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Found in translation

Irish language singer songwriter Róisín Seoighe told David Hennessy about the forthcoming Manchester Irish Language Arts Festival, bringing Irish language music as far away as the Netherlands and touring with Mary McAleese and The Chieftains.

Singer songwriter Róisín Seoighe will be coming to Manchester to launch the Irish Language Festival this week.

The festivities get underway at 8pm on Friday 29 September with a gig featuring Róisín and the collective IMLÉ. Róisín is known for sean nós singing and dancing and her music mixes different genres from pop and folk to traditional music.

From Rossaveal in the Gaeltacht region of Connemara, Róisín has won many titles at Oireachtas na Gaeilge. In 2019, she was also chosen as the first Gaeltacht Ambassador for Culture Night, which she said was a “great honour”.

Róisín will be joined by two more members of the musical collective IMLÉ which was founded by producer & musician Cian Mac Cárthaigh in 2016. IMLÉ sing and rap in Irish.

That’s amazing to me really that there’s a community now, an international community that show a lot of interest in the Irish language.

Their second album FÁILTE ISTEACH sees Mac Cárthaigh working with an eclectic group of musicians which also includes MC Muipéad, Ríona Sally Hartman, Fergal Moloney and Dave Hingerty, with production from Karl Odlum and Darragh Nolan as well remixes by Ross Whyte and Odlum.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Róisín told The Irish World of the upcoming gig. “I have some family over there. My grandfather was living in Manchester for a while but I never really got to go see it properly so I’m really looking forward to it.”

This will be a special stripped back set in Salford with Róisín and Cian being joined by guitarist Neil Ó Briain from Cork. The gig will take place at a secret location to be announced to ticket holders 24 hours before the event.

It will also be followed by a pop-up Gaeltacht. “It will be interesting to see how it goes. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”

Róisín and IMLÉ began working and writing together in 2019 and 2023 has already been a busy year for them. They have been writing and recording an EP together but as well as that have found time for live performances in Ireland and abroad.

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Highlights so far in 2023 include their first ever concert in London at The Tileyard Gallery, a live performance on Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1, a sold-out show in the Sugar Club at Gael Linn’s 70th Anniversary Concert, a concert at the St. Patricks Day Festival in Colins Barracks and their first ever concert in the Netherlands to a packed audience at the legendary TivoliVrendburg theatre in Utrecht.

Your work with the IMLÉ collective has obviously been productive, how did you start working with them?

“I guess it started right before COVID. They were working on their album so Cian Mac Cárthaigh got in contact with me.

“Himself and Pádraig Ó Conghaile, who is a rapper from Connemara, had a song they wanted me to listen to and see if I’d come up with anything to add so they had the full song of Do Chuid Jeans and they wanted me to add the middle eight section.

“I did that. I went up to Dublin and recorded with them and they were very happy with it. And I said I had my own ideas for a song called ÉAD. And they were happy enough to record that and Pádraig added a verse to it also. That’s kind of how it began.”

Cian Mac Cárthaigh
What is the song ÉAD (Jealously) about?

“Originally I wanted to have it as like a conversation between a man and woman and that’s why we brought in Pádraig to do one of the verses on it. It’s a song about wanting to have the right person, but they’re not there.

“The right person is out there, but you have to find them. The two people are kind of trying to find each other, but they haven’t yet. That’s the meaning of it. I just like the groove of it, the sound of it.

“A lot of times I kind of prefer to focus a lot on the sound and the words kind of just fall into place when whatever sounds good.”

With the Oscar-nominated film An Cailín Ciúin, Irish language rappers Kneecap and various other things, the Irish language has been enjoying something of a resurgence in recent years.

What has that been like to see?

“It’s very exciting. I think it’s unbelievable to me in a way because we went to London the beginning of the year and we went to Holland a few weeks ago and there’s just so much interest in the songs.

“I remember when we went to Holland I was kind of thinking to myself, ‘How do they know the lyrics? How do they know Irish here?’ It’s crazy to me how popular it’s gotten and how many students would go and study the language in different countries.

“That’s amazing to me really that there’s a community now, an international community that show a lot of interest in the Irish language.

“It’s very exciting for us to be able to create music, pop music or hip hop music, as gaeilge and that people would join in and understand or have an interest in that too so that’s very cool.”

Pádraig Ó Conghaile.
Tell us more about that London gig. What was the reception you got there?

“Very cool. There was a lot of people at the gig that, again, just knew the lyrics and to see people in the crowd singing the lyrics back, I think that was the most amazing part: The fact that they would know the songs or understand what we were saying at all was very cool.

“And after the London gig, we were saying we’d love to do another gig somewhere in the UK and we’re just delighted now to be able to play again in Manchester.”

You mentioned the Netherlands gig as well, what was that like?

“Yeah, it was really cool. There was a lot of Dutch people there. A few Irish people but mostly Dutch people.

“And there was a lot of students there, there were Dutch people that were studying Irish in college over there and It was just very, very cool to see how far the language has travelled from Connemara, because I think a lot of people in Ireland maybe think that it’s not a language that has any use but it does because internationally, when you go to those places and you see people that are learning it and showing interest and showing interest in the new songs that we’re creating, it’s very cool.

“And I think that was the most shocking. London was surprising also but I think Holland definitely and Dutch people showing an interest was just very cool.”

