Although I’ve sung karaoke in 35 countries as of this writing, there’s a handful of nations that I’ve visited without singing while inside their borders. Perhaps the most surprising place to end up on that short list is Ireland. I mean, it’s a fun country, right? Not to mention that it’s a land with a rich musical heritage. But that musical tradition doesn’t yet seem to have translated into abundance of karaoke — at least in the capital city of Dublin, which is the only Irish locale that I’ve visited to date. Although I’ve now been to Dublin on two separate occasions — most recently, at the start of 2014 — I have yet to sing into a microphone on Irish soil. Many of my posts on this blog concern the circumstances of how particular countries were added to my World Karaoke Tour; however, this article will recount how Ireland failed to become a part of the tour.
Visit no. 1: the early ’90s
Over 20 years ago, Ireland became the third foreign country in which I ever set foot (after the United Kingdom and Canada). That trip occurred between late December 1991 and January 1992, as I rang in the New Year in Dublin. Two indications of just how long ago we’re talking about: I hadn’t yet even entered law school, and Bill Clinton had yet to be become President of the United States. (My enrollment in Georgetown Law, and Clinton’s first Presidential election victory, would both occur during the ensuing twelve months.)
Back then, karaoke wasn’t really a thing yet in most parts of the world outside of East Asia. I myself had just taken up karaoke singing during the preceding year while living in New Jersey; and my aspirations to go global with my new avocation lay many years in the future. Looking back from 2014, I have no idea whether any karaoke venues even existed in Ireland in the early 1990s; but in any event, I made no attempt to search for any during my initial visit to that country.
Visit no. 2: the present day
By the time I boarded my Aer Lingus flight from New York to Dublin in December 2013, the country count for my karaoke travels had reached 32. I was all set for Ireland to become no. 33.
After landing at Dublin Airport, I didn’t immediately proceed with that mission. I took a bus into Dublin’s city center, and then boarded a train to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, where I spent the first couple of nights of my trip. Belfast is an up-and-coming city that I was eager to experience, and I’ll have more to say about it in a future post.
Singing in Northern Ireland: Belfast and furious
I wasted no time in Belfast. On my very first night there, a Saturday night, I found a venue with karaoke — and within walking distance of my hotel, no less. It was especially satisfying for that to have occurred because the guy at the front desk of my hotel had claimed with complete confidence and certainty that I wouldn’t find karaoke in Belfast on a Saturday night. It only took me about 5 minutes on Google to prove him wrong. 🙂 Anyway, here you can watch me singing “Oh, Pretty Woman” in a Belfastian pub called Bt1:
Northern Ireland, of course, is part of the United Kingdom, and doesn’t belong to the country of Ireland. (At the present time, I won’t get into the contentious political history behind that geography.) So, singing in Belfast didn’t enable me to count Ireland as an additional sovereign nation on my karaoke tour. Instead, Belfast gets credited as the third U.K. city in which I’ve sung, joining the English towns of London and Brighton. But to add Ireland itself to the tour, I was counting on performing in Dublin.
By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed my singing experience in the Bt1 pub. The host, Shane O’Hare, was extremely friendly and welcoming. Indeed, I’ve become Facebook friends with Shane and have enjoyed staying in touch with him.
A couple of days after that Belfast gig, I took the train back to Dublin. Just as with my previous visit to Dublin so many years ago, I rang in the new year in that city. One thing was different this time around: I sought to add Ireland to the list of countries in which I’ve sung karaoke. For my debut in Ireland, I planned to perform at least one song by the Irish band U2; in preparation for my arrival in Dublin, I’d practiced two songs by that group (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You”).
Back in Dublin: Things fall apart
I rolled into Dublin on a Monday evening, the first of three nights I’d be spending in that city. After getting ensconced in my hotel room I got to work googling and having the hotel’s front desk staff make phone calls on my behalf.
Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a single location in Dublin where I’d be able to sing in public on Monday, December 30 (the first of the three nights of my stay). It was somewhat less surprising that I came up empty in seeking a place that would have karaoke on Tuesday night, December 31; it was to be expected that at many venues, the usual weekly activities for a Tuesday night would be canceled in favour of New Year’s Eve celebrations.
That left me with only one possible night to perform in Ireland: New Year’s night (January 1), which would fall on a Wednesday. Initially, I didn’t do any better finding a Dublin karaoke show for Wednesday than I had done finding one for Monday or Tuesday.
But on December 31, with just hours remaining in 2013, my friend Eric in California gave me a hot tip about one Dublin establishment that did offer a weekly karaoke night on Wednesdays: the Dublin location of a chain restaurant called Captain Americas. (As its name implies, Captain Americas is a themed restaurant that pays tribute to the popular Marvel Comics superhero. Hamburgers are the featured item on its food menu.) I dialed Captain Americas over the phone; the staffer with whom I spoke confirmed that karaoke was a weekly occurrence there, and assured me that this activity would be held as usual on the coming Wednesday. So while the Yelp ratings for this eatery weren’t very encouraging, I didn’t care. What mattered was that on the very first night of 2014, Ireland would become the 33rd country on my World Karaoke Tour!
Or so I thought.
I spent some time learning a third U2 song, “New Year’s Day,” which seemed especially appropriate for the timeslot of my planned appearance at Captain Americas. While looking forward to karaokeing on the very first night of the new year, I also enjoyed taking in some of the highlights of Dublin during the daytime hours. For example, I strolled around the district known as Temple Bar (which is also the name of a particular pub in that area):
In addition I visited a couple of museums, including the Dublin Writers Museum. The roster of distinguished authors who were born on the Emerald Isle is a long one. James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, and Samuel Beckett are just some of the literary titans about whom I learned at the Dublin Writers Museum. (The other museum that I explored was the nearby Hugh Lane Gallery, a repository of modern and contemporary art.)
On New Year’s Eve I had a fun time imbibing and meeting random people at a random Irish bar. Then, on New Year’s Day, I looked forward to singing on the very first night of the year. That evening, with great eagerness I took a taxi to Captain Americas.
Despite having been promised over the phone just one day earlier that Captain Americas would offer karaoke on New Year’s night (as it does on all other Wednesday nights), upon my arrival I was told that the evening’s karaoke show had been canceled. The stated reason was that the guy who runs the karaoke had decided not to show up. That could have happened anywhere, but the consequences of the KJ being a no-show were magnified under the circumstances. Since there was nowhere else that I was aware of to sing in Dublin on a Wednesday night, I had no backup option. And since I was flying back to New York the next day, I would have no more chances to fulfill my principal goal of the trip. I now knew that Ireland wasn’t going to become country no. 33 on my World Karaoke Tour. (That honour would ultimately go to India in March 2014.) I finished out the night by eating a mediocre chicken burger at Captain Americas and then dejectedly returning to my hotel.
It’s quite possible that I would have managed to find a place to sing in Ireland if I’d included an additional Irish city, such as Galway or Cork, in my itinerary. What I know for sure, though, is that it didn’t happen for me in Dublin. I was shocked and disappointed at that outcome, but I still had a good time on the trip.
And that’s how Ireland joined the Czech Republic, Italy, and South Africa as one of the rare countries to which I’ve traveled without finding karaoke. However, that list of disappointments will be slightly reduced this autumn. Because in late November, all roads will lead to Rome!