girl playing a traditional Irish drum decorated with a Celtic design

Girl playing a bodhran © iStockphoto.com/Mark Hayes

Dublin became the capital of the new Republic of Ireland (Eire) when it gained independence from the UK in 1922. The city is situated on the south-east coast of Ireland and is a major port with easy access to Liverpool and other British coastal cities.

Under British rule Dublin had a vigorous musical life closely linked to that of London. In 1742, for instance, the first performance of Handel's oratorio 'The Messiah' was given in Dublin. In the 19th century Dublin followed English cities in providing music halls for performances of contemporary popular song.

Irish language song and local traditions of dance and fiddle playing were based in rural areas but following independence, interest among city dwellers in Irish traditional music grew. This process was encouraged by national Dublin-based institutions such as the state-owned broadcaster RTE and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann, a cultural society that organised training and competitions in Irish music and dance.

In the late 1950s Dublin became the centre of new developments in traditional music. The composer Sean O'Riada arranged folk tunes for his folk orchestra Ceoltóirí Cualann and for the Chieftains, a band that has since found worldwide acclaim under the leadership of uillean piper Paddy Moloney. At the same time the folk club movement in England and Scotland inspired the growth of singing and playing in pubs such as O'Donoghues and Slattery's. Out of this scene came the most famous Irish folk group of the 1960s, the Dubliners, featuring banjo and guitars rather than the pipes and fiddle of the Chieftains.

The first purpose built recording studio in Ireland was opened in Dublin in the early 1960s and became a magnet for Irish beat groups such as the Green Beats, Taste and Skid Row. Leading Dublin bands of the 1970s included the folk-rockers Horslips and hard rockers Thin Lizzy, led by Phil Lynott. The punk era brought forth the Radiators from Space, the Boomtown Rats (whose singer was Bob Geldof) and U2, whose members met at school in Dublin and made their first album in 1979. U2 have become Dublin's most globally successful band but they have also played a major role in the growth of Dublin's music and film industries. With their manager Paul McGuinness, U2 have contributed to the growth of the Windmill Lane studio complex and invested in the Temple Bar district, that was redeveloped as an entertainment zone in the 1980s.

Also in the 1980s, Dublin student Sinead O'Connor became an often controversial international star. In the following decade and into the 21st century, Dublin provided a base for music entrepreneur Louis Walsh and his promotion of boy bands (Boyzone, Westlife) and girl groups (B*witched). Some members of these groups attended the city's Billie Barry Stage School, as did Samantha Mumba, another Dublin-based teenage singer.

cityscape at night, with lights on the buildings and bridge reflected in the river

Dublin © iStockphoto.com/Geoffrey Hammond

Like such capital cities as London and Paris, Dublin has been the focus of the national music industry. Artists from all over Ireland have moved there in search of opportunities to record, perform and tour. They have included Enya from Donegal, The Cranberries from Limerick and the Corrs from Dundalk.

The city and its musical life also took on an international dimension in other ways. During the 1980s and 1990s, Irish singers won the Eurovision Song Contest on three occasions and Dublin hosted the contest. This provided a televised showcase for Irish music and dance. One of the dance acts that appeared made such an impact that it was expanded into the hit musical show Riverdance. Dublin was also the setting for Alan Parker's award-winning film 'The Commitments' which portrayed a soul music-obsessed band made up of young working-class Dubliners.

Dublin's capital city role has meant that it has been the setting for cultural policy initiatives affecting music. Since the 1960s a tax exemption for artists had attracted foreign musicians to settle in Ireland, among them English singer Marianne Faithfull and Joe Elliott of rock band Def Leppard. In the 1980s, a rock school was set up in the suburb of Ballyfermot to provide music business training, while the MusicBase organisation assisted grass-roots rock musicians in the city. For many years, leading figures in the Dublin music industry lobbied the government for official support for the industry, which had become a major export earner through the global success of artists such as U2 and the Chieftains. Eventually, in 2001 the Irish minister of culture set up an Irish Music Board for an initial three year period. The Dublin-based board produced reports and action plans but its mandate was not renewed.

Dublin remains one of Europe's leading music cities, with major international tours visiting such venues as the Point and Croke Park. The Temple Bar area has several clubs where rock, jazz or blues can be heard most nights of the week. The city has over 30 pubs with regular traditional music sessions, many of them geared towards Dublin's booming tourist industry. The music tourism trail also includes the Hot Press Irish Music Hall of Fame, a permanent exhibition devoted to the country's leading performers and named after the main Dublin music paper.