Pop songs as Gaeilge can be more than direct translations of English tracks, says Exiles’ Jack O’Flaherty
Several high profile Irish and international pop artists have recorded tracks in the Irish language in recent years, raising awareness among music lovers at home and beyond.
RTE’s Ceol 2018 album featured many homegrown artists singing Irish translations of their own tracks as well as American stars Macklemore and Wheatus singing as Gaeilge. Adopted Irishman Ed Sheeran previously recorded a stunning version of his hit Thinking Out Loud in Irish for Eoghan McDermott’s RTE 2FM show. The Irish language has never been championed quite so loudly through pop music.
Exiles singer and passionate Gaelgoir Jack O’Flaherty is enjoying the resurgence but he believes artists can go even further when working with Irish. He commends endeavours like Ceol for raising awareness of the language, but he feels artists can do more than learn, sometimes phonetically, direct English to Irish translations of songs which are then championed as Gaeilge.
“With all due respect to Macklemore and Ed Sheeran I wouldn't like to ask them what they’re singing about because I don’t think they could tell you!” he says. “They’re fantastic artists but I think it kind of takes away from the integrity of Irish people taking ownership of their national language for people to learn it phonetically.”
Jack (24) has rewritten all of Exiles’ tracks in Irish including Red Lights and their most recent release Rearview Mirror (Fagtha chun deiridh). He and fellow Exiles bandmate Darragh O’Connor performed them live at An Puball Gaeilge at Electric Picnic last summer – to rapturous applause.
What Exiles are doing, he says, is very different from a direct English to Irish translation. It’s about the process of creating a song organically through the Irish language from scratch.
“They’re original compositions, original songs, but with the same air and melody as the songs in English. But they’re their own story as well, a different story. We didn’t want to do direct translations, we wanted to write a pop song in Irish that doesn’t have an English equivalent so to speak,” he explains.
“So, it’s its own thing. It isn’t an Irish version of something else. The way we wanted to work was to do something that was genuine and something that was inherently Irish in its origin and its realization without being a translation of something else or an existing English song.”
Although his approach is different, Jack also values the approach of endeavours like Ceol.
He says they “have a huge platform, they get the album out to every school in Ireland and get it on the radio and people get an experience of Irish they wouldn’t have otherwise had. That’s fantastic and I’m completely behind that, and what we’re doing isn’t better, we’re just doing something different.
"What they’re doing is raising awareness of Gaeilge. Our thing is a realization of an artistic idea as Gaeilge.”
He hopes to see more bands follow suit with his approach, however. As a primary school teacher in training he knows that simply translating from English to Irish is one of the least enjoyable aspects of the language for kids. It's the same for adults.
“It’s something really good to try and it makes the language come alive. It isn’t until people are creating and improvising in the language that it’s alive. Otherwise it’s like Irish homework – translating – and it shouldn’t be like homework,” he says.
He describes the process of creating from scratch in the language as “great craic” even for those who might be worried about their fluency or ‘getting it wrong’.
“People are scared of it and I understand that people have had bad experiences of Irish - I’ve had bad experiences of Irish, but I’ve also had some of the best experiences as Gaeilge,” he reveals.
“Nobody is going to tell you the grammar is wrong or there’s no Irish word for this or that. There are English words thrown in here and there and you’re creating something new. It is whatever you make it.”
Exiles have just launched their new single, Rearview Mirror, at Whelan’s and will soon announce a series of summer dates.