- 10 Feb 20
Sinéad Gleeson and Gary Sheehan curate an incredible evening for women in the arts at Dublin's National Concert Hall.
I’m often asked why I chose to move to Ireland. Especially as a Canadian, when so many Irish people find themselves escaping to Toronto or Vancouver. My typical response – "for the craic" – while not untrue, is an oversimplification. The multitude of reasons are actually best summed up by the event that took place last night in the National Concert Hall – "Imagining Ireland: Speaking Up, Singing Louder".
Entering the NCH, the feminine energy is palpable. After an introduction, Kate Ellis takes the stage to perform a cello solo that harkens back to deep Celtic roots I find myself wishing I had.
Sarah Moss, her English drawl sticking out like a sore thumb the moment she begins to speak, delivers a personal essay about moving to Ireland, and I feel understood. We both "imagined Ireland", before packing up house and home to be here. We both had little more than the experience of family holidays to inform our decision, along with perhaps the notion that the Ireland of the last decade is much more forward-moving than other parts of the world, or indeed more so than an Ireland of the previous sixty to one hundred years.
Sorcha Richardson enters solemnly to play a couple tunes from her stunning album First Prize Bravery, before giving the stage to SOAK, who closes out the first act with a string of energetic songs from Grim Town.
In the second act, Radie Peat’s haunting rendition of Maija Sofia’s 'The Wife of Michael Cleary' turns every head; you can hear a pin drop. “I’m a big fan of murder ballads,” she says, “but I don’t like that it’s always the man killing the woman. So here’s one about the woman killing the man. I’m not condoning murder though,” she finishes before launching into 'Henry Lee', a twisted feminist murder ballad.
Further exploring the motif of female madness is Lisa O’Neill, who sings her song ‘Violet Gibson’. With a heavy strum of her guitar, she tells the story of the Irish woman who tried to shoot Benito Mussolini. As a result, Violet spent the rest of her life in a mental institution. “I didn’t shoot to skim the skin of his snout / or his teeth, or the lips on his mouth / I simply saw a bad egg and I thought / I'd take the bad egg out,” she sings in her throaty warble, to chuckles and cheers alike. It strikes me here that Irish people have a similar oratory culture to the First Nations tribes of Canada.
Still, there are moments of rage imbued in the evening. Caelainn Hogan’s reading from her shocking book Republic of Shame, a nonfiction work whose ethos is to give voice to survivors of mother and baby homes across the nation, is followed by an electro-classical quartet that ripples tension throughout the auditorium. Denise Chaila's powerful spoken word "Isn't Dinner Nice?" is peppered with anxious inhales. We are not here to skim over Ireland’s complicated legacy, but we are here to help each other heal from it.
"Imagining Ireland" brought together all of the things I love about this country, aside from its music and literature; Ireland’s artists have long had an intense compassion, an ability to feel the plights of other nations as well as their own. I love the camaraderie, the acceptance, the ability to look in the mirror and question what might be wrong with your country – you’ll find no blind patriotism in this room. Most of all, I love Ireland’s capacity for change and reinvention. As the general election results pour in on phones checked in the interval, I realise that this is Ireland at its most arresting: full of people sharing in the good, bad and ugly, and trying to turn it into something enduring and beautiful.