Photo: Musicians

Photograph by Jim Richardson

Photo: Photographer Jim Richardson

Photograph courtesy Jim Richardson

Contributing editor Jim Richardson is a photojournalist recognized for his explorations of small-town life. His photos appear frequently in National Geographic magazine.

Don't go to Ireland to see Ireland. Go to Ireland to see the Irish!

Mind you, it's a beautiful country. I'll not spend precious words arguing what any fool can see. But Ireland promises more than beauty, and when you go there, it's something more like magic that you're looking for. In the western Irish town of Dingle, I go looking for magic in Dick Mack's Pub. I usually find it.

I'm not the only one. Half the world seems to know about Dick Mack's and has made a pilgrimage to County Kerry to have a pint in this classic watering hole. If it weren't a great pub it would be a better museum. Dick Mack kept all the stuff left over from when the pub was also the town's boot merchant. Thus, its timber shelves are full of tattered shoe boxes and the odd pair of wellies. Dick's son Oliver runs the place now. Oliver never seems tempted to throw out the old stuff and knows how to keep local patrons just as happy as interlopers like me.

It's pretty much a photographer's dream pub. It looks classic. It is classic. The bar, the stools, the worn wood floor, even the patrons look classic. Certainly Oliver Mack looks the part of Irish bartender and I've made several pictures of him in the past.

When I walked in the other day, the Monday Club was holding court, corralling strangers in ways only the Irish seem to have perfected. Pint in hand, I was being regaled with tales of Tuxedo Tuesdays (apparently they actually do it) when I heard music coming out of the back room. It was a lilting violin mixed with an accordion and the occasional penny whistle—the sure and certain sounds of an Irish music session. Fiddler Mairead nic an Fhaili was gathered with her friends, out of school for the bank holiday and grateful for a cozy place like Dick Mack's in which to play.

Their music was delightful, cracking good tunes played fast and reckless. But it was their joy and energy that brought the place to life and gave me the Irish moment I had been hoping for. I grabbed my wide lens so I could get in the middle of the action and bumped up the ISO to 1600 so I could shoot with the available light. (There really ought to be a law against shooting with a flash in an Irish pub music session.) Then I waited for a break in the music so I could ask their permission. Like most Irish musicians they didn't mind pictures but they like the common courtesy of asking and won't abide rude behavior.

For the next half hour it was delightful. We had music, laughter, shared life. An Irish moment.

Before I dashed back to the ship, the Monday Cub called on me to take their picture gathered behind the bar and made me promise to come back for Tuxedo Tuesday.

Believe me, I'm going to do that.

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