A city with a long history as a cosmopolitan centre and crossroads of trade, tourism, national expression and global community, Dublin shifted from colonial outpost and empire city to national capital over the course of hundreds of years, bringing with it the growth of an indigenous culture. Strains of continental art music were as likely to be heard as the traditional and popular songs and tunes of the subaltern, as well as the ancient and modern songlines of the seafarers, wayfarers and locals in this lively place. Now a designated cultural quarter, Temple Bar is a hub of commerce and conviviality, with some cultural and sonic wonder to be discovered at every twist and turn.
George Fredric Handel’s celebrated Oratorio ‘The Messiah’ was premiered in the room of the Music Society off Fishamble Street in 1742. The Baroque rock star of his age, Handel’s hybrid composition was rapturously received, beginning a new tradition of ground-breaking and inspiring musical performances in the area. From the rich baritones of eighteenth-century broadside balladeers singing of the events and politics of the day from Temple Bar street corners, to contemporary buskers performing near Meeting House Square, the music has never stopped.
Yet despite this rich cultural heritage, the area was slated for destruction in the 1980s, with plans to raze Temple Bar to the ground to create a transport hub. Thankfully sense prevailed and so too did the music and some extraordinary moments have taken place in the area since the late 70s. U2 played one of their first gigs in the Project Arts Centre in 1979. Rory Gallagher performed at the Temple Bar Blues Fest in 1992, followed by the iconic B. B. King at the same festival in 1994. While living in Dublin in the early 90s, Jerry Lee Lewis could be found at Bad Bob’s in the company of Van Morrison and Ronnie Wood.
Irish showcase festival Hard Working Class Heroes brought many artists to the area at the start of their career, including Hozier and Fontaines DC – who played a memorable show in the tiny basement of The Mezz. Temple Bar Music Centre was long one of the city’s most notable venues for live and club music, now renamed the Button Factory and also home to the Irish Rock n Roll Museum. Similarly, The Rock Garden in the Crown Alley area played host to many famous acts in their early days – including Radiohead, Pulp, Mercury Rev and Spiritualized. Later it would become The Old Storehouse, featuring two floors of traditional music. Buildings may rise and fall and rise again in Temple Bar but the music never leaves.
Since the first TradFest Temple Bar to this year’s edition, pubs and venues have generated a vibrant soundscape – not just in late January but throughout the year. The area has gone from strength to strength and though some festival venues are now found outside the historic district of Temple Bar, it remains a centripetal force culturally and in the imagination of the festival. During the event, a piping band signals the start of the festival by delineating the area through music – commanding tones and precise movements mapping Temple Bar once more as the musician’s march and play for locals and tourists alike. In doing so, the band calls to attention not just the layers of musical pasts, but also the geography of the present, symbolically reanimating this most historic of cultural areas in preparation for another TradFest.
DR. AILEEN DILLANE
Dr. Dillane is a Senior Lecturer in Music at the Irish World Academy at the University of Limerick.