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Putting trad in its rightful place

A NEW venue specifically targeted at promoting traditional Irish music is set to open in Ennis next week creating around 15 jobs and potentially helping to boost local tourism.
It’s certainly been quite a journey for Michael Coffey from vice president of a multi-national company to investor in The Merchant, a new pub which will open on Thursday next.

Michael, Martin, Joyce and Eoin Coffey checking the acoustics in the Merchant Bar on Parnell St. Photograph by Declan Monaghan

And with a background in traditional Irish music, he is determined to create a venue where trad is a priority.
“We want to provide a top venue for musicians to play. If I was to model this place on anywhere else it would be Dolan’s in Limerick because it’s pure traditional. It’s seven-nights-a-week traditional music, with no rock ‘n’ roll going on in the background. You know if you go in there at any time of the day, any day of the week what to expect. They’re not trying to suit a different crowd each night,” he explained.
He believes this new venue could help attract more and more tourists to the town by enhancing Ennis’ reputation as a centre for Irish music.
“There are a lot of excellent pubs already in the area offering Irish music, all the pubs around here have done a good job. I think another will only create further synergies in that line and will help promote this whole area as a traditional centre that is noted throughout Ireland. Ennis is a traditional music town and that is something that should be homed in on to attract more tourists, national and international. There is so much talent in Ennis and locally, the quality of music that’s here, you won’t find any place else and we just want to give these guys a decent venue as well as a place where people can come and be comfortable and listen to the music and enjoy some good food,” he says.
Having grown up in Ennis, Michael was bought his first flute aged 23 before he headed off to England for work. He went on to become vice president of Wurth, looking after companies on an international basis in places like Norway, Sweden and South Africa.
“I was travelling quite a bit and I always liked the sessions when I came back. I played a lot in the local sessions in Limerick and when I went on holidays, I always went back to Miltown Malbay for two weeks and went playing in Bridie Cleary’s,” he said.
“I worked very hard during that period and there was a lot of travel associated with it. I said to myself once I had enough money made, I would come back. I’m still a young enough man so I wanted to do something in my line of experience in sales and marketing as well as with my background in traditional music,” he explained.
After leaving Wurth, both he and his brother, Martin, invested in local restaurant Rogues, whetting their appetite for further investment in the local hospitality industry
Then the opportunity to take over the site of what would become The Merchant on Parnell Street came along.
“We were approached to see if we would be interested in taking on a new pub and we had a look at the premises here and saw its potential as a traditional Irish music venue. Based on the venue we were offered and the success of Rogues, we decided we would invest in getting this place off the ground. After a few changes we have made to it, it is definitely ranking amongst the best traditional Irish pubs you would find any place around the country,” he said.
With the current economic climate, is he worried about making such an investment? “People say we’re a bit stupid to be doing this now but I felt if anybody could do it Martin with his background in food, my brother-in-law with 25 years experience in the bar trade who is helping us out and with my knowledge of the music scene, we have a good opportunity here. Definitely my feeling is that even in the current economic climate, there are still a lot of people out there who want to be entertained and they are prepared to spend money as long as they get good product,” he said.
Michael is determined to create a venue in which musicians will want to play. “We want to show a lot more respect to musicians than I think they are being given in some places at the moment. I was playing a session in Limerick recently and you had rock music in one part of the pub and traditional in another, it was an absolute disgrace to have traditional musicians play in this type of environment. There are pubs that have disco music and rock and pop playing till half nine until the musicians are ready to play and then suddenly they turn it off and they are expecting the musicians to be acclimatised and turn the place instantaneously into a trad pub. Then there are places with the plasma screens turned on. Being a musician myself, I have played in these types of venues and I just want to create a nice venue that musicians will really want to come and play in,” he says.
A number of local musicians have already been lined up to play at the venue, as well as musicians from Limerick and Miltown Malbay. “The Ennis musicians are excellent but it will also be nice for people to be able to come and hear a different grouping. We’re not going to be bringing the very big bands here but later on when the place is established, we will be looking at bringing the likes of Matt Molloy, Paddy Keenan, people like that. We won’t be having the full bands because we don’t want to put cover charges on the door, we would prefer that the ordinary punter can come in any night of the week,” he said.
As part of plans to prioritise the musician, The Merchant will feature ‘drop-down’ mics as well as additional speakers. “With these, regardless of how big the crowd gets, the musicians can still be heard. There is nothing more frustrating for a musician than when they’re going to tune up and can’t hear. We will have different music points throughout the pub, an open turf fire, smoking area. I am really confident that this place will take off, it’s a beautiful setting,” he said.

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