As I approached Grace’s Pub, there was a calm chill in the air. At 9:30 in the evening, it was still light out, yet it was paired with the quiet stillness that one typically associates with the night. Stepping inside, I chuckled to myself as I immediately noticed a sign hung above the bar: “Drinks on the house. Bring your own ladder.” An elderly man and woman stood behind the bar, filling pints of beer as regulars and members of my study abroad group filtered in. We were there for a music night, a weekly occurrence at Grace’s Pub as well as pubs all across Ireland.
Once the head of my Guinness had fully settled at the top of my pint, I walked into the side room at the right of the bar, a small cottage-like room with comfortable furniture, a cupboard in the corner filled with tiny knick-knacks, and a piano in the center of the wall. There were personal touches everywhere I looked, a very different look from the typical American bar.
Pints continued to flow and conversation bustled as I sat with my classmates. We were all in awe of the decor, describing a comfort lended to us by our surroundings. Amid conversation, I heard music begin to play. Finding a break in conversation, I excused myself and stepped back into the main room. I was met with the sounds of instrumental music being played on flutes, guitars, a ukulele and bodhrán. The musicians were seated at a long table, and locals crowded into the surrounding area. There was a natural keenness to sit and listen, but not just placidly. Everyone was brought into the music and actively listened, whether they sat there drinking their beer and swayed to the music, tapped on the table, or clapped to the beat.
I leaned against the fireplace and watched them play. It was evident by the way they played that they were deeply connected to this music, even when words were absent. The instrumental tunes told a story, with variation in tempos. As a tune would start, one person would begin playing, and one by one each instrument would join in until they were playing together as one. When someone was going to sing, a hush would fall over the pub so that they could begin. Hours passed and the music played on–not even a spilled beer made them miss a beat.
Towards the end, a man named Johnny approached me, watching me sway to the music. He had been playing the guitar most of the evening, singing a few tunes as well. He leaned in and said “It looks like you’ve got a sound.” In that moment, I felt like I’d been invited into an intimate community. I wasn’t just someone on the outside observing–I’d become part of the tune as well.