From the beginning, the main goal of our family trip to Ireland, aside from great outdoor adventures, was to soak up daily Irish life. The Irish pub experience was a priority, talking to locals, buying rounds and listening to sessions of live music, whether traditional or contemporary. My dad and brother would have hooked themselves up to a Guinness IV drip if that was an option.  Luckily, Vagabond Tours focuses on local, small-town experiences and really allows travelers to direct the priorities of the tour, so we spent every night in one Irish pub or another listening to live music and sampling stout. Perhaps the best, though, happened completely by accident.

We were in Dingle, an amazing little seaside town just over the Conner Pass. We started our night at a pub that many had recommended to us, but it didn’t take long to realize that the only Irish folks inside were working the bar or playing the session. It was a nice enough place and the music was great, but we didn’t come to Ireland to hang out with other Irish-Americans. Instead, we headed toward the infamous Dick Mack’s. All night I had been insisting that there’s no way an Irish pub of  such infamy would close early on a weekend, so of course when we arrived at around 10 or 11, the place was shuttered.

Our hopes of Dick Mack’s smashed, we walked back toward our hotel, giving up on our plans for an Irish pub for the night. We met up with Kevin and Michelle, my brother and sister-in-law, who had gone ahead to scout seats at Dick Mack’s. As we lamented the early close of the bar and sorted how we could possibly have lost track of each other in a town the size of my pinky figure, my dad wandered off a bit. Hands in his pockets, my dad was bouncing up on his toes to see in the window of a pub, O’Flaherty’s on Bridge Street. We heard music and followed the number one rule of travel: go where the live music is.

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We went inside and found ourselves tiny stools immediately, since it felt like everyone in the tiny Irish pub was staring.  There was a tourist couple, perhaps Spanish, but other than that the place was full of locals.  The band, which we later found out included the owner, Fergus Ó Flaithbheartaigh, was in the middle of a song as we got our beers and hoped no one would ask us to leave.  The walls were covered in posters for music, beer, marches, and politicians, mostly in Gaelic, which I took as a good sign.

As one song after another came, some members of the crowd guest-starred in various songs.  The band itself was seated completely amongst us, the only way to differentiate them was when they played instruments or someone brought them a beer ordered by telepathy or years of habit. The “audience” participated almost as much as the performers, calling out jokes, cheering each other on, and occasionally contributing well-timed sound effects.

The group clearly knew one another well, as requests were called out for performers, rather than songs. We heard silly songs, songs of rebellion and songs of heartbreak.  The singers, in the typical Irish style, were somehow so much louder than singers anywhere else except for perhaps Cuba.  One, in particular, sang such a heartfelt old tune about a man whose love is far across the sea that the rambunctious peanut gallery of a crowd was completely silent.

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At one point, a rather drunk, independence-minded patron slammed down his drink and stood up, letting loose a string of profanity because he heard the first line of “Hail! Britannia” from the singer. The sole woman musician calmed him and some people pretended to bring him a beer for as long as they could without actually giving the man more alcohol. He was so busy being offended, and curling everyone’s hair with his cursing skills, that he missed the next line of the song, which revealed that the crown was the butt of the joke all along.

In one corner, I spied a little room that looked almost like a large changing room. The walls didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, but it was closed off, big enough for a few stools, and in this instance, for men only. Apparently it’s called a snug, and some men miss the days of pubs being the domain of men, while others occasionally need to not be seen when their wife peeks in the window, wondering where her husband has got to. This little room serves both groups equally well, but it was the first time I had noticed one since we had been in Ireland.

On the way to the bathroom, I saw several pictures of the proprietor, Fergus, who it turns out is active in local politics. He was instrumental in the campaign to officially refer to the town as Dingle. Being in the Gaeltacht, where all signs and official paperwork requires that the Gaelic names come first, Dingle was in danger of losing its hard-earned name recognition. Himself and other business owners successfully campaigned to keep the town name, opting for an English-Gaelic hybrid.

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We had a lot of great nights in Ireland, most of them full of song, drink, and craic, but this one felt the most precious. Perhaps it was because of the serendipitous nature of winding up in that pub, or perhaps because it was a time when we were guests in a local spot instead of at some pub listed in so many guide books that the locals don’t bother. Either way, we were happy to find this little Irish pub tucked away in Dingle, and that the regulars let us enjoy their nightly ritual for a while.

If you ever find yourself in Dingle (which you really should!) stop by O’Flaherty’s for a pint, some great music, and a living local history lesson.

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