The Reel

Cork = Craic


After spending my first two days in Dublin - which were surprisingly music-free, thanks to the St. Stephen's Day holiday - I arrived in Cork last night and headed straight out for the pubs. Sunday is the day of the session in Ireland, where local musicians congregate around a table in the pub and play "trad music," fueled by a never-ending flow of pints, so I was optimistic I'd find what I'd been missing. 

The place to go here is a little hole-in-the-wall called Sin-e, just on the North side of the Lee North Channel. It's a boho, lowkey place with postcards thumbtacked to the ceiling and candles sticking out of bottles of Jack Daniels and Powers. When I got there, around 5:30, there was music upstairs, but not the sort I was expecting. It was jazz: the casual, all-players-welcome variety, which was less about virtuosity and more about free-flowing improvisation. They played standards like "West Coast Blues," "All the Things You Are" and Wes Montgomery's "406," which sounded both comforting and strange in this far-flung place.

I met up with a local guy named Dave, and he told me that the trad session would come on after the jazz.

"Well, it supposed to start around 6pm Irish time, which probably means closer to seven." 


The musicians last night were all in their 20's and included three fiddlers, a guitarist, a banjo player, a flute player and a button accordionist. The crowd paid rapt attention throughout, and fell dead silent when an older guy would occasionally chime in a cappella with some traditional folk tuneIt was all rhythm and harmony, incredibly tight and inspired, to the degree that there seemed to be something more happening than meets the eye. Or ear.

 I asked Dave what he thought about listening to trad music after jazz. 

"Well, it's all the same stuff, isn't it?" he said. "It's all about improvisation, the tune moving from one player to the next. There are no bluffers here."

We left there around nine and ended up at a place called An Bodhran, whose walls were filled with tributes to departed local stars Rory Gallagher and Phil Lynott (of Thin Lizzy). On stage was a monster guitarist working with a slide and effects pedals that made his acoustic roar. He would've won me over if he played fewer covers, but was still a sight to see.

Off now to Killarney now, with a drive along the seacoast. Maybe a pub or two along the way. (More pics below.)