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Inside Whelans on its 25th birthday

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Inside Whelans pub (photo by Fiona Hyland)

Whelan’s, located on Wexford Street, is one of the first ever known public houses in the area. Its doors were first opened in 1772, by Christopher Brady, and at that time, was known as Kevin’s Port.

Fast forward over 200 years, and it is now one of Dublin’s most desirable music venues, and has showcased acts such as Jeff Buckley, Arctic Monkeys and Mumford & Sons to name but a few.

This year, Whelan’s celebrates its 25th anniversary, and I met with owner Dave Allen, in a cosy pocket of the pub, to find out his highs and lows over the past 25 years. “It’s hard to pick just one because there have been so many. We get them weekly almost at this rate, I suppose one of the obvious ones is Jeff Buckley playing here in 1994. He played twice that year, which was also the year he released his album Grace,” he said.

It comes as no surprise that Whelan’s has showcased over 30’000 bands since its first ever gig, which was, interestingly, put on by the Student’s Union events officer for DIT Kevin Street at that time.

“Some other big acts that have played here include Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze, Tom Robinson, Wilko, Sparklehorse, all the great acts from that time. Recently, we’ve had some huge Irish acts such as The Script, who launched an intimate gig here on Arthur’s Day.”

Whelan’s runs gigs almost seven nights a week, and includes all genres of music. From rock, jazz, folk, electronic, it certainly caters for all musical tastes. But why is it, that such a small, intimate pub in the heart of Dublin is the most sought after venue for up-and-coming musical acts from all over the world?

“I suppose we’re lucky enough because we’re on the touring circuit, and a lot of bands’ first choice is to play Whelan’s. We tend to get them at that stage, when they’re just becoming big, so three months later they could sell out bigger venues such as The Olympia [on Dame Street]. We’ve had the Arctic Monkeys play here, Broke, Bloc Party, Haim, all these bands.”

So what makes Whelan’s such a desirable venue? Why does everyone want to play here? “I think there’s a sense of history in the place, a lot of big names have graced these halls. Originally, I suppose [because of] the lay-out of the room and the closeness of the stage to the audience. I think it must feel very special for bands starting off; it’s the first time they begin to sell out venues of this size, so it must feel good for them to be so close to the crowd, to see a room full of people singing back the words to their songs.”

For 25 years in Whelan’s, what can we expect? “Well we’re hoping for a very special year. We’re going to put on a whole lot of special gigs throughout the year, ideally one a month, but during the summer we’ll probably have five or six, and these will be very special bands that could easily sell out bigger venues, to perform a more intimate gig.”

Looking forward, what do you see for the future of Whelan’s? Who are we to look out for? “We recently had our ‘One to Watch’ festival, which showcased over 55 new acts. I was absolutely astounded with the quality of the performers. There are some amazing, talented acts climbing up the ranks; look out for The Overheads, Wild Promises, Fans, it’s hard to pick!”

However, the excitement doesn’t stop there. In celebrating it’s 25th anniversary, Whelan’s are opening a record store this year. The shop will be for “both customers looking for hard-to-get CDs, and bands looking for an outlet to feature their newest releases.”

Certainly a brave move for a very-much post CD era.

Whelan’s has also launched a new website, Whelans25.com, where you can submit your very own ‘Whelan’s Most Memorable Moments’.

“Each month, some of the biggest and best bands to play Whelans over the years will return to play special intimate one off shows. For each of these shows rock art specialist will be commissioned. A video of each night will also be made.”

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