How Music Works: how to make Dublin a music city to be proud of

The capital needs to make more of its rich musical heritage, says Áine Mangaoang, researcher with the Mapping Popular Music In Dublin project

Last November, the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast hosted a day of activities around positioning Belfast as a music city. Representatives from Canada, Derry and Liverpool travelled to share strategies about music tourism, engaging with politicians, city councils, the music industry and members of the public.

In Dublin, that conversation is long overdue, but some movement is finally happening. Belfast is ahead of Dublin in having a space like Oh Yeah, a registered-charity music hub that operates as a venue, conference room, rehearsal space and studios. Oh Yeah also houses an exhibition space about Belfast music and operates a music bus tour. It’s an organisation that serves locals and tourists alike.

Dublin’s main music tourism offerings include trad sessions, the Irish Music Wall of Fame, the statue of Phil Lynott and the recently opened Irish Rock’n’Roll Museum. All well and good, but an increasingly sophisticated music-hungry audience visiting Dublin knows that the music lives in venues, clubs, festivals and shops - if you know where to look.

The Mapping Popular Music In Dublin (MPMiD) research project, which launches its report this Friday, has looked at popular music in Dublin through a combination of interviews, surveys, workshops, research, observation and consultations.


The project, which aims to inform the strategies of policy makers and industry when it comes to music was carried out by John O’Flynn an Áine Mangaoang of St Patrick’s College, Dublin City University, and funded by Fáilte Ireland.

The report's findings
The report confirms Dublin as a centre for popular music and makes some recommendations for how the city could better promote its musical activities and heritage to its citizens and tourists.

This include the development of Dublin music tourism initiatives and a music ecology strategy with input from industry, community groups, tourist agencies, media, musicians, arts and educational bodies that would broaden visitor experiences and support emerging music scenes. Mangaoang points to the lack of related events around U2 gigs in the 3Arena last year as one example.

“U2 fans have a huge desire to come and experience the city that their favourite group are from .There was very little for them to do here until quite recently. There’s an exhibition in the Little Museum of Dublin and some walking tours, but even when U2 were playing here last November, there was nothing else organised for this large number of people coming to the city. So it was left up to fans to organise a tribute night or an event for fans to get together.”

Alternative spaces
The MPMiD report finds a "considerable gender imbalance" in Dublin music, the closing times of music venues to be hindering the city's reputation and music culture and also recommends an Irish popular music museum, archive or collection to be established.

Furthermore, the report finds Dublin is lacking in alternative spaces for music that cater to the underage and developing musicians, just like the Oh Yeah Centre, which can operate all-ages and alcohol-free. The report calls for a feasibility study to explore options to set up such a city-centre facility.

“We are lucky in Temple Bar to have The Ark, the cultural centre for children but that caters from ages 2 - 12. In your teenage years, there’s no space to take part in music projects in the city centre. You are very limited in where you can play and therefore you can’t participate in the music ecology of the city.”

Inadequate music tourist information
While Dublin City Council have shown an increased interest in promoting music of late, through music trails and the MusicTown festival (" It did a lot to connect different genres and scenes and put them in conversation with each other."), Mangaoang says that there's an audience not being catered for by the existing offerings, citing the default suggestion of trad sessions in Temple Bar as inadequate.

“The reality is that a lot of tourists who are coming to Dublin don’t necessarily want that kind of experience. They want to see a more local, a more authentic side to Dublin so it’s about equipping the people giving that advice with the information that gives a variation of music happening in the city.”

From mapping to a map
To that end, the The Mapping Popular Music In Dublin have put together an up-to-date tourist map to be distributed by Failte Ireland and Visit Dublin which will give information on performance spaces, trad sessions, venues, clubs, karaoke bars, record stores, historical landmarks, a festival calendar and resources. The hope is that it will better inform visitors and maybe bring about an increased awareness of what is happening in Dublin music.

“It should help capitalise on when really big events are in town like Bruce Springsteen last month,” says Mangaoang. “Those events bring a lot of people into the city, who spend the weekend, who might not otherwise be there. They might plan a return trip based on what’s they see coming up another time in the year – a festival like Longitude or Forbidden Fruit. It’s not just for tourists, it’s for locals too to rediscover the rich tapestry of music that’s happening.”

Music tourism destinations
Music tourism is a popular type of holiday experience at the moment and many cities have repositioned themselves as music destinations through festivals like Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik, Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Sound City in Liverpool and Canadian Music Week in Toronto.

Mangaoang, who has taught in Reykjavik, has seen first hand how the city has capitalised on its musical heritage its Iceland Music Export office and Airwaves Festival, a festival setup by IcelandAir to drum up tourist numbers in the cold winter months.

“Nature tourism is the main industry there but obviously when it gets dark and cold, that takes a bit of a hit. If people are willing to fly out of the way to Iceland for music, Dublin can definitely learn a bit more from that and try to consolidate what we do here to attract music tourists.”

Icelandic people are unapolagetically proud of their music and heritage, something which Mangaoang suggests we could learn from.

“Irish people don’t like to blow their own trumpets, or to pat ourselves on the back but music is a core part of the Irish identity yet we don’t want to promote that too much. We have to get over that and promote what we have.”

- The Approaches to Popular Music Studies in Dublin and beyond forum takes place on Friday, June 10th, 2016, 10.30am @ St Patrick's College, Dublin City University. For more see