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'Many legends have played here. It's a long list': The enduring pull of Whelan's after 30 years in business

The Dublin pub has played host to Arctic Monkeys, Ed Sheeran, the late Jeff Buckley and more.

Image: Whelan's/Facebook

‘WHEN THE BAND is going full flow up against the audience, it’s really special.’

Whelan’s on Wexford St first opened in 1989, and while it has had a number of different owners over the years, the charm of the venue for audiences and acts has rarely wavered.

The staff tend to stick around too: venue manager Dave Allen has been working there since the 1990s (aside from a quick break during the noughties). 

Allen, started off working at Whelan’s as a sound engineer, and can still recall how quickly the venue became popular with international musicians.

“We started booking bands, it started to take off and it hasn’t stopped since.” 

Allen puts a lot of the attraction of Whelan’s down to the raw energy and excitement that fills the room during a gig:

The atmosphere in the room is very special. There’s a sense of history… new bands love it.

Some of the “new bands” who have played at Whelan’s have gone on to become all-star global names, of course.

Allen tells of a flyer that he recently “dug up” from 25 years ago:

David Grey was playing his first gig here, Jeff Buckley was lined up and The Corrs too… It’s a privilege to have had so many amazing bands play here through the years.

As for what gigs stand out in his memory, Allen (understandably) couldn’t just pick one:

I think that Jeff Buckley resonates with so many people. He launched his album Grace in 1994 and played here shortly afterwards. Glen Hansard has been very loyal to us over the years. The Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party… there are so many legends. It’s a long list.

Unsurprisingly, he has quite a few tales to tell from working at one of Dublin’s most popular venues over the years. 

“The Amps played a secret gig here in the nineties and the place was thronged. Someone from the audience stole one of the band’s guitars and security (and punters) had to chase him down the street. It was chaotic.

And then there’s the time that Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze played here in the early 2000′s and the power went out, so he took everyone outside to St Kevin’s Park for an acoustic session.

“Another one is when Arcade Fire wanted to play here after their Malahide Castle gigs,” he adds. “That was very special. ”

Not to forget welcoming one of the most well-known artists of the last ten years:

“Oh I should mention when Ed Sheeran played here in 2015. It was broadcast live worldwide. He chose to play here after seeing Damien Rice play here when he was 14. He said it inspired him to be a singer-songwriter.”

Asked about any stories of romances that blossomed between Whelan’s condensation-soaked walls, Allen says: “We’ve an awful lot of that!”

“There have been quite a few proposals. I haven’t seen anyone propose, but no one’s said ‘no’!

In 2004, the bar featured in the film version of PS I Love You, which only added to its popularity as a location for popping the question:

People even fly in from Brazil to propose here after seeing PS I Love You. We get questions every day from people asking about it.

But what is it that makes Whelan’s a continued success in its 30th anniversary year? Allen says it’s a combination of the team, the venue and the acts.

“We’ve a small team on the inside and a large team on the outside. It’s a good complaint that there’s such a huge demand. We’re nearly booked out for this year and every year it’s further and further in advance,” he says.

We’ve two venues now. It’s great to have artists here when they’re starting out and seeing them go big.

As for plans for the 30th anniversary, Allen says it’s being celebrated in true Whelan’s style, with a number of surprise gigs from “very special guests” in the pipeline for later this year.

Cheers to that. 

More: ‘Everyone advised us to be subtle. We ignored them’: The unlikely rise of The Barbers Bar>

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