A Social Scientist Goes Into A Bar

Not just any bar– This is Eileen’s Bar in the tiny village of Kilcrohane in West Cork, Ireland.

This is the center of the town. See the musicians gathered in a circle? They face each other, rather than an audience. That intimacy lets the music lift from a center, into the air. I pulled up a stool.

Then, they moved inside. IKarumba is the name of the band.

To the left, the floor slants up to the bar. The ceiling is low and there’s the feeling that the place was dug out of the earth instead of built with beams and stucco. I wondered, “Is it the people and the events in it that make a place into a place?” And I thought about how, when you really want to learn about a community, you have to be vulnerable to it. You have to accept that you are the stranger and even embrace that notion. It’s a version of “participant observation,” a practice that lets you observe while you let down your guard and join in. At the end of the playing, I took the guitarist’s hat and circled for donations. “Could you be our manager?” He said.

He’d pegged me for an American, I realized. We have the reputation of managing talents into cash, I supposed. We sat and told stories in that bar and I felt what it was like to be a part of something, something vibrant in a small place on a big spread of land that leaned into the sea.

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