Monday, April 28, 2014

The Crane

By Molly Burgstahler

The rolling beat of a traditional Irish jig rocked the building as the musicians lost themselves in the tune and the audience stomped their feet and clapped their hands. My friends and I were greeted at the door by a friendly bouncer, whose large build, dark hair, crinkly beard, and colorful scarf immediately brought to mind Rubeus Hagrid, the lovable half-giant from Harry Potter. We were spending a weekend in Galway as part of our study abroad program in Ireland. It was Saturday night, and we’d been searching for a traditional music session everywhere we could think of. After striking out in a few different pubs, we decided to take the advice of the cheerful young woman whom we’d bought pie from earlier that night, and ventured across the bridge to The Crane.

The Crane, built in the 1800s, has long been known to Galway locals as one of the best pubs in town. Offering live traditional music seven nights a week, the pub is thought have been the launching pad for several Irish singers and bands. Its location slightly off the beaten track allows for a less touristy experience, although it’s beginning to be discovered, and tends to be packed most nights with locals and visitors alike.

Entering west Galway, we peered down the darker streets. Unsure where the pub was, we followed a group of younger people around the corner to a street filled with pubs and restaurants. We took in the scene as we searched for some sign we were heading in the right direction.

Neon lights glowed aggressively above the sidewalks, advertising the pubs and restaurants all up and down the street. The harsh light contrasted sharply with the dark buildings. A dizzying mass of people swarmed in and out of buildings, queuing in some spots and clumping up like blood clots blocking the path in others. Music pounded the air, the thudding bass making me wonder nervously if we’d wandered into the area of town where the clubs were. Wrappers and scraps of paper littered the curb, an old receipt skidded along the sidewalk in the damp breeze.

Around the corner and suddenly the few streetlights seemed very dim compared to the pub lights behind us. We decided to go one more block, and if we didn’t see The Crane we would turn around. Maybe we had a bit of Irish luck with us that night, because as soon as we turned the corner we could see the Crane on the other side of an odd intersection about a block away.

Upon arriving, we peeked into the brightly lit pub in full swing downstairs, then made our way up the worn wooden stairs into a dark room packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. Several people sat in a dimly lit area that was slightly raised above the rest of the room. All were holding a musical instrument and had at least one drink in front of them. People sat at low tables surrounding the stage, and the rest of the room could barely move without bumping into others. A bar lined the back of the room, the bartenders constantly scrambling to keep up with the orders.

Most of the time there were up to 15 people playing at once: several guitars and fiddles, two flutes, and a concertina. A concertina is very similar to an accordion, but smaller and more cylindrical as opposed to the rectangular prism of an accordion. At one point, someone called the audience to attention with a class and spoon. When we all finally quieted down, one man played his guitar and sang. Those in the room who knew the words joined in on the chorus. Following his solo, the elderly man next to him performed a short solo on the concertina. Much to our disappointment, no one played the uilleann pipes (pronounced “ill-in” or “ill-yun” depending on regional dialect) until we were leaving, so we weren’t able to hear much of them.

After rubbing shoulders with the rest of the crowd for a while, we headed downstairs for a pint to go with the lively music. It was only slightly less crowded. Fascinated by the style and instruments so different from what we were used to, I have no doubt we would have stayed all night if we’d had seats upstairs. Instead, we called it a night around midnight, grateful to have found the corner bar. On our way out, the bouncer held the door again. “Have a good rest of your night, ladies.”

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