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Serenaded in Ireland

With every brick and balustrade resounding with music, Ireland, widely considered as western Europe’s musical capital, makes your heart beat to its rhythm. Krishnaraj Iyengar goes on a musical trail in the country

Aannnd en di eeyev’nin, he would hearrr da song of the siyelors,” she growled, her fiery visage lighting up with the setting sun. Her dark-malt curls sway with the fury of a wild wind. Atop Hook Lighthouse, Europe’s oldest, stood the torchbearer of its enigma, the lighthouse keeper’s granddaughter. Narrating tales of her grandfather, her baritone, rustic syllables seem synchronised with the towering old structure and the forbidding expanse of the Irish sea beyond. The song of the sea, ‘Older than time’ as a sailor buddy calls it, was the apt prelude to my saga of soul-stirring musical experiences in Ireland.

Western Europe’s musical capital has you swimming in a shoreless ocean of sound and rhythm. Indeed, Ireland is for those with an appetite for Ghiza-e-Rooh (food for the soul), the Sufi name for music. Ireland is a country ever-immersed in merry-making, be it Northern Ireland where ballads and black tea with the legendary guru of John Lennon, Francis Mcpeake 3, reveals a spiritual connection between Indian and Irish music, or during a Gaelic Radio broadcast in the Irish Republic, when ragas and reels rock the stage through sonorous serendipity.

Popular Irish songstress Saileog Ní Cheannabháin
Popular Irish songstress Saileog Ní Cheannabháin

As almost each one of Dublin’s cobbled corners and Georgian grandeur resounds with music, every soul seems symphonic here. While earth-shaking synergy storms her streets every evening with gypsy jives, mood guitarists, romantic fiddlers and African drummers, Temple Bar is where the groove sets-in. The popular area (‘bar’, in Gaelic, means ‘area’) was once owned by Temple, a wealthy Irishman. In retrospect, it seems like it was meant to be, for ‘Temple’ neatly describes this sanctum sanctorum of musical devotion housing world-renowned pubs like Gogarty’s, The Auld Dubliner and Quays Pub to name a few. It enthralls international visitors with traditional Irish music every evening. Busting shady stereotypes, Irish ‘pubs’ are quaint, weathered, rustic and a haven for family, friends and musical lovers. During ‘Pub Crawls’, visitors are led by Irish musicians from one old pub to another for soirees of old classics and hardy humour — all-night ‘lock-ins’ (when pubs allows patrons to stay-on after the legal closing time) at many pubs, especially in smaller areas, beckon the connoisseur clan, who literally lock themselves in with the musicians to be immersed in the rich repertoire until dawn. With uilleann pipes, violin, tin whistle, bodhran frame drum, the banjo and accordion forming a typical ‘session’ — musicians gather around tables or on make-shift platforms in pubs, with foot-tapping treats by local step dancers often adding to the evening’s fervour.

The famous Temple Bar Street at Dublin
The famous Temple Bar Street at Dublin

It is fascinating that although gilt-edged classicism is the foundation of the musical heritage of other European countries, with the legacy of giants such as Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, Ireland stands out with the stark earthiness of its distinct musical traditions that bear several influences throughout its history. While the tuneful bustle of the big city fades-away, the magnetism of the Gaeltachts (traditional Gaelic villages) draws you into Ireland’s treasure house of Gaelic culture and music. The scenic County Connemara casts a spell, with passionate torchbearers of the ancient singing styles and their meditative repertoire blending with the landscape.

Irish dancers usher in the New Year at a concert in Dublin
Irish dancers usher in the New Year at a concert in Dublin

The foaming fury of the Atlantic inspires fiery fisher folk break into songs at County Kerry’s forbidding Dingle Peninsula, the Rubik’s Cube of rugged pubs at Dingle village canvassing the hypnotism of traditional dance music. A one-horse fairytale Gaeltacht in County Kerry, Dingle is known for its folks’ warmth and music.

The legendary St John Gogarty’s pub in Dublin
The legendary St John Gogarty’s pub in Dublin

With gaiety spilling onto the streets during national festivals such as St Patrick’s Day, Christmas and New Year, vibrant musical parades, street-side gigs and even contemporary innovations like the young and tech-savvy Laptop Orchestra spring-up a new tune.

Musicians at the Temple Bar pub in Dublin. Pics/Krishnaraj Iyengar
Musicians at the Temple Bar pub in Dublin. Pics/Krishnaraj Iyengar

With music being an integral part of the Irish way of life, 3 Gaelic C’s — Cint (drinking), Ceol (music) and Craic (chatter) — typically describe the spirit of the country’s people. Apart from pub sessions and informal gigs, Ireland’s music icons such as Mike McGoldrick and Moya Brennan serenade audiences at festivals such as Temple Bar Trad Fest in Dublin, Northern Ireland’s Fladh Ceol and Galway Early Music Festival.

The affable Irish revel in raw chemistry with the world. As Yeats put it, "There are no strangers here, just friends who have not yet met”.

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