Ireland's passion for music is addictive

Apr 14, 2013, 07:31 IST | Krishna Raj

Krishna Raj travels across the land of ballads, barrels and bodhrans

For a 21st century gizmo-toting, Facebooking bard, travelling through time zones across continents also implies flying through musical zones. Arriving in Mumbai after a musical sojourn in the hinterland of Kathiawad, Gujarat, I change flights, the histrionics, High-strung tremolos of the evening’s folk Daira dissolved in buzz in the buzz of the Boeing engine. In transit at a Middle Eastern airport, the charms of Lebanese diva Fairuz’s ethereal voice refreshes my senses at a music store.

Then, as I gaze out of the aircraft window at the starless stratosphere above while others sleep, Ustad Amir Khan’s Tarana in the nocturnal Raga Chandrakauns envelopes my mind as if unraveling the eternal enigma of the night. As I land in Dublin, the vibrant Irish capital, a never-ending concerto of Celtic music and dance bathes my consciousness with a million colours! From the sleepy town of Palitana to the swank symphony of skirts and stockings against red-brick Georgian architecture, 24 hours seems like eons of synergised synchronicity!

Tuning up with one of Ireland’s famed traditional singers at the verdant St Stephen’s Green, an instantaneous chemistry prepares us for a performance at the national Gaelic Language radio station Raido Na Life. “Namaskaar! Aap Hindi bolte hain?” is the pleasantly surprising prelude to the broadcast. Presenter Dr Anthony Cummins then introduces his Indian guest in the country’s language that soothes my jetlagged nerves.

The Irish proudly sum up their spirit by the famous mantra of the three Gaelic C’s, Cint, Ceol agus Craic (pronounced caa-int, kee-ol agus crack), drinking, music and chatter! A city perpetually immersed in gaiety, every trip to Dublin reminds me of what the great Persian mystic Rumi said about life “Emruz cho har ruz, kharaabeem kharaab. Magosha dar andishe o bargeer rebaab” (today, as every day, we are drunk, we are drunk! Leave aside the maze of thoughts and grab the lute!).

Musicians from varied nationalities render classics passed down through generations

Despite being called the ‘drinking capital of Western Europe’ Ireland’s age-old musical legacy is endearing, the cheerful, often heart-rendering melodies and earth-shaking dances reflect their quintessential love for life, merry making is an indispensable part of being Irish. Letting myself loose along Dublin’s charming balustrades has been the ultimate high, every corner of the city has a new tune to teach. Temple Bar (Gaelic for ‘area’ that once belonged to Temple, a wealthy Irishman), Dublin’s pub complex effervesces with music every evening. The romance of quaint old Irish pubs, sturdy old barrels bulging at the seams, the roar of laughter and the sweetness of country brunettes and their Gaelic gossip punctuates the Uilleann Pipes, Tin Whistles, Fiddles and Boddhran drums ( the only indigenous Irish instrument!), la joie de vivre in full glory! 

At Temple Bar’s traditional pubs like the grand old Oliver St John Gogarty’s, The Temple Bar Pub and The Auld Dubliner, international tourists, music lovers, honeymooners and musicians devoutly uphold the three C dharma with the concluding ritual of ushering in the first rays of sunlight!  Besides the musical ‘all-night lock-ins’ by the clan of connoisseurs, traditional Irish Pub Crawls truly thrill, musicians take guests from one old pub to the other, rendering classics coupled with a hardy repertoire of rib-ticklers, anecdotes and spontaneous participation. Joining in with a pair of Tablas, both traditions seem to embrace like long-lost lovers as Marc the Bodhran drummer and I revv up an energetic 6/8 followed by an extempore call and response. 

Oliver St John  Gogarty Pub is the biggest and the most famous Pub in Dublin. Pics/Krishna Raj

I remember how the venerated Irish legend Francis McPeake III of Belfast, guru of John Lennon, once explained to me how Indian and Irish music were closely related through ‘spiritual fundamentals’ and that it was probably travelling soldiers who brought in several influences from India.  At one of the pubs, we are told a hilarious story about how the scarcity of beer in County Cork led two men to visit Devon in England and return with cider in whisky barrels! The resultant, highly potent combo was christened ‘Johnny Jump-up’ and hence the famous number: “Oh never, oh never, oh never again If I live to be a hundred or a hundred n ten I fell to the ground and I couldn’t get up After drinkin’ a pint of da Johnny Jump-up!”

Ireland’s age-old musical legacy reflects merry-making and their love for life

For the more ‘hardcore’ soiree, I visit Dublin’s all-Gaelic speaking Conradh na Gaeilge Club, renowned for its legendary intolerance to the Queen’s language. As compared to the typical Irish-style Brit-bashing topped with a tinge of earthy humour I often had encountered, this seems far more serious! I am told that a group of Italians were entertained as long as they sang Italian songs, but asked to leave the moment they switched to an English one.

During my recital with a traditional group, I decide to use Marathi due to its subtle resemblance to Gaelic, notwithstanding the communication gap except for common words, especially those for alcoholic beverages. “Mhala ek Guinness dyaal ka baa’ee?” (would you please give me a Guinness lady?) I mutter. Luckily, the waitress whispers with a wink in a heavy Connemara accent “Inglish ez au-kiye.”

A wedding shower at  Oliver St John  Gogarty Pub

It is said that the zenith of any blissful experience is when rhythm takes over the five senses. I watch Ireland’s iconic dance troupe ‘Riverdance’ shatter the stage with a mind-boggling performance at the Gaiety Theatre. Thematic musical renditions with some of the country’s finest dancers formed a fine platform for the foot-tapping treat.

Though a city known to host mega-music festivals like the Temple Bar Trad Fest and the Big Bang Festival with all-time star-studded line ups, brimming concert halls, Dublin’s street performers are a class of their own. Right from notorious East European Romani Gypsies and their exhilarating jazz jams, Country and Blues buffs to meditative classical Celtic harpists, each cast their unique spell on every Dublin evening. 

Jamming with Indian and Irish instruments

More than all her musical mavericks, Dublin’s most unforgettable is a mood guitarist, a permanent fixture outside a Temple Bar pub, drawing hundreds of fans, each dropping cents in his neatly spread out mat as he plays deeply immersed with eyes shut.

A traditional Irish pub

With an unfathomable sense of depth and sonorosity, something hard to achieve on an electric guitar, he then spends the rest of the night in solitude at a corner on the colourful Grafton Street. As the click-clack of high heels returning home fades away in the silence, the rhythmic squirts of eclectic expressionism envelope the deserted street on a full moon night. As I hold my breath, to avoid even the slightest disturbance, Dublin’s spirit seems to levitate in his high. 

Fact file
>> There are no direct flights to Dublin from anywhere in India. One can fly to Dublin, capital of the Irish Republic via several destinations in the Middle East and Europe.
>> Dublin is a city of fun. One can enjoy traditional Irish music at the Temple Bar Pub Complex, visit the Trinity College, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin Castle, Chester Beatty Library, shopping on Grafton Street and other fascinating attractions

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