When you get to County Clare, keep driving north and west past the point where the roads are marked - or even have lanes - and you will eventually find yourself at a little village called Doolin, right at the edge of the sea. Hardly the most likely place one would choose to spend New Year's Eve, especially a New Yorker like myself. Except that Doolin has really good craic (pron. "crack"), fueled by some of the best trad music in Ireland.
I started out at O'Connor's, which is way out on its own by the water. Usually, sessions don't start til 9:30, but there was already music when I arrived around 7:30. It was as packed as a New York bar on St. Paddy's Day (including a busload of tourists), but I managed to squeeze into a stool right opposite the musicians' table. It was a much small gathering than in Killarney - bodhran, banjo, a couple of fiddles - but the quality was good. Sadly, it ended less than a third of the way into my Guinness; I didn't stick around to see the guy setting up his keyboard and light display.
Turns out the real craic was down the road at McGann's : a tiny place made O'Connors look like a tearoom. While waiting for the music to start, I met some folks from Dublin, London and New Zealand, all of whom made the trip for much the same reason as I. Small world.
When the music finally started around ten, it was all guitar, banjo and bodhran, amplified to reach over the din. It was a different sound from the other sessions I've heard this week, much more rhythmic and driving, with a deep, pulsing bass. They played straight through til midnight, when everyone was up and dancing on the tables, kissing anyone and everyone in sight. It was a wild and crazy scene, as wonderful a New Year's as you could want (though I think the folks in costumes got their holidays mixed up.) Hope your's was at least half as fun. (More pics after the jump.)