One of our favorite things about the west of Ireland is the traditional music found all over. Galway (Cathair na Gaillimhe in Irish) has a number of pubs that offer nightly trad sessions. There’s something about the mournful sound of an Irish air that speaks to my soul. The haunting blend of the uilleann pipes, fiddle, tin whistles and bodhran (Irish drum) can bring an errant tear to my eye. The energetic jigs, reels, hornpipes and polkas get my feet tapping. I love it all! Here are places in the City of Tribes that hold trad sessions.
Nightly sessions offering traditional Irish music in Galway
These three pubs have been around for at least 100 years and offer daily trad sessions that attract a mix of local folks and visitors.
The Crane Bar (2 Sea Road, phone number: 353 91 587 419)* has been on this corner since Victorian times. Years ago, we were in Galway for an evening and were looking for the best place to hear a trad session. People kept mentioning The Crane and so off we went to this old corner pub. There’s a pub downstairs, but the night we were there the music was in their upstairs room. We climbed the steps to discover a packed room with a session in progress. It was standing room only. There were uilleann pipes, a few tin whistles and fiddles, and a bodhran (Irish drum).
The Crane has trad sessions almost every evening and one afternoon a week. On the first and last Friday each month the upstairs room gets turned over to blues, During slower months, the music is in the downstairs bar. In summer, when it’s more crowded, the music moves to the upstairs room where we listened to music. The exception; on Music is always free except for special evenings with well-known traditional musicians. The sessions take place at 9:30 every evening and Sunday afternoons a 2pm. There are two paid musicians each evening and others are invited to join in if they wish. Come fed, there is no food at The Crane; it’s all drinks all the time. The night we were there, we left hungry and headed to the local takeaway for a bit of fish and chips before heading back to our cottage in Oughterard.
Taaffes (19-20 Shop Street, phone number 353 91 564 066), in business for over 150 years in a building believed to be about 400 years old, is one of Galway City’s best known spots for trad music . Located on Shop Street in the heart of the city, the central location attracts tourists, but this bar is the real deal. The owners and staff are all Irish speakers and the bar attracts “local” people from the Aran Islands and up in Connemara, two places that are part of the Gaeltacht (the area where Irish is the official language).
Taaffes serves pub food during the day, but stops at 5:30pm daily when the music starts. There are two music sessions daily. From 5:30 to 7:30 each evening there’s a somewhat impromptu one held at a table near the door. Three musicians hired by Taaffes set up at the sessions and anyone who wants is welcome to join them. The music is traditional with airs, reels and jigs and more. The 9:30 session takes place on the stage with set musicians and tends more to ballads. It’s always busy so arrive early if you want a seat. Times may vary seasonally. And the best thing, all the music is always free. Taaffes opens at 10:30am every day and serves food until 5:30pm when it becomes pure bar. If you go for the music, grab a Guinness and a seat and settle in for the evening.
Tig Cóilí Pub (Mainguard Street at the end of Shop Street, phone 363 91 561 294) is known for its nightly trad sessions. This busy pub, in business since 1905, is all drinks all the time; no food for the hungry. Its central location, off Shop Street, is a lure for tourists, but Tig Cóilí is popular with locals, too. The pub offers trad sessions daily; times vary. Monday through Thursday they’re at 6 and 9:30pm. The Friday and Saturday sessions are at 6 and 10:30pm and Sundays are at 2 and 8pm. All are free. The pub hires musicians but other locals sit in and if you know your way around your instrument you’re welcome to join in, too.
Other pubs with music
There are other pubs that offer music, some a few nights a week, others every night but the genres go beyond traditional Irish to folk, blues, jazz, country and more. We have a not-so-fond memory of hearing You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille in a small town pub one evening. We had a good laugh. Here’s a complete list of Galway pubs.
If you don’t call it a night earlier, be aware that all Irish pubs officially close early by American standards. Closing is at 11:30pm Mondays through Thursdays, 12:30am on Fridays and Saturdays and a11pn on Sundays. Don’t worry, if you haven’t had your fill, there’s always a session to check out tomorrow.
Have you listened to traditional Irish music in Galway or anywhere else in Ireland?
*Author’s note: if dialing the phone numbers within Ireland, omit the 353 and dial 09 instead.
Thanks to the Galway City Pub Guide for the use of their Tig Coili photo.