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A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion but doesn’t – especially on an Aer Lingus plane

Hugh Linehan: ‘Trapped in a confined space with loud music played at you is what they do to terrorists,’ one commenter said about last weekend’s impromptu session

When Tom Waits supposedly described a gentleman as “someone who can play the accordion but doesn’t”, he forgot to add “especially on an airplane”. One of the more dispiriting experiences of modern life is when you find yourself stuck aboard a flight that for some ill-explained reason is not taking off. There you sit, glum in your cramped seat, trying and failing to adjust that nozzle thing above your head. Minutes drag by like hours. An infant begins to wail. With luck you won’t need the toilet. You retreat to the cocoon of your reading material or your headphones and submit to your fate.

What would make this picture better?

If you think the answer is “half a dozen members of Cavan Town Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann launching into an impromptu session”, then lucky you if you were aboard a recent Aer Lingus flight to Dublin that was stranded on the tarmac at Frankfurt Airport by bad weather.

Irish Central reports that, even more fortuitously, also on the flight were a gaggle of “content creators” returning from a Red Bull event in Germany. (There’s a sentence to chill the blood.) This happy coincidence meant the spontaneous musical ruaille buaille was recorded and online within moments, where it was enthusiastically boosted by the Aer Lingus social team.


Cavan Town CCÉ perform for Aer Lingus passengers ✈️ CavanTownCCE IrishTok

♬ original sound - Sinann Fetherston

Footage of the very, very loud musicians giving their all in the aisle elicited a not entirely positive reaction.

“Trapped in a confined space with loud music played at you is what they do to terrorists, not people who paid to take one of your flights,” one person commented. “I’d be looking for a parachute,” tweeted another. “I fear this more than a mid-air collision,” wrote a third.

Some dissenting voices applauded the performers, wished they had been on the flight themselves and chided the naysayers as “no craic” and “dry shites”.

The incident highlights two underreported features of Irish culture. The first is the divisions that still linger below the surface over the merits of traditional music. Ireland’s native musical tradition runs deep and strong, with contemporary giants such as Martin Hayes drawing on the past to international acclaim. The neofolk and neotrad boom exemplified by the likes of Lankum and Øxn is at the cutting edge of contemporary music.

Yet there remains an allergic reaction among many to what some commenters on the video referred to as “diddley-eye”. The phenomenon is related to similar divisions with a political edge over the place of the Irish language in society. Some would argue this is all rooted in cultural cringe or a lingering postcolonial inferiority complex. But there’s also a perfectly understandable negative reaction to having something thrust on you that you never asked for and – even worse – are then told you should bloody well enjoy.

Much of the negative online sentiment, after all, was directed at Aer Lingus for permitting the impromptu session in the first place. It seems unlikely the flight attendants would have shown the same tolerance if the Cavan CCÉ crew had been working in death metal, hard techno or other venerable genres. But trad gets a pass because it’s part of who “we” are. The question of who the “we” is on an international flight, or indeed anywhere, remains unaddressed.

The second cultural chasm, which transcends international borders, is over the whole business of impromptu live music.

The modern world is divided into three sorts of people: those who with the slightest encouragement will whip out an instrument and share their musical stylings; those who think this sort of behaviour should be applauded; and the rest of us. After all, the whole reason humankind invented recorded music was to put a stop to this nonsense.

Cavan Town Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann seem prepared to fight the good fight on both fronts. There is some evidence that the group have form when it comes to “spontaneous” outbreaks of musical expression. After the plane incident went online, footage emerged of them doing the same thing at the boarding gate. They had, apparently, been playing their way across Germany.

If that means a spot of street busking, fair enough. But their apparent preference for claustrophobic spaces full of people who can’t leave does indeed appear to contravene international human-rights law. In the blurry video from the plane you can just make out the pale, strained face of one passenger wondering what fresh hell is being inflicted upon him and, presumably, making a mental note: next time don’t forget the noise-cancelling headphones.