After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
A Wandering Widow Post
Ireland is a country full of magic: faeries, standing circle stones, and the kind of music that can soothe the soul, lift the spirit and stir the heart. In Belfast, you can see this magic first hand, any night of the week, as some of the world’s most talented musicians wield their craft on stage. And it IS magic. The energy and beauty they create are mesmerizing, and I am hopelessly in love with it. It was Belfast’s music scene that helped seal the deal for my decision to both make it my home base in Ireland and to extend my planned stay a few extra weeks.
I’ve always loved music. The right music can share your happiness with the world, make you feel less alone in your heartbreak, or pump you up when you need a little boost of awesome. But it wasn’t until I was in the midst of my worst grief that it became as important to me as air. The lyrics and melodies became my voice when I couldn’t speak through wracking sobs. They expressed my pain, my anger and my love with an eloquence I didn’t possess. As I started to “get better” the songs took on yet more significance as they became the soundtrack to my grief recovery journey. Those songs gave me hope, became my battle cry, and eventually my reasons to sing again. Wherever you are in your life, I hope you find the music that moves your soul.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce
P.S. Special thanks to my new musician friends, who gave me the opportunity to use “I’m with the band” to skip the queue (or crash a private party) for the first time in my life. And shout out to the lovely bouncers who let me use it, making my high school fan girl dreams come true. XOXO
Before I left home, a friend and fellow traveler suggested I create a playlist for each country I visit on my adventure. That way, every time I’d hear one of those songs in the future, I’d timewarp back to the incredible memories I’m creating in faraway places. It was a brilliant suggestion, and since I love all kinds of music, it didn’t take long for me to download hours of it. Thanks, Benny! And the Ireland playlist keeps growing (up to four hours of music as I write this) as I discover Irish musicians I hadn’t heard before.
BELFAST PUB MUSIC
Whether you like traditional music or something modern, Belfast has you covered. For those of you who aren’t night owls, many pubs even start live music in the afternoons on the weekends. Since I only had seven weeks in Belfast, there was no way to get through every live music venue. Here are my favorites, although you can’t go wrong with live music of any kind, unless it’s just me singing in the car at the top of my lungs.
McHugh’s Bar: I first visited McHugh’s to listen to my friends, For Folk Sake, play, and kept coming back because I loved it. This pub is older than my country, which is weird to try and wrap my brain around! It’s a fun and casual place to hang out and listen to fantastic music. They also have a great food menu.
The Harp Bar: I’ve written about Harp Bar before, but as much as I love it am including it again. On Sunday’s they start music as early as 2 pm, so check their website for the lineup. Harp is all about the music, the whiskey, and the craic.
The Dirty Onion: This outdoor venue reminds me of a massive tailgate party. I’ve enjoyed everything from traditional Irish music to rock and roll here. And it’s always fun to party under the stars. They also stock my favorite whiskey which is a bonus.
The Thirsty Goat: Although it’s got a distinct millennial meat market vibe, there is a diverse crowd here too because, like every place I’ve been to, it’s still all about the music. The Thirsty Goat is fun and hip and always a packed house. It’s definitely a place you need to check out.
The Basement: Across from City Hall, the Basement is actually a basement, but you’d never know it. It may be the lightest and brightest pub I’ve ever visited. It’s got a relaxed atmosphere, serves good food, and sometimes shows American Football (woohoo!) in addition to the live music that is addictive.
Madden’s Bar: An old-school locals pub, Madden’s is home to excellent live music and fun people. They still have the buzzer on the door from back in The Troubles. If you sit close enough to it, you have a great view of the funniest comedic line up as people struggle to figure out how to exit using the buzzer. If you like Madden’s, be sure to check out Kelly’s Cellars and Sunflower while you’re in town.
I was lucky enough to get to see the Ulster Orchestra perform at Ulster Hall. This cozy hall was built in 1862 and is beautiful to look at with painted frescos, and one of the largest pipe organs I’ve ever seen. It’s even more lovely to sit in and enjoy the music. I’ve been in my share of concert halls, and the sound in Ulster Hall was unique. I can’t quite describe it, other than it was almost spiritual. I’m going to chalk it up to more music magic since the shear beauty of the sound gave me goosebumps.
Ulster Orchestra offers a monthly lunchtime concert for less than 10 pounds. If you are visiting Belfast, I can’t recommend it enough. The day I attended they performed a lively blend of Mozart, Ravel, and Stravinsky. Bonus for me was cutie patootie American conductor, Case Scaglioni.
Since the orchestra wowed me from the jump, I managed to get tickets to their performance of Handel’s Messiah before I left town. I’d never heard this piece performed live before, and was blown away. Time flew by, and I think I’ve found a new Christmas tradition. Handel premiered Messiah in Dublin, just two hours away, in 1742. It was fitting that my last big musical event in Ireland made its debut here.
BELFAST STREET BUSKERS
If you read my Dublin post, you already know about the love affair I have with street buskers. Their passion and commitment to making it in music speaks to my music loving soul. Belfast has a diverse line up of street performers, and you can find them sharing their art with the rest of us even in the worst weather. Don’t forget to support your street musicians and ante up with some money.
Random factoid: my friend Mark, from For Folk Sake, was the first street busker in Belfast. He’s been making music magic for most of his life. Check out his album, Fool’s Dark Evening and go see him play live.
Click here to view all my photos of the Belfast Music Scene.