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.