Good music, bad signposts, fine rain


It is six years since singer, songwriter and Oscar-winner Markéta Irglova first came to Ireland. It felt like a homecoming then, but what does she think of her adopted land now?

THE FIRST TIME I came to Ireland was when I was 15, about six years ago. It was the first trip I made on my own, without my parents. I came into Dublin on an evening flight, so I couldn’t see Ireland, I could only see this vague space below me in the darkness. Yet there was still a sense of homecoming. It was an irrational thing, an emotional feeling. I was going somewhere I’d never been before, but feeling like I’d been there before.

I’ve been coming and going to Ireland ever since, with the band. This is where I live now when I’m not touring. The wind has blown me over to Wexford. I live in Kilmuckridge, a very small place. My house is a short walk from a beautiful sand beach, where I go for swims every day.

Although Ireland’s been a Catholic country for a long time, there is still the sense of a pagan culture here. I love the land and the energy I feel there. There’s great belief here in magic, and people still believe in fairies. Sometimes when music is being played, something special seems to be happening, and I think it’s almost like the fairies are there. I think it’s essential to believe in magic; I don’t think it’s something that should be reserved for children. Who do I know who believes in fairies? Loads of people. Glen definitely believes in them.

One thing I’ve found is that the Irish sometimes find it hard to communicate. My experience with Irish people is if they don’t talk about something, they hope it will just disappear. They kind of go. ‘Ah, sure, it’s all right.’ You can hear in their voice that it’s not all right and sometimes you can sense it off them. Maybe they feel under pressure to put on that cheerful front, even if they don’t feel like that. I think Irish people are very good at complaining about things, but actually being proactive about solutions and having straightforward conversations, no, they don’t do that. I find that frustrating at times.

I find that the women here are really, really strong. Very opinionated and strong-headed and very able. I think that’s great. I’ve met so many Irish women who have just blown me away.

Maybe it’s more the men I’m talking about when I say there are communication problems. Irish men are incredibly impractical a lot of the times. Like with money. Obviously there’s a big drinking tradition here, which I don’t think does any nation any good. Maybe that’s kind of connected to the communication block thing. I definitely can see a connection between the two.

Sometimes I think it’s a challenge for Irish people to see the bigger picture because they are always living in the moment. But I think it’s a great quality, really refreshing. Americans always say the Irish are great for partying with, because they really do just immerse themselves in the moment and follow their bliss. I think that’s a mantra of a lot of people here: making the most of every moment.

My favourite part of Ireland is Kerry. I’ve hung out around Dunquin and Dingle a bit. I love listening to the Irish being spoken there, and I’ll learn to speak it one day, it’s definitely one of my goals. For me, the whole west coast is amazing. I drove through the Healy Pass for the first time the other day, and it was like something out of Lord of the Rings.

One of the things I love about the west coast is the way when you’re standing on a beach and you’re looking out to sea, knowing that you’re looking at the exact same view that people have been looking at for hundreds of years.

You have to be patient with the roadsigns. I know that from experience. You’re driving, trying to find a little town, and you follow the road signs and everything is okay and then you hit a junction and there is no sign whatsoever and you go around in circles for hours. Or else you see a sign for a town and it says it’s 11km away and then you travel 3km and the next sign says its 11½km away. I find it hilarious. I know it can be infuriating when you’re trying to hurry someplace, but in a way it is also endearing.

The next places I want to spend some time in are Connemara, Clare and Mayo. I’d love to spend some time in Donegal too. I’ve heard it’s a beautiful place but all I know about it are the jumpers. They’re nice, those woolly jumpers. I’m only interested in being near the sea. I wouldn’t have any interest in being inland, in the midlands. There is no coastline in the Czech Republic, so I always want to see the sea – and eat as much fish and chips as I can. That’s my favourite food here. Fish and chips with vinegar.

Irish radio is very cool. It’s one of the things we don’t have at home. There’s great music and always important issues being discussed. I love the way the whole country gets involved in mad radio discussions.

I love walking. In the Czech Republic you can walk for hours without crossing the road or having to be on a road. A lot of land in the Czech Republic is owned by the state and people are allowed to walk through it. Here, it’s much more of a challenge to not walk on the main road. So much of the land is private, or there are no rights of way. And you can’t really walk on the main road either – I find people in cars are almost annoyed with you for having to avoid you. So I miss the freedom of being able to walk across the land without having to worry about intruding on someone’s space, or you can walk this far and you’re stopped by a hedge. That’s been very frustrating for me.

What I really don’t like is how expensive everything is. It’s common knowledge within Europe that Ireland is very expensive. It’s unfortunate really, because it’s kind of taking the piss out of itself. Everything is expensive. Even a pint in a pub is crazy expensive compared to home. There’s nothing I’d buy here I couldn’t buy cheaper at home.

I don’t mind the rain. It doesn’t stop me being outdoors, I kind of embrace it. I think a lot of the art here comes from the fact that people down the years have been spending a lot of time indoors. So while it’s lashing rain outside, people read and write and play guitar inside: quiet days with a pot of tea and the inspiration coming, when you’re in a place with an instrument or pen and paper. It’s very possible if it was always sunny here, people would be playing football outside and there would be no music at all.

(In conversation with Rosita Boland)

The Swell Season’s album Strict Joy is released on October 23rd