A new era for culture as Gaeilge
Ray Yeates, then the director at Axis in Ballymun and now Dublin City Council’s arts officer, blasted the sean nós form open in 2009 with Hip-Nós, performances of hip-hop, sean nós and spoken word in Axis that went on to Vicar Street.
“You have great people like Róise Goan, and Ray Yeates and Willie [White, director of the Dublin Theatre Festival] – they’re the next movement,” says Maggie Breathnach, the producer of TG4’s flagship arts programme Imeall, who spends most of her time running around the country surveying the frontlines of contemporary Irish arts.
“Arts is niche, Gaeilge is niche, and ultimately, you need to put bums on seats. They’re doing it slowly, but it’s happening. You see in schools now, it’s a string to your bow to have Irish in a way it didn’t used to be. It’s not necessarily that you’re going to automatically see an Irish play if you speak Irish, or go to a launch of an Irish book, but there is work in Irish, there is funding there, and people are taking the opportunities. But ultimately, the bigger stage is perceived to be the English language.”
Breathnach believes changing the perception of the Irish language in a contemporary arts setting should start at an early age. “In education, maybe it should start to be the case that kids are also educated in the language in an arts context and would then be interested in going to an Irish play. And you go to a play because of the quality of the play not the language. Look at Tromluí Phinocchio.”
Tomluí Phinocchio or Pinocchio – A Nightmare is a production by Moonfish Theatre that was lauded at this year’s Absolut Fringe and also showed at the Galway Theatre Festival. “Those girls are brilliant,” Breathnach says. “There’s really good stuff happening, but sometimes people think either they won’t go to something because ‘it’s an Irish show’, or if they are going, it’s ‘ar son na cúise’ [for the cause], so we need to show that there is a pincer movement that catches both the Irish language and quality.”
In music, the Kilas and the Ó Maonlaís were flying the flag for Irish-inflected contemporary music from the 1990s on, and that’s still the case. The annual Seachtain na Gaeilge Ceol compilation CDs feature contemporary Irish artists singing Irish-language versions of their songs. While the overall result might be nice, there’s a sense of tokenism about it, even if, on occasion, these songs are occasionally brought to a live setting.
But things are changing. Temper-Mental MissElayneous, an upcoming Dublin rapper, has a tendency to drop Irish rhymes into her raps accompanied by bodhrán instead of beats, namely with her track Cailín Rua. And Daithí, a Clare fiddle player who has managed to successfully fuse traditional strains with contemporary electronic music, recently sampled the singer Mary O’Hara in one of his tracks, a trick last pulled by Massachusetts band Passion Pit in their break-out single Sleepyhead.
From the Puball Gaeilge tent at Electric Picnic to Manchán Mangan’s theatre work, there is an edge to the Irish language in a contemporary artistic context, and that edge is growing as those in charge of funding continue to quietly seek out more non-traditional targets. But a new generation of artists also need to take the leap. Perhaps next week’s Fás agus Forbairt symposium will put a real structure around such tentative, yet quickening steps.