The Irish Talent for Singing Knows Some Bounds

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A revelation in Carlow

Stories from my travels in Ireland back in 2000

For many years I had always thought that every Irish person could sing. In all my years of travelling in Ireland I had constantly been amazed by the prolific amount of hidden talent in this country. I have found these people in all corners of this land. From young to old, it didn’t matter. So from there sprung this belief that every Irish citizen has a talent for singing.

But this night my belief was about to be challenged.

I was in Carlow for the Eigse Carlow Arts Festival. After a hard day’s work a good pint of Guinness was in order, along with some traditional Irish music. Brendan, who was working at the Riverside hostel where I was staying, and Hermo, a South African staying at the hostel, joined me in my quest.

During the day someone had told me there would be traditional Irish singing at a pub called Deveraux. We arrived to discover an empty pub. The barman explained that there was music upstairs. There was indeed music upstairs, but firstly it wasn’t traditional, and secondly there was a cover charge. Lately I refuse to pay money just to get into a place where you then have to pay more money to buy your drinks.

Brendan and Hermo agreed, so we left and found music in Joyce’s down the road a little. A sign advertised a traditional Irish session and we entered to find two guys preparing to play. So we ordered three pints of Guinness and sat down. When the music began we were deafened by the horrendous voice booming over the PA system. It was horrible, so we downed our pints and left.

mos eisley in Carlow

Our next stop was in Finnegan’s. Hermo left us here, as he had to get up early. As Brendan and I entered the pub a huge wave of unease spread over us. Noise levels dropped and strange life forms stared at us from tables and bar stools. There was clearly no traditional Irish singing to be found here. It was a bit like the scene when Luke and Obi Wan enter the bar in Mos Eisley Spaceport in the first Star Wars.

‘Do you want to stay here?’ asked Brendan, in a low voice.

‘No,’ I replied, without hesitation.

So we left.

Irish singing Karaoke

Down the road we found a pub called Racey Byrne’s. A sign out front announced that tonight was Karaoke night. There had been no sign of any traditional music, and we were fed up with looking, so went in. I figured that although it was karaoke, we were in Ireland and the Irish love singing, and from my experience travelling in Ireland it was clear that everyone had a talent for it; or so I had thought.

We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of pints of Guinness. Suddenly the Karaoke struck up, and one of the girls from a group seated behind us was the star of the moment. And my god she was awful!

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What is it about Karaoke that seems to bring out the worst in people’s voices? The string of singers that followed her were no better. It seemed like the pub was full of Popstars rejects. I can understand it when people are completely pissed and go up there knowing they can’t sing and thus do it for a laugh. But some of these girls actually thought they were good. They would yell and dance and say things like: ‘Alright! C’mon everyone!!’

‘Do you do this often?’ I asked the barman.

‘No, he replied,’ his face squirming every time she hit a high note. ‘Can’t you tell?’

One last try

It appeared there had been some traditional music a little way down the road in a pub called Teach Dolmain, a venue for many of the festival’s events. But we had missed it. Halfway through our second pint we were befriended, I’m still not sure how, by Mary and her extremely short friend, Sharon. Sharon was not much taller than my eight year old nephew. The two girls invited us to a night club. I’m really not one for night clubs anymore. Aside from the fact you have to pay to get in, it’s just impossible to talk to anyone there. It’s times like this when I start to show my age. Next I’ll be listening to Radio 2. Wait a minute, I already do. Anyway, against our better judgement, and the fact that Mary promised to get us in for free, we followed them.

Dinn Rí is the place to be

Now, in Carlow the place to be is the Dinn Rí – and that’s not just because it rhymes. The Dinn Rí is a huge complex housing a hotel, two giant bars and a night club upstairs. It would be very easy to get lost here for days. It sits in the centre of town on Tullow Street. When I first came to Carlow with a couple of friends at the beginning of the week we had come to the Dinn Rí, but to the bars downstairs. I had no idea this was here at the time. It’s big, it’s trendy and it has all kinds of music in each of its bars and the club. It certainly is the place to be, if you like that sort of thing.

Mary obviously did, and, insisting that I dance with her, pulled me to her waist. Well, I suppose I should give her one dance seeing as she got us in for free, I thought. Mary then wrapped her legs around me.

‘In Ireland we do it like this,’ she said.

She then began gyrating her waist against mine. Suddenly, in mid-gyration, Mary grabbed my head, pulled it towards her chest and rubbed my face between her ample bosoms. An unfortunately-timed intake of breath meant that I inhaled the full pungent odour of her extremely smelly armpits. My stomach heaved, my head went dizzy and my throat wretched. I managed to force the bile in my throat from rising to the top and being propelled into her cleavage– although it might have been the hint she needed – and also managed not to pass out. Composing myself, I managed to hold my breath for the next pass, and then made an excuse to discontinue our dance.

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Getting too old for night clubs

After a visit to the toilet, I stood at the top balcony. It’s funny how wherever you go in the world, night clubs are invariably the same. You have your crowd of people dancing, laughing and having great fun. You have the guys chatting up the girls on their own, and you have the people who go out in twos and seem to just stand there all night with a bottle of alchopop in one hand, finger tapping the side of it, and head moving back and forth to the music like a couple of nodding dogs.

Another amazing aspect of night clubs is that you always seem to enter with someone, and leave alone because you’ve lost them. Once separated with your friends in a club it’s just impossible to find them again. You search and search the area, walk round the club hundreds of times, but they’ve simply disappeared. It’s no good asking anyone because they would never hear you. So in the end you conclude that they too have gone home. Brendan was nowhere to be found, and I really didn’t want to find Mary and Sharon, so I left the Dinn Rí and ended my evening off in a tradition that has been celebrated since the dawn of nightclubbing; I went for something to eat. Back home we usually go to the nearest kebab van and delight in eating the scankiest and most unhealthy food on the face of the earth.

Ending a night out the traditional way

Here I went to Ireland’s equivalent of the fast food chain, Supermacs and ordered a smokey bacon burger. One thing I will say about Supermacs in comparison to Ireland’s, or any other McDonalds is that the staff actually have brain cells. You can order something slightly altered, like no lettuce, and they don’t have to consult the company handbook to see if that is allowed. They use their initiative and actually make sure it’s done for you. The food is also better, as far as fast food can be better, and served with a smile.

I returned to the hostel with a pronounced swagger and a mouth covered in smokey bacon burger to find Brendan had lost me also and thus left and returned to the hostel before me. He had also been subjected to Mary’s desire to propagate on the dance floor, and subsequently her BO problem.

And this was just a Thursday night. I am happy to say that despite my bad experience that night, there was plenty of great Irish music and singing to be found on the streets for the rest of the Eigse Carlow Arts Festival.

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