United in music and lost in the tunes

A Letter from Ireland

a Chara,

I have a confession to make. Last week and most of this week I’ve been in Belfast working and attending events as part of Féile an Phobail. But I also see other festivals.

At the weekend I sneaked out of Belfast and headed down to Waterford for the All Together Now Festival. A celebration of music and arts with the added exciting gamble of camping for three days in the Irish “summer”.

Music is highly personal. We listen mostly on our own. Singing along in the car to shorten the journey. Walking the streets with headphones curating our own soundtrack.

The tunes, songs, and singers become our friends.

Last week Sinead O’Connor died. I never met her but had seen her live twice and knew her songs. Her first albums were part of the soundtrack to my time in college. But her passing had an effect across Ireland. We all shared a personal connection with her music, her defiance, and her vulnerability. We will never again witness her sing again.

For me, live music is so important. It is that moment when our personal connection becomes a shared experience. We are not alone. We are part of something bigger a shared joy or a common pain. Standing arms raised high, defiant or in joy, singing and dancing our cares away.

There was plenty of singing and dancing last weekend. It was my annual reminder that as I get older, the recovery time gets longer. There were big-name dance music acts.

Billy Bragg sang of the hope of “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward”. Iggy Pop stalked the stage with a raw power that could have lit up Ireland. The RTE Orchestra and Max Richter playing in a tent full of ravers. I swear someone shouted “Tune” as they played “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

What stood out most was the quality and diversity of the Irish music scene. There was dance, rap, R&B and indie punk (shout out to Sprints).

What was noticeable was the trad and folk. A new generation is taking it and shaping it to their time.

Lankum sounded a thousand years old, a gothic take on trials of today’s Ireland. The Scratch played a hybrid of trad, folk and metal. A new take on Celtic punk and is just as intense. On a stage in the woods, Jiggy played traditional tunes like it was a rave.

Everywhere there were sessions and singers. It was a new generation taking the music and making it their own.

It was exhilarating. That magic moment when a beat drops, the tune shifts a gear and suddenly you are carried away on a wave of music. In the hands of this generation, traditional music is thriving.

I am now back in West Belfast. When I was growing up, August would be marked by conflict, rioting, and injury to mostly young people.

Last night the Féile held a free dance music night for young people. I followed online. I know my limits. Ten thousand young people from across Belfast attended. For many, it may well have been their first big gig. United in music and lost in the tunes, they danced and they sang. It is their time.

Have a great weekend and take the time to listen to some music, have a dance, and share a song.

Is mise,


Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.