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A Timeless Tradition: Irish Music on Atlantic Shores

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It can be a seisún (session), a gig, a hooley, a performance or a knees-up. It’s been replicated around the world from Chicago to Cairns and back, but there’s something special about experiencing traditional Irish music live in Ireland.


Northern Headlands

Northern Headlands: Pubs of Ireland West for Traditional Music

Clockwise from top right:  @aislingfluich in Sligo Town,  Furey's Pub, Sligo, @lynnienello in Tigh Coíli, Galway,  @worth_wandering at Gus O’Connor’s in Doolin


It is south-west Donegal that international stars Altan, Clannad and Enya call home.


Irish trad varies from region to region. In the past, many musicians only heard the music of others in their locality, and so regional styles developed. Donegal is known for its simple melodic sean nós (unaccompanied singing) and dexterous fiddle playing with fast, short notes. You might recognise this from Altan's Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, who has been playing and preserving the Donegal fiddle tradition for many years.

It is south-west Donegal that international stars Altan, Clannad and Enya call home. The towns of Ardara, Buncrana, Killybegs, Arranmore and Gweedore are all well-known trad hotspots.


Any time of year, head to Sligo Town to hear live music in one of its many atmospheric pubs.


In Sligo or ‘Yeats Country, you'll commonly hear a fast paced flute during a session and a more slurred fiddle style. Its distinctive rhythmic style developed so dancers could keep their places. 

In August 2014 and 2015, Sligo hosted Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the biggest traditional Irish music festival in the world. Follow the hashtag (#FleadhCheoil) on social media to get a real ‘on the ground’ feel for the nine day festival.

Any time of year, head to Sligo Town to hear live music in one of its many atmospheric pubs.


In Galway city, you can’t walk a few feet without passing a busker or a trad pub.


A county with a vibrant and inclusive scene, Mayo is known for its sean nós and flute tradition. One of Mayo’s most famous sons is Matt Molloy of six-time Emmy award-winning group, The Chieftains. When Matt isn’t on tour, you’ll often find him playing in his Westport pub with spine-tingling intimacy. 

Meanwhile in Galway city, you can’t walk a few feet without passing a busker or a trad pub. To get a flavour of what to expect, check out what Christina of This Fleeting Life had to say about her time there.  

"Galway’s music culture is so strong that you can find incredible live acts in multiple pubs, every night of the week. In fact, the night I experienced the most live music was actually a Sunday! I can’t remember exactly how late I was rocking out until (oops!) but I think it may have been close to 6AM. On a Sunday night. And the quality of the bands was unreal, even at 4AM!"

Outside the city, Spiddal is well known for live music, as well as stunning scenery.


The Cliff Coast


A video posted by Shira (@prncsopowr) on


“If it’s music you want, you should go to Clare.” - Christy Moore


As singer, guitarist and bodhrán player Christy Moore says, “If it’s music you want, you should go to Clare.” Here is a place bursting with legendary trad sessions.

Try Kinvara, Ennis, Kilfenora, Killaloe and Doonbeg to start, and Doolin where this sean-nós dancing was captured.

​Although it can get boisterous, Clare is also known for its lyrical lilting style of trad, which has a distinctively slower tempo and is very melodic. Here the bowing of the fiddle is more fluid, and can be seen in the handiwork of Clare man Martin Hayes of the trad fusion super group The Gloaming.


Southern Peninsulas


A post shared by Joseph Moloney (@banjosgalore) on


A region that straddles both Kerry and Cork, in this part of the world you’ll notice a fiddle style vastly different to Donegal’s staccato bowing. Sounds here are created by longer, more relaxed strokes. 

Captured above is a solo musician in "a small pub with low ceilings and delicious Guinness in Dingle" whose performance was one of @banjosgalore's trip highlights. There and in CaherciveenCaherdaniel,FenitGlengarriff and Kenmare, you’ll find traditional pubs with music and craic aplenty.


In this part of the world you’ll notice a fiddle style vastly different to Donegal’s staccato bowing.


The Haven Coast

The Haven Coast: Traditional Pubs and Irish Music in West Cork

Image via Hauke Steinberg, Flickr


Inviting pubs in Clonakility and Skibbereen are known to host epic sessions.


In south-west Cork, resonating open strings that lend a drone-like quality to its rhythms is a prominent sound. Inviting pubs in Clonakility and Skibbereen are known to host epic sessions. 

A standard Tuesday in Skibbereen goes a little something like this. Here’s Roola Boola, a name whose name means “uproar and commotion", in flowing form.

We’d love to hear your story. Share your trad music Wild Atlantic Way experiences on our Facebook page, on Twitter or Instagram with #WildAtlanticWay and you could be featured here next! 

If you really love Irish music, why not schedule your trip around one of the many trad festivals on the Wild Atlantic Way? 

Masters of Tradition
August, Cork
Dingle Trad Fest 
September, Kerry
Chief O’Neill Traditional Music

September, Cork 
Ennis Trad Festival
November, Clare
Shannon Winter Festival
January, Clare
Féile Neidín
April, Kerry
Cup of Tae Festival
May, Donegal
Doolin Folk Festival
June, Clare
Westport Event- Folk & Bluegrass Festival 
June, Mayo 
Jim Dowling Uileann Pipe Trad Festival
June, Cork
Ballyshannon Folk Festival
July/August, Donegal
Fleadh Cheoil Chill Chartha 
July/August, Sligo
Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy
July, Clare
Traid Phicnic 
July, Galway
Arainn Ceilteach
March, Galway

Discover more musicians who play and are inspired by the west in Sounds of the Wild Atlantic Way, or follow the journey of a Frenchman returning to the music of Galway after ten years, explore the rhythm of Inishbofin or see even more events here

Header image via Ballyshannon Folk Festival.

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