Obviously you decided to write and perform in Irish because it’s something you’re passionate about but you couldn’t have foreseen such a resurgence for it, could you?.

“Yeah, it’s interesting. I think with me, it was a natural thing. I kind of started out writing in English but everyone else was writing songs in English.

“I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m fluent in Irish, why don’t I try it and see if people would like it or if it would be a thing?’ And obviously, I discovered other bands like IMLÉ and Kíla and other kind of acts that were writing their songs in Irish.

“It kind of happened organically in the beginning. I never thought of it in an international way until we went there and you see people show an interest. I was fluent and I just decided to try it and see if people would like it and thankfully people do so it’s nice.”

We also have Belfast Irish language rappers Kneecap who you have worked with yourself..

“It’s really exciting.Kneecap are doing brilliant things now. They’re great and we’ve worked on a song together as well which is out now too so they’re very cool. And It’s something that we need, I think. And why not? They are fluent speakers and we should have that kind of music provided to a younger audience as well.

“I hope to work with them again maybe in the future.”

Róisín and Kneecap combine on the track I measc na laochra (Amongst the Warriors) which featured on Lorna Balfe’s album, Book Of The Bard, an album inspired by Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

Dungeons and Dragons is an iconic thing and the film’s cast includes Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Hugh Grant and Bradley Cooper.

Was it a bit surreal?

“Yeah, it was very surreal at the time and very cool that they wanted a track in Irish and that they showed an interest in Irish language artists such as myself and Kneecap. We were always talking about working together before in the past and it just never came about. But it was very cool, honoured, to be asked to do it.”

Have you ever been into video games yourself?

“Not so much but I did know of Dungeons and Dragons. And, of course, the cast was very impressive. I was very, very honoured to be asked to work on the track with them (Kneecap).”

You didn’t get to hang out with any of the famous faces in the cast, did you?

“Unfortunately not. It would have been cool but no.”

In terms of live performance, what’s even been a highlight for you so far?

“Definitely the one in the Netherlands. I think that really stood out to me the most. Yeah, I’ve enjoyed all the gigs really. I just love performing. I’m not happy unless I’m performing in front of some kind of a crowd.

“So yeah, I think the one in the Netherlands definitely was just unbelievable how they knew the songs and they understood our language and our music.”

What has been a highlight in terms of meeting famous people and playing for them?

“Back when I was younger when I was in school, I wrote a song in English and it was kind of a competition but it was with Damien Dempsey. It was great to get recognition from him on my songwriting because he’s such a great songwriter himself. I think Damien Dempsey would be a big one for me definitely.”

I found a video of you performing Íosa (Jesus), an Irish language song written by the late Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries in tribute to her.

“Yeah, it was around the time that she passed away and I was trying to think were there any songs in Irish that she wrote. Because her voice was just unbelievable. There was something so Celtic about it. I always thought it would be great to know if she had any songs in Irish because I felt her voice just suited the language.

“I was looking and I found a song that she wrote in the beginning, I think before they became big, called Íosa and it was in Irish so I said I’d see if I could do a rendition of it in tribute to her. It was cool to find it because I didn’t think that she had any songs in Irish.”

Dolores is definitely an icon and we have just lost another Irish female great, haven’t we?

“Definitely, Sinead O’Connor is just an icon. I love how she just stood up for womens’ rights and stood up for herself. She always went against the system and I really respect that in a lot of ways.

“And, of course, her voice. I don’t think we’ll ever find anybody that will have a voice like she had, so powerful. She’s a hero really and we’ve lost a hero with her. She was just something else.”

What other  interests do you have? What do you do when you’re not writing or performing?

“I like literature a lot and I’m teaching literature now in the college to diploma level students. Music is my main passion. I play trad music as well as the pop music.

“I like sailing too. My father was a sailor so we like to go sailing also when the weather’s nice.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Róisín likes to sail.

She is a granddaughter of one of the famous Rowers Seoighe Inish Bearachain, a team of rowers that shot to fame in 1950s Ireland.

Róisín may not have visited Manchester before but she has at least passed through it before in illustrious company.

“We were on tour with The Chieftains when I was very young, I might have been eight or nine. I think we passed through Manchester for that. We were on a tour with the President of Ireland at the time Mary McAleese and we had done a few performances in the Áras an Uachtaráin and we went then to Liverpool after that.

“I think we did pass through Manchester at that time but I never got to really see the place so it’d be nice to get to actually see it properly. Have a gig and create memories, you know?”

Did I hear that right? You were touring with The Chieftains and President Mary McAleese?

“Yeah, she came to Connemara when I was young and I’m a dancer as well. I do the sean nós dancing and I think I danced for her when she came to Carraroe and that’s where that kind of started. I was dancing then with The Chieftains and I was brought as one of the acts for various performances and events so that was pretty cool. They [The Chieftains] were always very nice, kind to me.

“I do remember singing in St. George’s Hall and performing there [but] I don’t remember everything very well. I was very small at the time.”

Even if you can’t remember them that well, they must be great memories to have…

“Yeah. It’s kind of one of my first kind of proper memories. It was very cool.”

Róisín Seoighe and IMLÉ perform at 8pm on Friday 29 September.
The gig will take place at a secret location, to be announced to ticket holders 24 hours before the event.
The gig will be followed by a pop-up Gaeltacht.
Manchester Irish Language Arts Festival continues with events into October.
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