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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019
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'It just has that certain wee thing': The Donegal trad pub where everyone joins in the music

At The Reel Inn, there’s a trad session seven nights a week – and a great pint too.

reel inn Source: Instagram/thereelinntrad

THE REEL INN in Donegal Town is a pub that prides itself on having no notions whatsoever.

There’s no television and you won’t encounter any too-cool-for-school bar staff.

“We’re very traditional in every way,” says owner Denise Doherty. “We love the conversation, the craic, and the music.”

Doherty and her husband, Joe McMenamin, opened The Reel Inn eleven years ago. Prior to that, they had leased another pub in the town, but decided to take on The Reel Inn and attempt to develop it into a traditional music pub.

“My husband decided to get into it because he’s a musician,” explains Doherty.

Joe found it difficult to get a session at the weekends so he decided to open a bar where he could have a music session every night – and where trad musicians passing through would have a place to play.

Over a decade on, the pub has become renowned for its sessions. It hosts trad music sessions seven nights a week. “That’s what we do. We’re very loyal to it, very hardline,” says Doherty.

One of the regular sessions is a “slow session” in which students from the local vicinity are invited to come in and play music at a slower pace. They’re typically aged six and up, but they also welcome adult beginners to “sit in and tip away”.

The pub even has its own collection of instruments in case musicians arrive without theirs or if others fancy getting in on the session. Which they often do:

Last night, we had twenty people get up and sing. It’s not like karaoke. It’s people saying, ‘Maybe I’ll get up and sing, too!’

Visitors to the pub are immediately greeted with a wealth of traditional Irish artefacts. Both the proclamation and the words to the national anthem adorn the wall.

Elsewhere, there are photos of locals and past visitors hanging around the pub. Doherty notes that locals have even gifted them with painted portraits of her husband. “Mind you, there’s none of me yet,” she laughs.

Many tourists have visited time and time again over the years, often specifically visiting Donegal so they can pop in.

“People come back for The Reel Inn,” Doherty says. “You feel like a local.”

It’s just got a certain wee thing. People come because of that.

In fact, Doherty claims to be able to remember the names and orders of anyone who nips in for a pint.

We like people. If you came to the bar tonight, someone will engage with you, whether it’s me, my husband, my sister or anyone else serving you. We want to know people, we want to know who they are.

Last year, The Reel Inn was named Best Pub in Ireland at the Irish Hospitality Awards. The win came as a pleasant, if completely unexpected, surprise to Doherty and her husband.

Always music in the Reel Inn...even from 12pm on a Sunday sometimes 😆🎶

A post shared by The Reel Inn (@thereelinntrad) on

“It was like somebody tapping us on the shoulder and saying, ‘Look up,’” she recalls.

“I think we’re very humble people,” she concludes. “We do what we do. It’s our wee business and we do it because we love music and we love people.”

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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