Fighting Irish – Irelands Greatest Export

Musicians are the first group to jump in and offer their services to support some amazing causes.

(lukas eggers

What happened to the Irish rebels? The songs of rebellion? Where did the fight go? All across Europe, members of our industry are protesting right now to prove that we are the only people capable of running safe and efficient events. These protests are beautiful. Carefully organised with taped 2metre squares, ensuring that all protestors are abiding by social media guidelines. Inside this box, they stand with their flight cases, for musicians everywhere. They are calling for support and I very much support this. #wemakeevents have been central in organising members of our industry across the world in protest. Allowing them the chance to show what they do and who they are. You may have seen the #LightitRed campaign that occurred recently, where venues all over the world lit up in red lights, to reflect how the industry is on red alert.

(Image: John Kernoghan – Belfast Live)

 So… where are our protests?

I had to Google it, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. From this search, the first link was to an RTE archive from 1983, the headline: “Irish Music Quota Demand – Irish musicians protest at poor airtime given to their music on Irish radio stations.” In this article, demonstrators warned that without a 40% output from home radio stations, the Irish music industry “faces extinction”. Some of the protestors that day included Ronnie Drew, Johnny McEvoy and Adam Clayton.

Each article that followed, was about how Irish music is the original protest music. How Irish music was the voice of rebellion and freedom. 

So… where are our protests?

Musicians are the first group to jump in and offer their services to support important causes. I’m not just talking about the big ones like Live Aid, how many benefits or charity events have you been to where live music has been performed? Where musicians stand on a stage and share their support of a cause that is so dear to them?

Who do we ask to come to sing for us? Who do we turn to, to join our cause and help us to raise awareness? Where are all the big, powerful people of our industry? Why aren’t they supporting what shaped their careers? 

Are we seriously content to sit back and watch our industry fall to ruin? To watch as it becomes a shadow of what it used to be? We should be outraged! We should be taking to the streets as a tribe with our na bodhráin agus cipíní, and demanding we be given our voices back. 

(Protestors march in Machester)

I am one person, but our industry is so many. Surely we can find a way to run safe gigs as a form of protest? Real-life, in-person gigs. A massive outlet has been ripped from thousands of people across the nation and with everything that is going on, each outlet is imperative for the survival of our spirit. 

Continuing on my aforementioned search, I found another protest in 2016. A sit-in at Leinster House, demanding that radios be legally required to give Irish music 40% airtime. Among those in attendance, yet again the Dubliners. From 1984 to 2016, the same few heads have been protesting to protect the future of Irish music. 

Why aren’t we protesting alongside them? We are so vast in number, from performers to stagehands, engineers to camera crew we have the numbers of a small army. Why are we not putting this to use? Why aren’t we uniting to have a giant floating stage in the Liffey, with speakers set up all across the city and running a non-stop marathon of music, demanding that we be heard? Demanding that we be taken seriously. Demanding that our country recognises its artists and supports them.

We import artists from all over the world, namely America when we have some of the most talented artists right here in our own country. You just don’t get to hear from them, because they don’t get the chance on prime time radio. They don’t get chosen for Irish advertisements or programming. Or if you do it’s only to the same few artists over one period of time. 

Our industry is massively controlled by forces beyond the scope of the average musician. If you’re smart you can play the game, but what fun is playing a rigged game? Why are we so shocked and appalled by the state of affairs currently befalling America and yet still funding its system? I have this theory that because so many of our ancestors emigrated to America during The Great Hunger, that we inherited this idea of the ‘American dream’. You can argue that we were not welcome in America with open arms. (No blacks, no dogs, no Irish)

True of course, however, neither you nor I experienced that kind of discrimination. Nor was it something quite as ingrained into you in your history lessons at school, as the idea of your ancestors managing to survive the horrific ordeal of the famine ships and arriving into Staten Island, marvelling in the magnificence of Lady Liberty herself.

There’s a secondhand patriotism that a lot of Irish people would not admit to, yet I have no doubt exists. If you pair this concept with our highly Americanised media consumption, it would not be hard to connect the dots and realise that we may just have dozed off for a bit with the rest of the dreamers. That’s okay, you usually wake up once you realise you’ve been dreaming. I have had more conversations with Irish people about American politics than I have our own politics. More Irish people listen to American and/or UK bands than Irish bands. 

(Billie Joe Armstrong)

The main problem with the umbrella term ‘Irish music’ is it is in general equated to traditional music, as a whole. Our roots as Irish people and as Irish musicians are definitely found within traditional music. Often when singing folk music, I find I hit the sweetest parts of my voice; I like to believe it comes from a sense of heritage. Our music as creative people is not traditional in any way, shape or form. A distinction between the two must be enforced in order to restructure the understanding of Irish music. There also needs to be substantial ease in the stigma surrounding our traditional music. Traditional music needs to be reintroduced to the mainstream and we need to be encouraged to remember and take pride in our heritage.

If there is a solution, we must make an effort to reach out to one another, to connect with and discuss the future of this industry. How is it that since 1983, there is still no established law requiring a quota of 40% Irish music? How is it that the same people who protested for our rights in 1983, did so again in 2016 and we did not stand alongside them? A bill calling for a 40% quota of Irish music on our radios was defeated in Dáil Éireann in 2016, proposed by Labour TD Willie Penrose.

In August 2019, the Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said that the move could be contrary to EU Law that “Any quota for airplay would be considered to restrict the free movement of services by placing music meeting certain criteria in a more advantaged position,” I’m sorry, what? Does this mean that now we’re in the EU, we now don’t have a right to regulate our own country’s music industry? I didn’t vote for that? Did you? Why don’t the people of Ireland have a say in what they consume?

Surely the artists that are proven millionaires are already in a more “advantaged position”, than the Irish artist scraping for airplay? There are so many holes in so many arguments, including my own. It is exhausting to even begin to try and fight for what’s right.

The #WeMakeEvents march in Manchester. Credit: Getty

Which leads me back to: Where are our protests? 

Are we already defeated? Is our silence and our complacency the problem? We used to stand for something, we used to be rebels, where has the fight gone? The argument of “Oh we don’t have it as bad…” is old and it’s tiring. We might not have it as bad. We have had it pretty bad for far too long. I am angry. I am furious and I don’t understand why everyone seems content to just wait and see. There won’t be an industry to see if we continue on this path. 

Enough is enough.


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