Though the pub session is now considered to be the customary gathering place for playing Irish traditional music it is actually a recent innovation. Probably dating from the 50s and 60s when expatriate musicians gathered in London pubs to share the tunes they played back home. Many returned home and the pub session took off in Ireland and it became the centre of musical life. Before this most music was played in the home. Some houses would be well known as music houses and musicians, local and visitors, would gather there to share tunes or the kitchen table would be pushed aside and a set would be battered out on the slate floor.
Well known Doolin flute, whistle and spoons player, Christy Barry is trying to bring back this tradition by opening his house to guests to share his tunes and stories. I was lucky enough to attend the one of these nights when Christy and his wife Sheila entertained 18 guests in his cosy living room and, with the help of some fiddler friends, kept the crowd of mostly Americans enthralled for almost two hours and served some delicious local cheese, smoked salmon and a glass of wine.
Christy is a direct link to the Doolin of the 70s. He personally knew and played with all those whose portraits hung on his living room wall including Willie Clancy and the Russells. And he spoke fondly of them. Christy’s monologues between tunes could go anywhere and that is part of the charm of nights like this. They are not scripted and you could go again on Monday and I am sure it would be very different.
The concept of the ‘house concert’ has become popular particularly in the States but also in Australia and I am sure elsewhere, where a home owner brings an international performer into their home, does all the organising and the artist gets all the proceeds. This is different. This is Christy and Sheila sharing their home with visitors but the formula has all the signs of being a great success. With initial recommendations through the B&B’s the numbers at this Good Friday event surprised Christy. Perhaps the lack of alcohol anywhere else in Doolin (or the whole of Ireland for that matter) was a factor but I think the chance to hear Christy and friends play music and talk about his life, the people and the music was the main inducement and it will continue to draw people.
Christy was very generous in inviting people to join him for a song or dance and many stayed on afterwards to linger and chat.
It was a memorable night for those who were there and visitors to Doolin now have an alternative to packing into a noisy pub to hear Irish music. The intention is to do this three times a week, so if you are in Doolin during the Summer, check it out.