People often ask me what draws me to Sligo. I remember one person asking me whether it was the beauty of Benbulben? Another person wondered if it was the literary and artistic tradition of the area? Or the beaches? The truth is that there are many things that connect me in a very deep way to Yeats’ county. A friend of mine in Sligo, Fionnuala, feels that there is spiritual energy around its environs, which draws people of a creative disposition there. I wouldn’t dispute that theory with her. It’s almost as if the beautiful scenery acts as a magnet of some sort for artists, musicians and writers. I have experienced a special connection with Sligo since my first job there in 1987. I am privileged to live there for about four months yearly.
One treasure that Sligo definitely has in an abundance is music. There is truly something very magical about Sligo in that regard. I am a music lover. I don’t think I could survive a day without an injection of song or melody. It’s my caffeine or nicotine. I play music. I listen to music. Music has a therapeutic effect on me. Science shows that it has very positive effects on the human brain. Music therapy is a well established evidence-based therapy worldwide. But the rich variety of musical offerings that Sligo provides its inhabitants (and visitors) probably cannot be matched anywhere in the country at the moment. Many commentators have written about this. Sligo people are spoiled for choice.
Thomas Connolly’s pub is my favourite pub in Sligo. It’s the town’s oldest pub. Established in 1862 it opens onto two streets. The pub is essentially a long corridor of delicately arranged snugs & private rooms, boxed in by wooden panels and fogged glass, full of little alcoves for privacy and craic. Paul has the premises rocking in recent times. There is music on the premises seven nights a week. Mondays are particularly special. Kieran Quinn, pianist and Seamie O’Dowd, singer and guitarist supreme, present an eclectic mix, which can switch from traditional folk to classical at the drop of a hat. The synergy between them has to be witnessed to be
believed. Each week a guest joins them. Over recent weeks Steve Wickham from the Waterboys and No Crows has thrown his fiddle into their mix. Tabby has added his vocal cords. Gerry Grennan has shared some of his favourite numbers as the boys interpret them in their own unique way. Monday night must be one of the deadest nights for publicans. Not in Connollys! You’d want to be in by 9 pm to get your hands on one of the coveted stools positioned near the musical extravaganza that unfolds there each week.
If you want some jazz a visit to Hargadon’s on Thursdays for the Eddie Lee Three will whet your appetite. Eddie is one of the pioneers of the annual Jazz festival that takes place in Sligo every July. From this year’s comprehensive programme and excellent support it is clear that this festival is growing in stature. From something small to something growing bigger and better each year. It draws visitors but also enjoys great support from locals. I have spoken to young people from the area who now play jazz as their preferred genre. The Jazz Lads in the Glasshouse can be enjoyed with tapas every Friday evening. That’s if you can pull yourself away from the Old Market Street Swing Band who offer a mix of swing music in Connollys every Friday from 5-7 pm. You can also enjoy jazz sounds from the Jazz Collective in the Riverside on Sunday afternoons.
All kinds of music emanates from McGarrigles and The Swagman ranging from bluegrass, funk, rock and blues. And then there is traditional music. Musicians from No Crows play in the quirky Shoot the Crows pub every Wednesday. They play a mix of gypsy, folk, traditional and classical. There is also a good seisiún there on Tuesdays. You can treat yourself to a healthy dosage of traditional Irish every Thursday in Earleys. Always check the board outside Foleys to see what they have on their musical menu each week too. Members of
Dervish, Moxie, Old Hannah and Rackhouse Pilfer live under the shadow of Ben Bulben. Singer songwriter Pearse McGloughlin is a native and launches his new album in the Liber bookstore soon. The Model and Hawks Well offer an array of choices during the year. As does music venue 5th on Teeling.There is a rich classical music tradition in Sligo too with its own orchestras. Wonderful shows are hosted regularly in Drumcliff Church including annual homage to music from the Baroque era. I read today about Nathan Carter’s show coming for four consecutive weeks to the Knocknarea Arena. This will no doubt satisfy the tastes of Irish country and western enthusiasts. And every October there is the Sligo Live festival with the Sawdoctors and Paul Brady already confirmed acts to feature this year
At the moment it’s Mondays that are marked in my diary for my weekly therapeutic pursuit with music. It used to be Fridays for Anything Goes (Ireland’s greatest covers band) but their performances are rare as members pursue individual projects. I used to drive the whole way to Sligo to hear them every Friday because they could raise the spirits of even the most tired creature on earth! Sligo also have Monaghan composer Michael Rooney in their midst and the Kieran Quinn theme nights are sell-outs every time.So while this beautiful part of Ireland may not have good weather it certainly has plenty of good music. For a detailed weekly programme of what music is on each week you can check the dedicated website www.sligomusicians.com. It updates on a daily basis and is a wonderful resource for dedicated musicians and music lovers alike.
Sligo certainly has Benbulben but it can be forgotten about for a while as you allow yourself become immersed in the majesty of an extensive variety of musical offerings from all genres – all played by local people who in the tradition of the bard join together to foster and harness such treasure for generations to come. Although there’s no denying the beauty of Benbulben it’s worth coming to Sligo for the music alone.
(c) Shane Martin
Shane’s new book ‘Your Precious Life – How to Live it Well’ is being published by Orpen Press and will be available in bookstores from August 17th 2016. Call into you local bookstore now.