Insider Tips

Traditional Irish Music in Dublin

By Visit Dublin

28th April 2019

Traditional music is one of the most exciting and rich elements of Irish culture. Multi-faceted and always evolving, it’s no longer just a passion of the older generations – so banish those images of beige Aran sweaters and tin whistles! Over the years, traditional Irish music has been embraced by modern musicians who’ve added pop, rock, dance and electronic components, experimented with new rhythms and generally had lots of fun...

The revolution began in the 1960s, when Luke Kelly and the Dubliners – along with groups such as The Wolfe Tones and The Clancy Brothers – revitalised the scene with passionate, energetic shows in clubs that inspired a new generation to learn and enjoy traditional instruments. Their lively humour and relationship with fans attracted growing interest in the music, showing that established art forms can be renewed and made contemporary.

Today, a new wave of acts continue to carry the trad torch – and blaze new trails. Every year in Dublin, international acts perform shoulder to shoulder with the most awe-inspiring session musicians you’ve ever heard at Temple Bar TradFest. You’ll be moved by lilting Celtic airs, or perhaps you’ll let your feet do the talking with a jig or a reel. Either way, it's sure to be an experience to dive into, heart and soul: when planning a visit, check the TradFest website for confirmed acts and dates.

And trad isn't just for TradFest. In fact, any time of year you'll have a chance to experience the true essence of Irish life – with good times soundtracked by great music. Here, we give you a flavour of what to expect, and what modern traditional music delights can be found (whether as a festival-goer or year-round)...

Statue of Luke Kelly playing guitar

Luke Kelly statue in South King Street  |  Image credit: Paul Reardon

Traditional Art Collective are a dynamic collective based in Dublin. This talented group of musicians, singers and dancers host wild céilís (Irish group dances – trust us, they’re fun!) in the very cool Grand Social pub and venue, to mark all the major Celtic festivals. Stay up-to-date and find more details on The Grand Social’s website.

Equally exciting is when different sounds merge to create something new, and Mutefish are a shining example. Like mighty gypsy folk act Kíla, who mix an Irish sound with Eastern European influences, Mutefish’s stylings are guaranteed to have you dancing. You’ll often find this six-piece from Ireland, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine rocking their exciting brand of ‘progressive techno folk’ (yep, you read that right!) on bustling Grafton Street and in the cultural quarter of Temple Bar; both meccas for local buskers.

Musicians performing at Tradfest

Self-professed ‘Dublin folk miscreants’ Lankum channel iconic trad balladeers The Dubliners, complete with gritty vocals, beautiful four-part harmonies and Irish instrumental arrangements; a real slice of authentic traditional musicianship. Perfect Friction meanwhile feature vocals, fiddle, flute, uilleann pipes, whistles, bodhrán and guitars, to name but a few! This six piece take well-known pop and rock songs and give them a trad twist; we love their take on The Zutons’ ‘Valerie’.

If you’re visiting Dublin soon, we highly recommend you catch a live trad music session to give you an idea of what this vibrant genre is all about. The front bar of iconic Whelan’s (a venue which has welcomed indie, rock and electronic acts from around the world for over 25 years) plays host to The Folk Club every Tuesday evening. This session showcases both new and established acts, with the likes of lively five-piece Skipper’s Alley, gorgeous electro-folk act Fox Owl Crow and Irish bouzouki player Daoirí Farrell (from the excellent Four Winds) all recently featuring in this intimate fireside session. Be sure to grab a pint at the bar and pull up a seat beside them next time you’re passing. 

Close up of a guitar

You’ll find plenty of other free trad music pubs and venues dotted around the city too. O’Donoghue’s pub on Baggot Street is steeped in folk history and plays host to a traditional and lively music session seven nights a week. The Cobblestone meanwhile is the perfect melting pot of old and new. Located in trendy Smithfield, this cosy pub serves great Guinness and also hosts regular live music sessions. Across the river you’ll find The Brazen Head (Dublin’s oldest pub), which hosts a live show every night, as well as a fantastic Sunday afternoon session.
 
Further afield in the suburb of Rathfarnham you can catch trad act The Merry Ploughboys, who play a lively show every night in the pub of the same name. And of course we urge you check out Johnnie Fox's, a cosy getaway nestled in the Dublin mountains. It’s easily accessible though, with a shuttle bus running from the city-centre. Established back in 1798, there’s traditional music and Irish dancing every day; check out their Hooley Night in particular!

Back in the city, Temple Bar plays host to the aforementioned TradFest each January. This lively festival showcases the full spectrum of new and old traditional and folk music, in some of the city’s most unique venues. Organisers choose atmospheric historical landmarks like Christ Church Cathedral, St Michan’s Church and Dublin Castle for the headline concerts, as well as popular pubs in Temple Bar, where a series of ‘Front Row Sessions’ take place. The event hosts fun activities for all the family, including singalongs on the TradFest Trail, and a series of events for kids like the Children’s Céilí, Clayotic Workshop and a Family Hub.

To give you an introduction to this diverse genre, we’ve put together a special Spotify playlist featuring artists both old and new:

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