Celtic spirit, West Coast rhythm

The Vagabonds at Crying Sky Studios.  | Photo by Daniel Tinnelly

The Vagabonds at Crying Sky Studios. | Photo by Daniel Tinnelly

Since the economic recession of 2008 hit Ireland, increasing numbers of Irish youth have been drawn by the promise of B.C.’s mountains, beaches, and jobs, creating a vibrant Irish community in Vancouver. Seven members of this community came together in 2010 and 2011 to form the Vagabonds, a band that combines modern rock with Celtic roots. The Vagabonds will play at the 10th annual CelticFest Vancouver, a nine-day celebration of Celtic culture that kicks off March 8.


The band members found each other in a pub, which was surprisingly not in Ireland but Canada. Derek Duggan – civil engineer by day and guitar, mandolin and bass player by night – met his fellow bandmembers at Johnny Foxes on Granville Street, a regular hang-out for the Irish crowd. His brother, Bren, who also sings in the band and plays guitar and bass, introduced him to the ‘lads.’ Just like the other members of the Vagabonds, Derek has been in bands since he was 16.

Mixing in with Vancouver’s fusion vibe, The Vagabonds’ genre of music is a balance of traditional Irish songs and covers from the whole spectrum of rock from the Rolling Stones, Prince and U2 to Arcade Fire. Derek describes their music as a “folk-rocky kind of thing,” since there’s no real genre their music adheres to.

Jodie Bartley, a later addition to the band, was discovered at a party where she started to sing. She asked to jam with the band and things grew from there. Having lived in Canada for over three years, she works as an account manager during the day, but was always heavily involved with singing back in Ireland.

“Music, song and storytelling is at the heart and soul of our culture: Ceol agus Craic. We are all about community spirit!” says Bartley.

The band has become a big part of her life, and they play regularly at venues such FanClub, the Rickshaw Theatre, the Lamplighter and Forum.

The Big Green Day

While Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t a public holiday as it in Ireland and in Newfoundland and Labrador, Vancouver’s Irish community still comes out in full force for it. Duggan has noticed that the Canadian community isn’t lacking in spirit either.

“[It’s a] big day for Irish people when they are not at home. We get together, celebrate our homeland and make sure the Canadians have fun too,” he says.

For the second year in a row, the Vagabonds will be playing for St. Patrick’s Day on March 16 at CelticFest Vancouver. Their set will begin right at the end of the parade.

Starting at 2 p.m. in FanClub, the Vagabonds will take the stage and play their Irish set. Expect to hear traditional instruments such as the mandolin, banjo, tin whistle and dueling fiddles. Later in the night, starting at 9p.m., they’ll begin their rock-oriented show for the crowd.

According to Bartley, last year’s show at Fanclub drew a crowd of 450, with a sea of green, flags everywhere and a line-up out the door. The bar ran out of Guinness, something you can imagine an Irish crowd was not impressed with, but this year they promise to be more prepared.

The Vagabonds brings traditional Irish folk music to Vancouver’s nightlife, but also embodies the Irish love for a good time and the arts. For the whole band, it’s become an important part of their life in Vancouver.

“I absolutely love it, [it’s a] huge part of my life. We’re like a family, and it’s such a great thing to be involved with the Irish community,” says Bartley.

Though home is still back in Ireland, all the band members are settling into the west coast rhythm quite well.

“I won’t be going home anytime soon and I don’t think anyone else in the band will be either,” says Derek.

Now for all the Canadians, just learn to say Lá Fhéile Pádraig.


CelticFest Vancouver
March 8–16, Multiple Venues