Colin Irwin,
In Search of the Craic:
One Man's Pub Crawl
Through Irish Music

(Andre Deutch, 2004)

This is a riotous, rollicking read for anyone interested in Irish music, travel, myths and humour. Irwin takes us on a pub-crawl through most of the counties of Ireland as he searches out Tommy Peoples, fiddle player extraordinaire. I won't tell you whether he finds him or not because that's part of the story.

Either way, within 250 pages you will meet the real, the rare and the products of drink-induced fantasy.

His first stop is my hometown of Wexford and, sad as I am to admit it, he gets the description almost right. This is a town of great history, heritage and music, but we are losing it to the pre-packaged, anodyne and boring. As he notes when searching for the elusive craic, he sits "glowering over a pint trying to blot out the banal Ibiza thud coming from the speakers." I feel for him because the sad thing is that, where a few years ago we were falling over great folk music, now it must be sought out, bad cess to the ubiquitous keyboard that hides a full orchestra in a few well-chosen buttons.

Irwin has a knack for inserting potted biographies into chapters where if we analysed it they would seem out of place. While talking about Wexford he gives us his memory of the great Margaret Barry who in her time sang "at fairs, football games, pubs and queues outside picture houses (cinemas)."

It is no secret that he adores one Christy Moore -- he named his son after the great man. He also sits in the parlour with Liam Clancy, although some years earlier he had written disparagingly about the Aran Sweater group.

He visits Tralee during Rose Week and gives us a unique description of the experience from seeking accommodation to the various versions of the history of the original Rose of Tralee. He seeks out King Puck and bamboozles a lady about the song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" on a street in Carrick-on-Suir -- only to be given his comeuppance when told that he was on the Waterford side of town and not in Tipperary at all. As we say in Ireland, "that shook him."

He tells us of the secret plan for a supergroup boyband that never materialised called The Marching Powder Boys. It would have consisted of Liam Clancy, Ronnie Drew and Shane MacGowan.

He uses a few pages to take a swipe at players of the great Irish musical instrument, the bodhran. Having seen so many tourists purchase the instrument replete with shamrock of Celtic design, I feel some sympathy. There are some great players of the goatskin out there, but there are also some shocking amateurs giving it a bad name. Here are some jokes regarding the instrument, which some translate from Gaelic as "deaf" -- "Why do bodhran players find it difficult to enter a room? They never know when to come in." This one I leave your fevered imagination to complete: "Why is a bodhran player like a foot massage? A foot massage bucks up your feet while a bodhran player...."

In the first chapter of this book Irwin is told in a pub called Simon's Place -- an establishment frequented by international opera singers from September to November each year -- "There's no such thing as the craic, it doesn't exist, it's only for the tourists." Thankfully he is not put off and travels the length and breadth of Ireland in his quest like a knight in shining armour, Blues Brothers on a mission or Indiana Jones & the Temple of Tommy Peoples.

This is the book to read to find the real Ireland. There is also a list of recommended albums included to search for the craic in recorded form.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 17 October 2004

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