Ireland travel tips and advice: The one thing missing in Australian pubs

There's a moment you should dread every time you go to Ireland. And you know it's coming – it always does.

You'll probably be in a pub with a group of new friends. There will be music playing, inevitably. There might be a live band on, doing traditional songs. Or maybe it's just a group of blokes who've decided to fire up and sing.

Whatever the situation, songs will be sung, fun will be had, and at some point in the evening an inevitable request will come your way: "Do you know any songs? Give us an Australian song!"

And you won't know a single one.

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At least I don't, and I'm fairly sure I'm not alone there. I can't play any traditional Australian songs on the guitar; I can't even sing any all the way through.

I know the first verse and the chorus to Waltzing Matilda. I know the bits that aren't actual words in Botany Bay. I think I know the chorus of Click Go the Shears, and I can recite a total of six words to And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. And yes, it's the six you're thinking of.

But that, to my eternal shame, is it.

I'm not alone in this lack of musical knowledge, but it's never a major problem for Australians until we go to Ireland, or sometimes England or Scotland, and someone in a pub demands a traditional song from our homeland. It's hard to explain at that point that Australians just don't really sing. We're not that musical. So instead you just sound like you're wimping out.


In Ireland, there's a culture of musicality. It seems like everyone there can play an instrument of some sort. And without doubt, everyone can sing. And they do sing. They grow up doing it, belting out The Wild Rover, Raglan Road and Molly Malone from the time they can speak.

Those are all great songs, too. Perfect pub songs. Songs you want to drunkenly dance to while you hold a half-drunk pint of Guinness above your head in a salute to the band.

And what do Australians have? Nothing that comes close. Nothing, at least, that's so publicly embraced and celebrated and oft recited.

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I grew up in Central Queensland, where it was considered fairly embarrassing to enjoy singing. No one was in a band. No one had learned any instruments. Tough guys played footy and smoked ciggies down by the bike sheds – they certainly weren't penning poetry like A Pair of Brown Eyes.

I have a theory about this, about why we, such direct descendants of the Irish and the English and the Scots, managed to miss out on all that musicality. And it has to do with the weather.

Have you been to Ireland? It's always raining. The scenery is amazing, but you rarely see it because it's shrouded in mist. Essentially, almost every day in Ireland is an extremely good day to go to the pub.

Inside that pub, you sit around with family and friends, and you play music. You play traditional songs. You sing. You write new songs. You improve on old ones. You drink a few pints, you eat some food, and then you repeat.

In Australia, meanwhile, it's not raining, which makes almost every day an extremely good day to go to the beach, or to the cricket, or out to the bush, or any number of lovely places that exist outdoors, away from other people.

We don't grow up hearing these traditional songs. We don't have a mate who plays guitar, or know someone who's into the accordion, or have a friend who's good on the tin whistle. We have a mate who's a good surfer, we know someone who's into triathlons, and we have friends who have started doing boot camps.

This doesn't make for a great musical culture. There are great musicians in Australia, for sure. There are great bands who have written extremely good songs. But that culture doesn't trickle down to the average pub-goer.

And even if it did, it's not acceptable to bring your musical instruments down to the local boozer in Australia. You'd be told to shut up so everyone could concentrate on the TAB.

Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done about this. While we have good weather and a sense of embarrassment about singing in public, our culture isn't going to change.

About the only thing you can do is prepare for that trip to Ireland, or England, or Scotland by finding a song you love – maybe Waltzing Matilda or Botany Bay – learning the words, figuring out the guitar chords, and getting ready to step into that pub in Dublin and do us all proud.

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