It’s the last night of November. I am in Doolin in West Clare. The rain is lashing. It’s windy and cold. Normal Irish winter actually. So of course the only place to be is in a pub in front of the fire with a hot whiskey or a Guinness and listening to or playing Irish music.
Well that’s the plan anyway; during the summer here in Doolin you can find music every night of the week in any of the four pubs; not so now. All the mid-week sessions have pretty much packed up. Except that is on Monday nights at Fitz’s Bar at the Hotel Doolin. Every Monday night, summer or winter, for the last couple of years this session has acted like a beacon in the musical desert (sorry about the mixed metaphor). Or perhaps an oasis in a stormy sea (there I go again!).
That’s where I ended up in any case. It has a peculiar welcoming vibe. The session is hosted by Eoin O’Neill, Quentin Cooper, Adam Shapiro and Jon O’Connell who are collectively The Fiddle Case and all very well-known musicians around Clare. They love playing together and that infectious energy is picked up by the musicians attracted there to play with them. This night we had noted box and concertina player Terry Bingham and Christy Moore’s siblings, Anne Rynne and Luka Bloom join us as well as regulars such as Andee from the States and Séverine from France along with local and international visitors.
Walking into this pub on a Monday is like a welcome home party. There are so many regulars, locals for which this is their only night out and visitors who though strangers at the beginning of the night may be lifetime friends by the end. There is always a good mix here. The tunes are of course at the centre but there will be songs, always of surprising quality, and often from unknowns that Eoin plucks from the crowd. After thirty years of doing this in Doolin he is a master.
Always a highlight for me is when Jon O’Connell sings Liscannor Bay. This wonderful song written by local man Mick Flynn has been made his own by John and with the subtle and restrained backing of the fiddle, bouzouki and slide guitar from the band has truly become an anthem. The great news is that a definitive version has been recorded. It is not yet available commercially and can’t even be heard on line but it is receiving airplay on ClareFM and wherever good traditional music is played. Keep your ear open for it. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do. Even better news is that an album will be released soon with Liscannor Bay included. Can’t wait. I really hope it catches the spirit that is Fitz’s on a Monday night. I am sure it will be very sought after by visitors wanting to take a little of that magic home with them.
It continues to surprise me why many pubs get rid of musicians in winter. Fitz’s shows what you can do if you pick the right musicians and create the right vibe. But luckily it’s not the only one. Try Friels in Miltown Malbay on Friday, Saturday or Sunday or Cooley’s House in Ennistymon on Tuesdays or the Cornerstone in Lahinch on a Sunday if you can’t find anything in Doolin or Ennis.