Love is in the Éire

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November 5th 2013 –

I’m always on the look out for interesting subject matters or song titles. Some hit makers might claim that it’s still all about ‘The Love’ and it’s just finding a fresh way to say those well-worn words! Can Irish men write love songs? If I’m to believe from all accounts that this is where the real dollars are made then the answer is yes.

This is something that has recently intrigued me. Coming from the Emerald Isle, where
love is rarely expressed by people outwardly and vocally. It’s a country built on quiet pragmatism and those who pride themselves on getting on with life.

I get the feeling that love is like an unsaid and unwritten emotion. People will identify that it exists but to say those three words over again almost cheapens the sentiment. This attitude is probably born from the hardened survival instincts and the stark demands of day-to-day living in rural Ireland, where emotions were kept in close check, quite the contrary to images portrayed in the gushing love songs of popular music.

This practical approach to living is perfectly expressed in an account I heard about a friend who, torn with the dilemma of not knowing what to get his grandmother for Christmas. Instead of surprising her with a collection of cute animal figurines, carved by the blind people of Donegal, he opted instead to order her a large supply of coal to see her through the winter! Yes, I know what you’re thinking; This, already sounds more like the lyrics of a country song than a ode to love.

Love in Ireland is generally associated with the kind of emotions that are etched on your granny’s face when she is making you a cup of tea and a nice cheese sandwich. Its not the passionate embrace which is depicted in the early Beatles songs or the power ballads of the 1980’s.

I can’t personally be accused of large displays of public affection or outrageous acts of romance myself. This is the person who proposed to his future wife beside Newry Canal, with a backdrop of broken Christmas lights and a half eaten burger from the local eating-house. It’s certainly not the kind of romance that the French crooner Charles Aznavour sang about.

Ireland is certainly not bereft of emotion and we are equal to our Latin or Gaelic cousins, in being described as a passionate and demonstrative nation. It’s just that we channel it in a different way. This show of raw emotion is very much in evidence when Ireland, take to the field in rugby Internationals or when we have a common hero to get behind. In this instance, the love is almost palpable. So why don’t we ‘J’taime’ like the French, or ‘Te quiero’ like the Spanish?

This stilted Irish attitude towards matters of the heart is very much routed in generations gone by, but what about ‘Modern Love’? (The kind David Bowie referred). Have we changed our attitudes from our parent’s generation? Nowadays, I think we communicate with each other in a very different way and this is reflected in compositions like Adele’s hit song ‘Someone like you’. “Maybe I’ll find someone like you”.. It’s a rather more selfish approach to expressing your love for someone, very much in keeping with the current self-absorbed, self-pitying youth of today.

Ireland and the UK have also appeared to subscribe to sickly, insincere Americanized lyrics, and not to mention the text speak of the iPhone generation. Are we just taking the short cut to love now, and is it that arduous to express yourself romantically these days? I often wonder what

Cole Porter who in the 1930’s was ‘dancing cheek to cheek’ would think of this modern lyrical stance on love and romance?

When it comes to Ireland’s take on ‘Cupids Arrow’, perhaps it is prudent to note that as a country, it has been somewhat steered by religious indoctrination and ‘to get down on it’ or ‘love to love you baby’, as was the order of the day by other nations of the time, 1970’s Ireland, was not entirely encouraged to follow suit by the religious establishment of God’s country. Was this fear of hellish retribution stunting our musical chops, or were we just not cool? If you’ve ever watched a series of Father Ted you might agree with the both.

Love, and contentious subjects like sexualty have been traditionally repressed in Irish Culture. It was however portrayed in vague double entendres and suggestive symbolism in some folk music. The filthy heathens! although it was rather too obscure to even notice, in most cases. Song’s like ‘the well below the valley’ by Planxty are a good reference to this.

Surely I must find some kind of foothold to scale the wall of Irish romance.
I have read articles about Irish men being ‘wonderful lovers’ and voted the ‘sexist men on the planet’, I may have just imagined these claims. Doesn’t every nation profess to these titles?
As an Irishman myself, I would be brave if somewhat foolish to subscribe to such incredulous notions, but I will happily keep the illusion alive as long as it’s humanly possible.

If I am to find a platform on which to contemplate love, and all it’s wondrous delights, and give voice to music and lyrics as a consequence, then I think I might sadly have to look elsewhere. It’s fair to say I won’t be mining into the emotional bedrock of Irish Romanticism too much in my songwriting career, but having said that, as a place, it will forever provide me with endless song material through it’s very distinctly humorous and bizarre approach to life.

One thing I can claim for sure, ‘the ladies dig the accent!’…Perhaps I ought to start singing with an Irish brogue too!

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