“Tell A Song”

Walking into a bar in America, you instantly get hit with bass pounding music. You have to create a new way to communicate with your friends because you cannot hear the person directly next to you, unless you get close to their ear and scream into it. American bars typically are filled with people who are there to see how drunk they can get. Looking across the bar you would probably see more strangers than people you recognized. Typically, everyone stays with the friend group that they came with, and does not bother to get to know the other people who are there. Americans in these settings do not create a sense of community, but rather, a sense of solidarity.

Walking into my first Irish pub in Cloughjordan, I could instantly feel a sense of community.  Eight musicians were seated in the back of the bar with all their instruments in hand and drinks placed on the table in front of them. Their playlist consisted of traditional Irish songs, on top of their own personal compositions.  If a song was played that was well known by everybody, then everyone would join in. It was never restricted to just one person singing. The most common question I received was, “Do you play any instruments?” Hinting that they wanted me to participate in their songs. The only breaks that were taken, were in between songs to have a couple sips of beer and a chat with the fellow musicians. 

Throughout the songs you can hear the beat of a drum. However, no drum was in sight, until later in the night. When a drum was lacking, the beat of the drum was created by the musicians and audience tapping or stomping their foot to the beat of the song. This allowed even the non-musical people to contribute to the composition. The audience engaged with the musicians by singing along, and some even contributed their own pieces. As I was an outsider in this pub, the people sitting around me tried to get to know me and my story. People asked me what I was studying, how long I was here for, if I played any music, and how I am enjoying the music. While this was a casual conversation, the effort that was put into the conversation by the locals was heartwarming. You could really tell that they were interested in getting to know me. For those who did know each other, they used this space as a place to catch up with neighbors, locals and old friends. Anyone who was not a regular here, quickly became part of the local community. Leaving that pub for the first time, I felt like I was part of the Cloughjordan community.

Digging deeper into the music culture of Ireland I learned the phrase, “Tell a song.” Dearbhaill, from Cnoc Suain, explained that the phrase, “Tell a song”, was used in place of “Sing a song.” “Tell a song,” implied that the words are more important than the singing itself. Sitting in various pubs I could hear the musicians use this phrase. When people were immigrating during the famine, their Irish music was taken with them. Leaving Ireland with a void, that could only be filled with music. Slowly the music began to reemerge, rejoining the Irish community. Irish music brings people together during the good and the bad times, to create a wholesome community. 

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