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Lonely Planet Writer

Ireland's most iconic and unique live music venues

When it comes to music, Ireland punches above its weight, and boasts venues both big and small that are jam packed with culture, spirit, storytelling, passion, harmony and history. Many of these places have unique identities and backgrounds as interesting and diverse as the acts that play there. If you’re a music lover, you can’t go wrong with any of these spots.

Colm Mac Con Iomaire performs at Whelan's in Dublin © Kieran Frost/Redferns via Getty Images
Colm Mac Con Iomaire performs at Whelan's in Dublin © Kieran Frost/Redferns via Getty Images

Whelan’s of Wexford Street, Dublin

Perhaps one of the best known music venues in the country, Whelan’s recently hosted Ed Sheeran’s VH1 Storytellers broadcast. A hot spot for tourists and locals alike, the venue's main room welcomed countless Irish and international acts (Arcade Fire, Hozier, Jeff Buckley and Arctic Monkeys to name a few), as well as a smaller venue upstairs for intimate shows and a front bar for cover bands and traditional acts. After hours it transforms into a club for alternative music.

The Cobblestone in Smithfield, Dublin

Tourists may flock to Temple Bar for traditional music, but away from the sea of bodies is a much less-known, locally loved spot called The Cobblestone. Running trad sessions seven days a week, musicians sit around in a circle, sometimes side by side with patrons, and share their songs. Its Backroom Venue presents sessions, classes, and talks as well as bluegrass, country, and folk gigs, singer songwriter nights and sean-nós singing and dancing. The venue is located 15 minutes walk from the city centre, but it located beside a stop on the Luas tramline. Call into L. Mulligan Grocers beforehand for a scotch egg and a craft beer.

CHVRCHES at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin
CHVRCHES at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin © Kieran Frost/Redferns

The Olympia Theatre in Dublin

Initially called “Dan Lowrey’s Star of Erin Music Hall”, this iconic music venue first opened its doors for the first time in 1879 and became The Olympia Theatre in 1923. Many big names have appeared on the stage over its formative years, including Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and Harry Lauder, while today it is one of the country’s go-to theatres for big name touring acts such as Kings of Leon, Radiohead, Florence & The Machine and Foo Fighters. The tall, ornate Victorian roof and the rich red seats create an intimate, timeless atmosphere for any show.

Mike the Pies in Listowel
Mike the Pies has grown a steady following over the past few years © Listowel John Kelliher

Mike the Pies in Listowel, Kerry

This intimate, 100-capacity venue nestled in the back of a pub in the small town of Listowel is a fascinating success story. The pub has been in the O’Connor family since 1907, and in 2015 decided to open its doors for live music, uncertain of how it would go. Mike the Pies quickly built up a strong reputation with locals and has hosted over 100 acts since then, as well as special comedy nights. This year it was named Hot Press Magazine’s Overall Live Venue of the Year, and in 2017 the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) also named it as the country’s best.

Róisín Dubh in Galway
Róisín Dubh is one of the most popular music venues in Galway © Róisín Dubh

Róisín Dubh in Galway

If you're seeking music in Ireland, Galway City is the place to be. It's rich with multi-talented performers from all over the world, many of whom can be seen busking on the streets, taking part in trad sessions in pubs, or performing their own shows in the likes of Monroes, the Black Box or Róisín Dubh. The latter has established itself as one of the best venues in the country, pulling in big name music and comedy acts from all over the world and hosts a club night every Thursday called Strange Brew, showcasing unique alternative and emerging acts.

Features - Theatre-Royal-Waterford-cf69c54a7a8b
Theatre Royal hosts diverse productions and musical acts © Theatre Royal

Theatre Royal in Waterford

One of Ireland’s oldest continually operating theatres, this lovingly restored Victorian gem is hidden inside a beautiful Georgian building that first opened in 1785. It’s early days saw Oscar Wilde lecturing on America, while in the 1900s it was used as a musical theatre and cinema, playing host to King Edward VII and Harold Pinter, as well as a host of local performances. Today it is a stunning space for live music, and has staged the likes of Albert Hammond, Mercury Rev, Mick Flannery and Phil Coulter.

