Since it opened in 1994, Dolan’s pub has become a staple in Limerick, both as a pub and a live music venue. In 2017, Dolan’s pub won the Pure Magazine Best Venue Award, the Irish Pub Awards Best Music Pub in the South-West Region and, more recently, two awards for entertainment from the Irish Global Pub Awards. At the heart of Dolan’s success is one man and his devotion to music: Mick Dolan.
Mick, his wife, Valerie, and their family moved from Dublin in search of a quiet life in 1992. When the purchase of a pub in Clare fell through, they came to Limerick and bought the only pub big enough for live music. Despite initial apprehension about the pub’s location, Limerick people have since grown to love Dolan’s for its homely charm, brilliant atmosphere and lively trad sessions.
There’s no doubt that Dolan’s has always been a pub for the people, always keeping the customer’s preferences at heart.
“We try and change to what people want; the type of service, the type of music, the type of drinks and environment that people want. We always try and take that on board,” Dolan says.
Not long after its opening, Dolan’s moved beyond the bar front and towards the opening of its second live music venue, the Warehouse, in 1998. This expansion did not come easy, as the challenges of running a live music venue became more apparent.
“Generally, I think it’s quite a tough environment.” Dolan explains. “The music business generally is a very tough business. I think if you were an accountant, you wouldn’t run a music venue. It just doesn’t work. You really need a love for it to make it work.”
Something Happens were the first act to play on the weekend of the Warehouse opening, and they were far from the last. Over the years, Dolan’s Warehouse has lent its stage to some of the greatest names in Irish music, including Aslan, Bell XI, Declan O’Rourke and more. Some began as support slots before gradually making their way up the ladder to headline not only the Warehouse, but the castle.
“Damien Rice started here. He would’ve been doing support here for Hothouse Flowers at the time,” Dolan says. “He stayed in our house and got the bus down with his guitar to do the support. You got others like David Gray before White Ladder doing support down here. A huge amount of people have gone through it.”
Another name Dolan mentions is the famous Clare accordionist, Sharon Shannon. Shannon was one of the many traditional musicians to grace the stage in Dolan’s when she released her album, Live at Dolan’s in 2006. This December, Shannon returns to the stage alongside Mundy to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the album’s official release.
For Mick Dolan, supporting local and Irish music has always been a crucial investment for Dolan’s: “You’ve got to develop bands and bring them on. That’s part of the business,” he says. “Starting off with people in one room and making their way to the bigger rooms.”
He gives the example of Limerick singer-songwriter Emma Langford, who began playing support slots in Dolan’s until her first gig in the Kasbah Social Club. She then progressed to the upstairs venue and has, this year, earned herself a headline gig in the Warehouse to celebrate the launch of her debut album.
The expansion of Dolan’s over the years has been remarkable. Aside from the three main venues in the pub, Dolan’s now hosts gigs in Limerick’s historic landmark, King John’s Castle.
“We’ll always be changing, upgrading and always trying to improve what we’re doing,” Dolan assures me. “We’re always looking at opportunities. We’ve gigs in UCH, in the Lime Tree, in the Big Top and the Castle. We’re always looking out for the opportunity and if it arises, we’ll do it.”
If passion is the key, then the only way is up for one of Limerick’s largest live music venues. Mick Dolan’s intense adoration for music and Limerick musicians especially has been a saving grace for many acts over the years.
“It’s an interesting job, you never get bored. You never know who you’re going to see with so many bands coming through.”