Dublin’s contemporary nightlife has seen an invasion of techno, hip-hop, and clubbing, filling the vacuum where traditional music and drinking culture used to be.
That being said, I am not against new music in Ireland in any sense. New music is part of a healthy culture. What I am doing is posing the question of what has been lost? There is no doubt about what is to be gained: class beats and blackouts. But to look to the future without consulting the past is foolish.
Not so long ago I witnessed the Fleadh in Drogheda, the biggest music festival in Ireland by quite a margin. The Fleadh last year drew 500,000 people … 450,000 more than Electric Picnic.
Half a million people spending seven days listening to traditional Irish music, playing traditional Irish music, and generally enjoying themselves, and none of my peers in Dublin even know what the Fleadh is.
From my experience, no one my age knows what the Fleadh is let alone about wider traditional Irish culture. I include myself in this as I did not know what the Fleadh was before attending the last one in Drogheda.
A group of young musicians that sing traditional Irish ballads called the Mary Wallopers had this to say: “Now being this age singing traditional ballads we may be pretty much alone. We only really know of a few other groups singing those old Irish ballads, like The Deadlians and a few others. Even at that they’re older than us.
“There is a big community of young people in the trad scene, from what we have seen. Now we wouldn’t be so involved in the trad scene as we are in the folk scene, which to be honest probably makes most people think of people singing softly about real sensitive stuff. Our folk music is music builders can listen to. It’s more for working class people whereas folk music has been transformed into a load of songs that don’t tackle everyday stuff like working in shite jobs, or being unemployed,” they added.
In other parts of the country, traditional music and drinking culture is much more common. The Mary Wallopers said: “If you go to the west of Ireland and start singing ballads in a pub nearly everyone has one song they can sing. In the east we don’t see that as much, unless you’re with people over the age of at least 30. Pub culture may be dying out among people our age, most pubs you can find are just blaring 80s and 90s music all over and you’ve to shout to have a conversation so you just end up standing in the smoking area roaring at each other and getting pissed.”
I have found this type of thing common on nights out. Getting drunk can be the main order of business and any sort of culture is the context in which you do it in. Maybe the primary mission hasn’t changed but the context has.
In a move towards a more globalised world, this makes sense. Less local culture and national culture in exchange for a more global culture. But what is to be gained by taking part in the global culture and what is to be lost by disengaging from our own culture?
Dublin’s young people are increasingly liberal with often socialist political opinions. Part of this movement is changing Irish society and rethinking our past. The last couple of referendums are an example of this.
However, acknowledging our past and moving away from former societal views does not mean leaving behind our music and culture too, which often times has been the voice of progress.
The Mary Wallopers said it best: “In response to a new more modern Ireland these ballads have more of a place than a lot of other things. The people singing these songs in the 50s and onwards were usually anarchists, communists, or socialists, overall being very left wing.
“These are anti war songs, and anti-government songs, even today being painfully relevant. In Toales bar in Dundalk where we hold our Wednesday session every week, they had an anti-amendment gig about the 8th amendment on the 21st of April in 1983 with a host of these acts playing.
“There’s an execution ballad written in the 1780s called The Night Before Larry Was Stretched which has bits that criticises the church. The only way forward is to write more ballads from more viewpoints. Mick Dunne is making up ever relevant songs about topics from Star Wars to Donald Trump.”