Finding my voice, I’ve got the music in me

If you have a place on this earth where you can sing, you are a lucky person. Mine is in a pub on the west coast of Ireland. I haven’t been back there in a while. Even if I never make it back, it was enough that, once, I sang there.

The west coast is still a hotbed of traditional music. Musicians from all over the country and, indeed, the world come down to Dingle – and various other towns around counties Kerry and Clare – to learn how to properly play traditional Irish music. Of an evening when I spent some time there we’d go to Dingle town. Legend held that there were more pubs per capita there than anywhere else in Ireland – needed to cater to the tourists.

Not all of them had musicians, just drinking and socializing. But at my pub there were sessions – a few local musicians had a regular gig and guest guitarists or singers would come up and perform their party pieces. Many of the guest singers sang a capella – no fiddle or guitar or bodhran drum, just a pure voice carrying the packed house through Black is the Colour or even Molly Malone.

The crowd would stay silent for these solo performances, respecting the singer and the fact that they were sharing a song.

Wanting to share my own folk culture I opted for Neil Young – we sang his songs around campfires, where voices would gather and rise around the warmth of the fire against the encroaching darkness.

A friend from Ireland and I decided on Helpless (click to hear it). The guitarist picked out the chords and the two of us sang. It was liberating. I wasn’t afraid – and it wasn’t bad (another of  Neil’s gifts to the rest of us is his own off-key voice that lets us sing his words with conviction, free of the need to worry about being note perfect).

A session at the pub in Dingle. The guy in the middle was a guest musician that night.

There were also songs that brought every voice in the pub together. A popular one was Irish singer/songwriter Christy Moore’s Ride On (click to hear it). While the two guys who had a regular weekend gig there would play and sing, the rest of the pub would join in; a community of voices joining together. The Irish rebel song I Wish I Was Back Home in Derry was another popular one.

I may be romanticizing, but Dingle to me was a place where voices were important, where they were free to come alive. It’s near the Blasket Islands. I’ve written about them before (in On a bad day, this lifts my soul) – the biggest is  an island just off the coast where, in the early 20th Century, people from the mainland, England, the Americas and beyond came and fell in love with a community and culture that was still oral. The islanders’ history was preserved in stories told from one generation to the next, their songs and their stories handed down as they gathered night after night, their voices coming together to share their history.

Around that time, their oral stories were written down, helping to define the modern Irish language and literature. Their voices, first preserved through folk tale and singing,  found a permanent record in writing.

I don’t really sing anywhere else. But I sang in Ireland.



  1. Great post. The sessions at an Irish pub make remind me of a Nora Roberts book (in a good way!). We need to find a pub on St. Clair W. to satisfy our inner singer.

    1. Hey, Peggy, that sounds like a good idea. Although I don’t know if I can do it outside Ireland…

  2. O’Flaherty’s maybe. Mad joint. Everyone seems to either be singing, playing, jigging about. No one sitting quietly with a pint. Haven’t been for many a long year now but the memories remain. And yes, I think I sang as well. Good description, thank you.

    1. Thanks so much, Roy. I think it was Mare de Barra (or something like that)… on the street closest to the harbour, it had a blue front.

  3. Fun post! I used to sing in public…not so much anymore. Perhaps I could in that pub, though! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!

    1. Thanks, Gretchen. Pleasure’s mine … this singing in public thing seems to have touched a nerve, it’s brought lots of response. We should all just sing and not worry about it!

      1. Perhaps so…though having JUST come from a concert by the Vienna Boys Choir…I’m not so sure!!!

      2. Lucky you! Comparisons aren’t good 😉

      3. True, but…hard not to when confronted by such talent! But good point. I do still sing in groups – I’ve been in a community theater production the past two summer which has been a blast!

      4. See… you’ve got it down pat.

  4. Hey Deb, tried getting to your blog from Google and hope this shows up. Enjoy your posts v much. My favourite line in this one? “Musicians from all over the country come down to Dingle.” You dirty girl…

    1. Hey, Marie, this worked! Using different platforms just can’t keep us apart. Thanks for the kind words … and funny about Dingle … v clean place, though :-).

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