There’s an unparalleled type of magic and an unequivocal vitality in a traditional Irish session.
It is imbued with heritage, soul and illusion. To bear witness to one is to temporarily become a part of the the laughter, joy, hope and struggle of a culture.
I’ve had the good fortune of attending many Irish sessions, but the most intimate and unforgettable was in a dark bar called Spailpin Fanach’s in the middle of Cork City, Ireland.
My two best friends had accompanied me on a trip to the motherland where we were visiting my cousin Brian who lives and works in Cork. Businessman by day, lead singer of The Thirsty Scholars by night, he took us to his Wednesday night spot with promises of good beer and great music.
In the back room of Spailpin Fanach’s, eight musicians sat along the back wall with their various instruments. They were at ease, looking splendidly casual but sounding gloriously practiced. Brian alone stood. As he sang, his booming voice filled the room without a microphone.
We sat with our pints around small tables chatting and listening, basking in the energy only an Irish pub hosting a session can possess. Suddenly Brian called for silence. He had an announcement to make. His cousin was in town, “with the voice of an angel!” he cried. I shook my head vehemently. My small voice would not be heard in a large room with no mic.
But they wouldn’t have it. The entire bar began urging me. They insisted they would be silent, the band would play whatever I liked. Go up, girl. Go! A bar that was just moments ago alive with music and drunken chatter was totally and completely silent. Without any background music, I began to sing some Stevie Nicks and slowly, softly each musician began to play behind me.
Everyone crowded around to hear, remaining hushed, nodding and clinking glasses approvingly. When I was finished they roared supportively, smiling, giving me their best “well done” handshake and offering more pints.
The band picked back up and then the dancing began. We all hopped and spun around until finally they finished with Shout by the Isley Brothers, all of us echoing the words, doing the universal “Shout” dance. Someone screamed “Keep going!” and they did, drawing out the song for another ten minutes. So we danced on.
When the bar closed, the band gathered on the sidewalk outside the locked door and continued the music.
There’s nothing quite like a session with the Thirst Scholars at Spailpin Fanach’s. Add Cork to your bucket list and see for yourself.