Traditional Music in Galway City: “‘Tis the last rose of summer”

First full day in Galway and the rain comes down non-stop. This is the last page of the only lined journal I brought to Ireland and I need to go out to buy another one. I force myself to leave the hostel when the rain lessens to the drizzle. Thankfully, the weather lets up further and I have some sunshine as I pass Eyre Square, moving towards Shop Street and the bay beyond that.

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There’s another reason I have to force myself to leave the hostel. After a week of solitude, wilderness, and seclusion, the constant movement and social pressure of a city is a bit much for me, and I feel sad, lonely, reclusive. I wander the Latin Quarter and do some sketching by the Spanish Arches, but the only thing that really makes me happier is coming across a used book store. Book stores are always familiar, no matter where they are. I stay in the shop reading as all the neighboring businesses pack up and close. Finally, I leave with a book of Anglo-Saxon poetry, feeling better again.

I fall in love with a mandolin I see at the Four Corners music shop. 185 euros, with a deep blue finish that darkens into a black border. I take pictures of colored storefronts, textured layers of blue and red and olive green, gaining a feel for the layout of the city.

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Music tonight. It’s always nerve-wracking to break into a new group of musicians, but I know I’ll regret spending another night indoors.

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Pubs of Galway

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I stay in Galway just short of two weeks total, with a weekend break in Connemara. I spend my days going for exploratory walks, blogging in coffee shops, and practicing tunes in the common room at Snoozles Hoste. This is by far one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed in through any of my travels and I recommend it highly.

Within the first few days of being here, Galway has my heart. I think that almost any musician would be charmed by this city, by the eclectic ensemble of performers that fill the streets during the day (even when it’s cold out), by the lights that come up in the evening as music drifts out of the crowded pub doors, by the magnificent view of the bay. There’s a close-knit, collaborative atmosphere, even among strangers.

An Pucan

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An Pucan is situated just across the street from my hostel, and there’s a loud-speaker outside so that you can hear any music gig as you walk by. My first night, I hear traditional music as I walk by, and I walk in just as one gig is ending and another is starting.

The atmosphere is more of a gig than a session, but I’m invited to play anyway. I get instantly nervous because there are mics involved, and I mess up several times when I’m asked to play. As the night continues, however, I relax more, and settle into the company of talented and friendly musicians.

Ollie and Liam are both on guitar and voice for the most part. This portion of their night is a combination of tourist-geared cover music and a few traditional tunes. They play with an incredible amount of energy and skill, and have great voices. They’re open to my playing and improvisation, and also open to recommendations and participation from other people in the bar. I’d forgotten how much fun it can be to improvise harmony, and I have fun playing around tonight. I get some compliments on my playing, even though I only feel halfway confident about it.

 

Tigh Coili

 

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Tigh Coili is located right in the center of Shop Street and has traditional music every night. I love the atmosphere of this pub! I come to play and listen on several different occasions. The first night I sit in to play, I’m playing with a group of musicians who have a repertoire of unusual tunes in common, and I don’t know that many. However, not knowing is sometimes a good thing: I acquire lots of new tunes that I want to learn, as well as the names of recordings that they’re featured on. In this particular group, everyone gets a chance to start tunes in order, and we’re able to play a few of my favorites.

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The second time I play at Tigh Coili, I see a familiar face. Brian McGrath is on banjo, and I recognize him from Zoukfest World Music Camp in Albuquerque, where he taught a few years back. I’ve also seen him working at the Four Corners music shop. I play with Brian and other talented musicians, all featured on a DVD they have for sale called “Irish Music in Surround Sound”. I take home a copy of the DVD– just something small to remind me of these people, this music, this bar, this city.

Monroe’s

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Liam and Ollie, from An Pucan, told me early in the week to meet them Friday night at Monroe’s. They’re playing a set with another Liam, Liam Conway. Both Liams are taking off to Denmark for a concert with their band, Fling, which plays an awesome mix of traditional and world music.

Monroe’s is a two-story pub and concert space across the river. The layout is very open, and caters well to a large group of people. So far, I’ve loved all of the spaces in Galway that I’ve had a chance to play in. The pubs here epitomize the communal spirit and feeling of the Irish music.

I listen for awhile and am invited to join in part way through the set. We play a lot of the same tunes we played before. They turn the mic over to me for a few solos, but it’s hard in the end to mic the violin so that the sound carries. Mental note: invest in a performance mic at some point.

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After the gig is over, I stay and chat with the Liams while the pub closes around us.

The Crane Bar

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I’d already heard about the Crane Bar multiple times before coming to Galway. The Crane is across the river, near Monroe’s, on a dark side street. The upper floor of the building is for sale. The first floor is painted in vivid greens and reds.

In the end, I play twice at the Crane Bar. My first night, it seems like the session that gathers is all fiddles, a traditional orchestra. For some reason (maybe nerves), I have a hard time starting tunes this night. I keep messing up even my best-known tunes, even though I play them just fine once the tune is started. It’s an off-night; I’ve been exhausting myself, learning too many new pieces during the days. My fiddle brain is fried.

The second time I play at the Crane is a better experience. I get along better with the assortment of musicians, and I’m better rested mentally. My sister, A, is visiting me, and I treasure the fact that she’s able to hear me play, here of all places.

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For my poem choice today, I thought it would be appropriate to pick a piece that doubles as a song. This is one of my favorite Irish folk songs/poems, and the tone of longing for companionship speaks to the loneliness and displacement I felt when I first arrived in Galway. The last stanza also captures something of the Irish sense of community: what is left for a single person once the love of friendship and family is gone?

‘Tis the last rose of summer
Thomas Moore

‘Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rose-bud is night,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sight for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the steam;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where they mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie wither’d,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

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