Out on the town: four of the best pubs in Ireland for live music

Here's where to go to grab a drink and catch some live music.

Thursday, 26 March 2020,
By Pól Ó Conghaile
A traditional Irish music session at Belfast’s The John Hewitt pub.
A traditional Irish music session at Belfast’s The John Hewitt pub.
Photograph by Getty

When an Irish pub clicks, everything feels right with the world. It’s not just about great creamy pints of Guinness and electric sparks of craic; though they certainly help. It’s about a moment, a mood, the difference between a chord played alone and a bunch of musicians locking into an improvised groove. People let their guards down. Conversations feel like jazz, taking hilarious and unexpected turns. In a world obsessed with mindfulness, it’s as pure a dose of living-in-the-moment as you’ll find. It’s a humble alchemy.

Of course, there’s no sure-fire formula for an Irish pub. Some are cosy old boltholes with ancient snugs and waxy wallpapers, with cabals of trad musicians playing in the corner and bartenders that switch from sparkling talk show hosts to experts in avoiding eye contact as their dens fill up. Others are slick shrines to interior design, or big old clubby barns. All have benefitted from a new wave of Irish craft beers and spirits, however. Suddenly, the shelves seem exotic, with drinks ranging from Galway Bay Brewery’s ‘Buried At Sea’ milk chocolate stout to Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin or Wicklow Wolf’s gluten-free Arcadia lager.

How can you find a special one? Start with this list. Ask a local. Go with your gut. How will you know when you’ve found it? You’ll just know. Trust us.  

Spirit Store, Dundalk, Co Louth 

Snugs, sash windows, candles and craft beers. This quayside treasure features Sunday trad sessions downstairs, while upstairs is a lovingly curated venue that has drawn local legends like Just Mustard and Jinx Lennon, as well as touring acts like Snow Patrol and The Handsome Family. It’s a gorgeous space, and offers an authentic taste of the Irish music scene.   

Teach Hiúdaí Beag, bunbeg, Co Donegal

Here’s where to combine good music and Gaeilge (the Irish language). Set in Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht area, the northwest pub features the best of local trad in Monday night seisiúns, with up to a dozen musicians on the go at times. More good news: it’s also a B&B.

De barra’s Folk Club, Clonakilty, Co Cork 

Serving up everything from trad and rock ’n’ roll to comedy and blues, this gregarious, genre-bending pub is a West Cork legend. Don’t miss it.  

Annesley House, North Strand, Dublin

Pubs like Pipers Corner, The Cobblestone and Whelan are better known for live music, but ‘The House Presents’ sessions at Annesley House are one of the Northside’s sweetest surprises. A salon-style setup features an eclectic mix of live rock, blues, acoustic and spoken word. 

Published in the April 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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