Gus O’Connor’s Pub: Traditional Irish Music in Doolin, Ireland

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.

Gus O'Connor's Pub: Traditional Irish Music In Doolin, Ireland

Gus O'Connor's Pub: Traditional Irish Music In Doolin, Ireland

Gus O'Connor's Pub: Traditional Irish Music In Doolin, Ireland

Gus O'Connor's Pub: Traditional Irish Music In Doolin, Ireland

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.

Gus O'Connor's Pub: Traditional Irish Music In Doolin, Ireland

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.

Gus O'Connor's Pub: Traditional Irish Music In Doolin, Ireland

Gus O'Connor's Pub: Traditional Irish Music In Doolin, Ireland

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.

Gus O’Connor’s Pub: Website
Address: Doolin, County Clare

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Gus O'Connor's Pub: Traditional Irish Music In Doolin, Ireland

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  • Mandy Southgate
    May 9, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    I love this post so much! With your words and photos you’ve managed to weave your own story and I feel like I was there with you! Thank you Sarah!

  • Jo
    May 6, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    It is this kind of thing that my Irish friend really misses about living in Ireland.

  • Natalie
    May 5, 2014 at 9:13 PM

    I would love to been there! It’s so amazing all the culture you guys are experiencing!

  • Sara Louise
    May 5, 2014 at 7:56 PM

    Guess what… that singer in Doolin with the one leg is my cousin, Ted. True story :)

    • Sarah Shumate
      May 5, 2014 at 8:05 PM

      Shut the front door! He seems a tad old to be your cousin….

      If you’re not kidding, though – what a coincidence! He was such a nice man, too. We didn’t officially meet, but we told him he did a good job as he was leaving after the show.

      • Sara Louise
        May 5, 2014 at 8:41 PM

        He’s my mother’s first cousin! You know my cousin that I’ve been blogging about that was visiting TX with her sons but got stuck here because of emergency surgery… well, that’s Ted’s niece!
        Loads of people I know who visit Ireland end up meeting him. They always tell me about some wonderful singer in Doolin, and I always say, “Reddish/ white hair, beard, one leg? Yep, my cousin Ted.”
        Sometimes the world is a very teeny, tiny place indeed… especially in Ireland ;)

        • Sarah Shumate
          May 6, 2014 at 8:39 AM

          I suppose there aren’t too many one-legged singers in Doolin so it’s got to be the same guy! Good grief – that’s bizarre! Now I really wish I’d been able to meet him! :)

  • andrea
    May 3, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    I have this dream that my daughter will be an Irish dance someday, with her red hair, and I hope to start by getting her into Irish music when we are there in a few weeks :) Love listening to live Irish music!

  • rorybore
    May 2, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    love this. so love this.
    If we do have multiple lives, I so want one of mine to be spent in a bar in Ireland listening to music and having a cold pint. Although there is an Irish pub down the street from me right now…. I bet it’s not quite the same thing. but I will still take the cold pint :)

  • Emmymom
    May 2, 2014 at 7:38 PM

    That sounds truly magical- something truly authentic and a real immersion in the culture.

  • Jenn
    May 2, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    I absolutely love Irish music :) I currently have it on my zune and listen to it in my car.

  • Katrin
    May 2, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    That sounds like so much fun! I love hanging out in pubs listening to Irish music! We had a pub in the town I went to school at and we had many fun nights there!

  • MorganCMiller
    May 2, 2014 at 1:17 PM

    beautuiful photos!!!