You’re in Dublin on holidays. You’ve played at the Cobblestone and O’Donoghue's. You’ve delighted in the fine selection of musical accoutrement at Walton’s Music on Georges’ Street and rummaged through the amazing selection of trad CDs at Claddagh Records in Temple Bar.
But now you have some free time, and the session at Peadar Kearney's doesn’t start until 5 (which means sometime 5:30ish, Irish Time).
What’s a holidaying Irish Trad Player to do?
Consider taking a short walk to an historic Dublin Trad Music shop, newly restored and re-opened. Just a 14 minute walk from Oliver St. John Gogarty’s in Temple Bar, straight up Capel Street north of the Liffey, you will find The Horse Shoe.
Originally from rural Co. Clare, John Kelly was a highly respected fiddle and concertina player. He moved to Dublin and in 1945, John and his wife, Frances, opened a small music shop at 85 Capel Street. The Horse Shoe quickly became a magnet for many of the eminent trad players of the day. Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Dennis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Patsy Geary, Bobby Casey , Johnny Leary, and Joe Heaney are only a few of those who stopped by for a few tunes and a bit of musical chatter when they were in Dublin.
It was from this rich soup of musicians and their chats (and sessions) at The Horse Shoe, and at the nearby Piper’s Club, that was born not only a band, Ceoltóirí Chualann, which included many musicians who later formed The Chieftains, but also where the seeds were planted for the creation of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 1951. The music flowed and the shop even had a tune named for it.
The Horse Shoe (An Crú Capaill in Irish) was written by Patsy Geary and is also known as Patsy Geary’s Jig.
John Kelly died, and the shop closed in the late 1980s. The shop, like the area in which it is located, decayed. During the Celtic Tiger, the northside neighborhood became an immigrant district and 85 Capel Street became a Romanian Market.
Fast forward to 2012. Enter a self taught artist, and an amazing fiddler named Brendan P. Lynch. Brendan purchased the shop, and on November 10, 2012 re-opened the newly restored space to the public.
Brendan is indeed a remarkable man. Born in Ballyboughal, north Co. Dublin, he has two solo CDs to his name: Tunes from the Hearth (2000) and From the Heart of Fingal (2005), and he is featured on CDs by many other notable artists. Brendan P. (the P is to differentiate him from the Irish author Brendan Lynch) is also the Music Director at the Arlington Hotel in Temple Bar so if you have seen the Irish Cabaret there, you have probably seen him perform.
But that’s not the end of the story. The restored Horse Shoe is also used as gallery space to showcase Brendan’s beautiful line drawings, photographs and watercolours. The rooms (on 3 floors) are small, but the art and music they contain are mighty.
And there you will also meet Brendan. The shop doesn’t open until 11. Brendan is a musician, after all – mornings are for yoga instructors and people with small children. And it closes at 5 - Brendan is playing out most nights. But if you bring your instrument, you might be able to get a lesson on fiddle, banjo, mandolin or bodhrán. Or look at his selection of lovingly restored fiddles. You might find yourself bringing home an extra special souvenir of your time in Dublin. I did. And now I wish I was as good as my fiddle.
But even if you’re not musically talented, come and soak in the history of the place. A man with an easy laugh, Brendan will regale you with stories of the small history of Irish music. In a fitting bookend to the shop's personal music history, one of his first acts upon re-opening The Horse Shoe was to invite John Kelly’s family to a session in the shop.
So that’s the story. A piece of history preserved. A new chapter begun. Best of luck to Brendan, and I thank him for his part in passing the music on. And if you're in Dublin, say hi to Brendan for me!
The Horse Shoe
85 Capel Street
Open 11 – 5pm most days
I'll leave you here with a segment from RTÉ in June 1977. John Kelly, Sr, John Kelly Jr, and James Kelly (from the group Planxty) play Ceathrú Cavan/The Wild Irishman.
UPDATE: Sadly, The Horseshoe closed it's doors in June of 2014. A shame, really.
For me, going to the Guinness Storehouse tour in Dublin is something of a let-down. I find it unengaging and disjointed. Admittedly, I'm in the minority here. Trip Advisor reviewers rated it the 24th best of 218 attractions in Dublin. I've been 4 times (don't ask) and I keep trying to like it, but I just can't warm to it, unlike the tour at Kilmainham Jail, which ranked 4th on the Trip Advisor list.
And it's pricey. Buy the tickets online at the Guinness website for a small discount (better than nothing) and to avoid the hordes of tourists in line waiting to buy tickets. Don't worry, though, you'll meet them all again later inside.
The best part of the whole experience, with the possible exception of the Gravity Bar and its free pint, (if you can find a place to sit to drink it) is the small room tucked off to the side on one of the upper floors dedicated to Guinness advertisments.
I LOVE the vintage Guinness ads. I love their textual simplicity and repetition of characters like the Zookeeper and lobsters and the TOUCAN. I love the toucan. But how did Guinness come to chose a tropical bird with a big beak to be the mascot of a stout beer?
The short answer is no one knows for sure. But there are some broad clues.
The Guinness Toucan first appeared in 1935, and was the brainchild of artist John Gilroy, who worked for a London advertising agency. Said Gilroy in the London Times:
"The Guinness family did not want an advertising campaign that equated with beer. They thought it would be vulgar. They also wanted to stress the brew's strength and goodness. Somehow it led to animals."
For over 45 year the Toucan was an iconic symbol of Guinness. Around 1982, Guinness decided to retire the Toucan, and go in other directions. Personally, I miss him. Although as we've moved into the digital age, some Guinness advertising is still quite amusing:
A few years ago, some very good friends of mine told me that over the Christmas holidays they had gone to see a production of "Cinderella" in Dublin. I admit with some embarrassment now that I razzed them unmercifully. What on earth would two grown adults find to attract them to a children's show? Eventually there was no more fun to be had in teasing them, and the matter was dropped.
Then by chance, I happened upon an online article about the British phenomenon of the Panto. Once again it was proved to me that even though we share a language, we don't always mean the same thing when we speak it.
The Panto is a holiday tradition that dates back to the 15th and 16th century traditions of Commedia del Arte. There are stock characters, which include the Pantomime Dame (always played by a man), the Principle Boy (played by a young woman), and the Comic Animal (we had a mermaid).
It takes a children's story or folk tale, and adds enough adult innuendo so Mum and Dad can chuckle indulgently while the off colour humor sails safely over the heads of the children. The costumes are colourful, the sets elaborate and the special effects plentiful.
Audience participation is key, and very much encouraged by the performers, who consistently break the theatrical "Fourth Wall" to speak directly to the crowd. The villain is booed and hissed when he enters, the hero is warned ("He's behind you!") and when someone makes a declarative statement, the audience will respond ("Oh, yes it is!" or "Oh, no it isn't!"). It's a good thing the rotten tomato stall next door to the theatre was closed.
I happened by the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin a few days before their Christmas Panto closed this year. As you might expect at the end of a 3 month run, there were tickets to be had, and I invited my Dublin friends to accompany me that evening to "Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates".
With the coaching of my friends, I hissed the villain and warned the hero with the rest of crowd . I haven't had so much fun at the theatre in quite a while!
I'm really hoping I'll be in Dublin before next year's holiday Panto closes. I'm hooked. :)