Ó Bhéal: A lovely documentary about the emergence of a truly indigenous subgenre

Ciara Nic Chormaic’s documentary traces a line between Irish oral tradition and contemporary rap

Ó Bhéal
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Director: Ciara Nic Chormaic
Cert: 12A
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Strange Boy, Fehdah, Mory, Oisín Mac
Running Time: 1 hr 7 mins

As a film-maker, Ciara Nic Chormaic is a compelling spectator and respondent to other art forms. Skin+Soul approached fashion through the lens of the photographer Perry Ogden; Clouded Reveries chronicled the daily life, inspirations and creative processes of Doireann Ní Ghríofa, the Ghost in the Throat author.

Ó Bhéal takes in Nic Chormaic’s cinematic adventures in hip hop. Electronic artists, beautifully framed by Colm Hogan’s crystalline monochrome cinematography, speak to the Irish experience of rap and how their genre relates to and expands on earlier “oral traditions of folklore, ancient poetry and sean-nós singing”.

“The chain is still unbroken,” says the musician Oisín Mac. “Especially in Gaeltacht areas, people are still composing songs in the same mould as traditional and sean-nós songs.”

For the rapper Strangeboy, the Irish accent goes perfectly with hip-hop beats. Fehdah, an Irish artist (and astrophysics graduate) with Sierra Leonean heritage, hopes to create music that makes “people feel like they are being reminded of something from a very ancient past even if they are hearing something that sounds very modern”. The Irish-language rapper Mory is confident that Irish hip hop will be listened to in 50 years, just as people listen to The Dubliners now.


The subjects are good company and smart talking heads. The focus is disciplined – if anything a little too disciplined, as one can’t help but wish for a longer run time and grander scope and context. Celebrated Irish rappers such as Rejjie Snow are notably absent. Belfast’s Kneecap could have brought a very different cultural dimension. The early Irish-language practitioners ScaryÉire and Marxman might have added to the sense of an unbroken chain. Still, working with the editor Genevieve Jordan, Nic Chormaic has crafted a lovely documentary about the emergence of a truly indigenous subgenre.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic