. Our last evening we were feeling especially nocturnal and stayed for the second session, but that made for a very slow morning the next day.
Young or old, Irish or not – everyone is made to feel welcome at Gus O’Connor’s Pub. Kids as young as two and three bounce on the knees of their parents and clap along to the music. (That’s something you won’t see in a London pub!) And the food isn’t half bad either.
That’s an understatement actually – the food was incredible! Each night I tried something different, but my favorite dish was the Smoked Salmon and Spinach Potato Cakes pictured above. And we shared a different dessert every evening as well, because if you can’t allow yourself a few extra calories on vacation, when can you?
Sean O’Connor, whose B&B we were staying at and whose father the pub is named after, was more than delighted to share stories with us of the famous faces that have passed through the doors of Gus O’Connor’s Pub. Apparently this place is known the world over, attracting the likes of Hollywood stars and political leaders both. We didn’t see any famous folks while we were there, but truth be told we probably wouldn’t have noticed them anyway, because when the the music starts up, all eyes and ears are on the real stars of the show – the talented musical storytellers bringing a bit of Ireland’s past into the present with their voices, accordions, flutes, and fiddles. To feel a part of the culture in Ireland, all you have to do is follow the music.
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