The Bridge Bar in Ramelton
The Bridge Bar locals gather outside the front © James Gabriel Martin

The Bridge Bar in Ramelton, Donegal

Nestled on the slopes of the River Lennon Valley, the sleepy town of Ramelton in County Donegal is somewhat of an artist's paradise. Things move at a more relaxed pace there, and you don't have to venture far from its beautiful Georgian houses in order to find pristine beaches and glorious scenery. When it comes to music, The Bridge Bar always offers something good, whether it's a touring blues group or a local rock 'n' roll cover band. For years it was a favourite haunt of musician Henry McCullough (who played with Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker and Donovan among others). Solid local acts include The Soberanos Kitchen Band, In Their Thousands and The Chuckberries. For a nightcap, stop by the nearby McDaid's wine bar, a charming and cosy stone-walled time capsule.

Coughlans Pub, Cork City.
Coughlans in Cork City © Joleen Cronin

Coughlans in Cork

Known as "the little room with the big heart", Coughlans Live is an intimate venue just outside the city centre that allows the audience to get up close and personal with performers. It has hosted everyone from songwriters such as Lisa Hannigan, John Blek, Jack O'Rourke and Anna Mitchell to Irish hip hop and soul acts such as The Rusangano Family and Shookrah, and has its own Coughlans Live Festival every year. It has won a host of national prizes dubbing it venue of the year, and is a favourite spot for touring Irish and international acts due to its incredible sound and warm spirit.

SON performing behind the counter at Levis in Ballydehob
SON performing behind the counter at Levis in Ballydehob © Jason Lee Photography

Levis in Ballydehob, West Cork

Arguably one of the country's most unique music venues, Levis sees musicians performing behind a shop counter, in front of old shelves containing antique trinkets, odds and ends, food items and household products. The place has been left virtually unchanged from its days as a grocery, and holds a rich pride in its history. The heartbeat of Ballydehob, it has been in the same family for 100 years. Gigs began back in 2013 and today it attracts international acts from all over the world, and is one of the centre points of the annual Ballydehob Jazz Festival.

DeBarras in Clonakilty Cork
The cosy nooks of DeBarras © James Gabriel Martin

DeBarras in Clonakilty, West Cork

There's no denying that music and art pump through the veins of West Cork, and for over 30 years, DeBarra's Folk Club has been pleasing audiences in the picturesque town of Clonakilty with a rich array performers and guests. Long standing associations with Noel Redding (the Jimi Hendrix Experience) Paddy Keenan (The Bothy Band) & folk artists Christy Moore & Roy Harper have served as the cornerstones of this venue's world wide renown as one of the finest music house’s in Ireland.

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Countless artists have played "under the hammers" at Connolly's of Leap © James Gabriel Martin

Connolly's of Leap in West Cork

This venue was first established in 1958 but performance really came to the forefront when current owner Sam McNicholl's parents took ownership, changing its name to Connolly's of Leap. It quickly gathered a cult following, with artists such as John Martyn, The Pale, Something Happens and Donal Lunny performing. The iconic hammers that serve as the stage's backdrop once belonged to Pink Floyd; they were "borrowed" from their rehearsal space by Irish musician Glen Hansard who brought them to Leap as a gift. Today, Connolly's still attracts big name acts and talented local performers, and has taken the step into gastronomy with a new wood-fired pizza oven.

The Academic performing for Other Voices at The Duncairn Centre for Culture & Arts © Tara Thomas / Other Voices Belfast
The Academic performing for Other Voices at The Duncairn Centre for Culture & Arts © Tara Thomas / Other Voices Belfast

The Duncairn Centre for Culture & Arts in Belfast

Located on the Antrim Road in the north of the city and just a ten-minute walk from the Cathedral Quarter, The Duncairn Centre for Culture & Arts is one of Belfast's newest venues dedicated to performance, expression and community. The eye-catching space sees musicians perform beneath stained glass windows and it also hosts workshops with an emphasis on traditional arts, including fiddle making, bog oak carving, painting, willow craft and embroidery.

The Riptide Movement perform at Ballykeefe Amphitheatre © Michael Duggan
The Riptide Movement perform at Ballykeefe Amphitheatre © Michael Duggan

Ballykeefe Amphitheatre in Kilkenny

Resting at the foot of the old Ballykeeffe Quarry, it brings the atmosphere of an open-air Italian theatre to the quaint Kilkenny countryside. The once-busy slate quarry had lain abandoned for years when in the 1990s, a team of volunteers recognised the potential for a truly unique venue. In 2000 it hosted its first performance, and since then it has been the setting for many stellar gigs. The only amphitheatre in Ireland, this venue can seat 350 visitors on its tiered limestone benches, while the surrounding grass area can accommodate another 400 people.

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