History, Family, and Music

Music, history, and family seem to be the three things that hold the tight knit communities of rural Ireland together. Everyone we meet seems to passionately know the history of not only Ireland but of where they live specifically, and everywhere you go there is music, especially in local pubs at night. It seems to bring the community together and create a friendly and outgoing atmosphere. During our visit to Cnoc Suain Dearbhaill told us how the traditional music of Ireland passed on from family as a way of storytelling was fading away and an effort was made to bring it back to children that has been extremely successful. The next night in the Spiddal hotel during our music workshop the couple who was playing for us said a something similar about people forming groups to get more people into playing traditional Irish instruments. It shows how important music is to the Irish culture, especially among families and from generation to generation. Luckily these efforts have been successful and I have not gone into a pub in Ireland yet that didn’t have some sort of live music, usually played by a small group, just for fun.

Penny Whistle at Cnoc Suain

Cnoc Suain is a cultural center in Conamara focusing on history, culture, nature, and music that Dearbhaill described to us as “an inspiration for the future”. Families in Ireland seem to be very close and the family in general very important. At Cnoc Suain we learned of how many daughters would emigrate to the United States in order to support their family and while 95% did not return they would continue to send their family money and supplies, demonstrating how strong family bonds are in this country. 

Everyone in Ireland seems to care about the history of Ireland and wants to share it with others. “What you have to remember is that this country was occupied for 800 years” said Des, a national tour guide. Many other people have emphasized this same point about how the country has not always been free and independent and this seems to have had a large impact on the people and their communities and ways of life. History is very important to Irish people and how it has been traditionally passed down through music and stories is just as important and keeps communities and families tightly knit in the rural areas. 

Music Brings Communities Together

In every place I visited, I felt a strong sense of community among the people in Ireland. Each place appeared to be a close-knit community with everyone knowing one another. Irish communities were even welcoming to visitors and new members. In each community I encountered, music was a major tie between members of the community. Music brings communities together whether its people who play music or people who enjoy listening to music. Typically, traditional Irish music is played at a pub where community members gather to enjoy. 

 Music is important in Irish communities now and dating back centuries ago. In the 1800s, families lived in small cottages with only 4 bedrooms for 8-20 people on many acres of land. The community would gather in one home and share stories and songs. However, music was different in the 1800s. As one of our tour guides, Dearbhaill explained,“People would tell a song or say a song they would not sing a song.” Although the music was slightly different, it was still a common tie that connected the community together like in Ireland today.

In Cloughjordan, Westport, Inisheer, and Inishmore a sense of community through music was evident. When we were visiting Cloughjordan, it was biodiversity week and musicians put on a concert for people to listen to songs about nature. After the concert, the musicians moved to the local pub for more people in the community to enjoy. This was a common practice in other communities in Ireland. In Westport, many pubs had live music for people to listen and enjoy. Likewise, in Inishmore and Inisheer the pubs had traditional Irish music. In both islands, at the pubs, a group of musicians sat around a table and played together and took turns performing solos. People who were not necessarily with the musicians were invited to join in and play with them and play their instruments. In Irish communities throughout history and to today, music is a tie that brings the community together. 

Warm Hearts

Ireland is a place that holds many warm hearts, inspirational souls and happiness in every part of the day. Coming to Ireland I was not sure what to expect of the people. The mask that pop culture puts on the people of Ireland tends to be a pub full of loud drunks that end up brawling in the streets. Contrary to popular belief this is not the case at all. The idea I had about pubs and simply the community changed the second night of my trip to Ireland.

As a large group of 16, we ventured to one of the only pubs in the small village of Choughjordan, where we decided we were going to spend our night. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting but I was expecting some sort of music. Yet when I walked in there was just a low murmur of voices. No music at all.

Now, for those who do not know much about Irish pubs in the country there are two important things to understand. One being there are two sides to a pub, a small side and a large side corresponding to noise levels. Secondly, when people are performing live, everyone sits and listens. You do not talk over the singers like you might in a typical bar in America.  Since we were not accustomed to this social norm, the band moved to the smaller side of the pub so that they could play in peace since we were being loud. Later that night I decided to venture into the small room to hear the music.

While the music was captivating, it was even more impressive to see how the people interacted as a community. Everyone was sitting around with the band as they played various instruments such as the harmonica, whistles, banjo and so on. Everyone performing got the chance to play a solo that sent shivers down everyone’s spine in the room. There was a lady that we had met at the local market earlier that day named Kathy. As she walked into the room everyone was pleading for her to sing a song. She modestly said that she was not good enough (even though everyone in the room probably had already known how good she actually was) but eventually agreed to sing a traditional song. Her voice was beautiful.

I was sitting close to the banjo player that night who was quite friendly. A classmate and I were interested in the dynamic of the group. The main essence of the people’s spirits was fully captured when he said, “There is nothing better than getting to play my music with these lovely people who continue to inspire me.” This is when it hit me that it was not about how good of a musician you were. No matter who you were, the people in the room appreciated you and allowed others to inspire them. The gratefulness that people have for each other was one of the most fascinating moments of the trip.

A Community in Unity

Every country is made up of various communities. In Ireland, one unpopular style of community I experienced was an ecovillage in Cloughjordan. Our tour guide, Úna, told me that despite their eco-friendly efforts, “A lot of people move here more for the strong sense of community” versus a passion to help the environment. I found this interesting because previously, I assumed everyone who lived here did so because they were passionate about nature. In this community, people decide to not cut the grass excessively and ride a bike instead of driving. They also have community places where people can leave items they no longer had a use for, such as toys, movies, and crafts. This demonstrates a strong sense of closeness because people were comfortable sharing, repurposing, and donating their personal belongings without expecting anything in return.

The ecovillage knows the grass can always be longer on the other side.

Another example of the strong sense of community here was in the Cloughjordan pubs. People would sit in a circle and share their musical abilities by singing and playing instruments freely. They helped one another finish songs by either jumping in to sing a verse or accompanying an instrument. The community was supportive and open-minded, even towards new people. Anyone who wanted to sing or play music was encouraged to and received support afterward.

This farmer is working selflessly. It is his contribution to the community.

Also, the farmers demonstrate an understanding of community because their work is selfless. They work long, stressful hours in strenuous conditions to provide food and resources to the village. They make a low minimum wage pay that does not match the physical labor they exert.

The ecovillage loves and supports Mother Nature. People and animals here can rejoice unified in one community because every creature is respected. Even Pa’s Django Ecohostel composts food in an effort to keep the community in the best condition possible because that will benefit everyone. By the end of my time at the ecovillage, I learned that this population as well as Cloughjordan as a whole, both exhibit a strong and healthy sense of community through their efforts to make their home a prosperous environment for everyone.

Ireland is a complex country that holds many different types of communities, specifically an ecovillage that offers many benefits to the people who live there.

“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.