Everywhere I go in Ireland, I hear music. It’s not just the melodic lilt of the Irish speech, which makes every conversation seem like an audition for a reality show. There actually is music playing everywhere and it’s dominating my quick trip through the country.
From the first pub I walk into after arriving in the country, to the tunes playing from the stereo of the bus.
The songs tell the stories of Ireland – the history, the celebrations, the disasters, the loss, the longing. In the lyrics of the music, there’s often a fine line between happiness and despair.
That’s the story of Ireland.
“There’s great history behind every one of them,” Tony McCabe, the lead singer of The Mighty Ghosts of Erin, tells me.
“And some of them be true as well. That’s the frightening thing about some of them,” he says before launching into a throaty laugh.
Tony’s band sings the more classical Irish songs – your Molly Malones and Whiskey in the Jars.
They’re the tales from times when the Irish were fighting for independence from the British, when working conditions were hard and the men working were harder, and when the Irish took leave of their country to explore the world but never forgot where they came from.
“There’s a real mix bag of stuff there and it’s nice to give everyone a bit of a taste of everything,” Tony tells me about the set he plays at an entertainment venue in Dublin called Taylors Three Rock.
“I give them a lovely sad song, some of the old ballads like the Mountains of Mourne and some old love stories about emigration and then roll them up with a couple of yarns.”
Every country has its own songs that tell the tales of the nation but there’s a strength of patriotism in the Irish ones that’s hard to beat.
There’s also such a long list of notable Irish classics and I’d challenge another country to have as many as here. It’s intertwined with the culture in a way that is inescapable.
“We’re all reared on it,” Tony explains. “There always has been folklore in the music – too many stories to tell, you couldn’t let them all pass by you!”
And it’s not just the old ones, either.
Although a man with an accordion play for coins in the street, there’s a young crowd inside most of the pubs in Ireland. Bands, trying to get a break and make some cash on the side, play a mix of covers and original material in many of the bars across the country.
One Saturday night, in the small town of Anascaul, half the population (of 200 or so) turn up for a birthday party at the Randy Leprechaun pub. One minute they’ll be dancing to Daft Punk, the next to a rendition of The Galway Girl.
It’s as though the Irish tunes just blend in with the international scene, no sense of irony or cliché, just the fuel for a good celebration.
The Irish tradition of songs of the country has shown no sign of slowing down in recent years. You only have to look at artists like U2, Sinead O’Connor and The Cranberries to see the storytelling about the homeland.
I’m sure even Westlife and Boyzone slipped in a bit of local heritage along the way as well.
So what will come next? Well, the struggle for the north has quietened down these days but economic woes and emigration have become big factors in the lives of the Irish again.
Get ready for many a wee ditty about some of these issues soon because, as Tony says, you can’t let all these stories pass by you.