I went to see The Gloaming for the second time last night. It was their sixth concert in a week in the National Concert Hall, every one packed, every one ending with rapturous standing ovations.

Both times I’ve seen them it’s been an intense, reflective and deeply emotional couple of hours. It’s a sense shared by others I’ve spoken to who’ve seen them, as is the slight confusion about what it is causes such powerful attraction to their music.

For those who haven’t come across them, The Gloaming are a traditional ensemble of sorts, combining the song and music of such traditional stalwarts as Martin Hayes, with the otherworldly fiddle creations of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, strained traditional Sean Nós singing and impossible-to-pin-down dissonant piano compositions from an American-accented eccentric with no discernible knowledge of Irish traditional music.

If somebody described a band to me in those words, I’d probably fairly dismissively respond ‘Oh so they’re some sort of fusion like Afro-Celt Soundsystem or Kíla?’ – but, somehow, everyone agrees, The Gloaming’s music is far, far more powerful than just that.

Throughout the concert, I sat in silence, listening, and trying to figure what is it that goes to my bones about their style – what lifts the audience in the National Concert Hall night after night, and has us all emerge onto Earlsfort Terrace gleaming at one another to have shared such a moving experience?

Its impossible to attempt an answer without setting Irish music, the familiar drumming guitars, the Kerry slides that have sounded familiar since I could barely walk, in the far, far broader history of this country we have built this past 100 years.

At a trad session in a corner of a pub, there is no audience, no stage, no silence or applause. The musicians face into one another, more keen to appreciate each other’s rhythm than be appreciated by those who are listening. Other musicians, those who know the code at least, will sit nearby, calmly waiting to be called upon for a tune – never setting a foot forward before being asked, but with an instrument discreetly hidden beneath a bar stool in the knowledge that space would open up eventually. At some point, a song will begin, and the bar will hush, and those confused tourists who could not understand why the idle chatter had continued above the music, are even more confused as to how, suddenly, everyone knows to pause.

All this is so deeply familiar to us, that we don’t even know what it is in order to explain it. Custom and tradition, by its very nature, is never actively sought out or selected. It is the part of our aesthetic surroundings that we never choose. It was here before us and will outlive us.

So when Iarla Ó Lionaird’s eerie Sean Nós eases into a reel from Martin Hayes, the audience in the concert hall understands that although we may never have hard these specific notes before, the music is part of the unchosen weight of our history.

At times, and we feel this as we listen, that weight of history – whether in traditional music or in Cathleen ní Houlihan, or in the hurling match on a Sunday afternoon – that weight of history feels bound up in the things which have held us back from building a stronger society. Rome and DeValera’s unrelenting Catholic nationalism were able to rule us for a century and more, often because our feet had become stuck in the mud of romantic, rigid history and tradition. The fiddle, the dancing shoes, the cross and the hurl became bound up in the horrors of Tuam, the Kerry babies, Ann Lovett. Historical tradition demanded conformity. And conformity always benefitted those in charge.

So sometimes we hear the Kerry slide and we want to reject our heritage, and yet it cannot be rejected. We cannot rid our society of all its guiding rules, customs, ways of seeing and being, and in any case we know that the new ways of seeing and being – the entrepreneur, the market, the cut throat killer instinct – are no less rigid than the old. That tension makes us feel unrooted, unstable.

And then, just as the deep familiarity of Martin Hayes’ reels and slides begins to sink beneath the weight of rigid history, just then it is pulled into an unexpected turn. Effortlessly, the dissonant chords of an eccentric piano lift a tune, born from the deepest reaches of Irish myth, out of the mud of history and into a fully-formed twenty first century life.

Suddenly, the weight of history is no longer the thing that pulls us back, but the thing that grounds us.

It grounds us against the onslaught of ads, brochures, the entrepreneurial narrative that tells us that if we lose our home its our fault, that its our fault our health service is chaotic, our fault we polluted the air and poisoned the fish, and if only our children had been taught to be self-starting, risk-taking entrepreneurs in school, we wouldn’t all be in this mess.

It grounds us against accepting that these are our only options – the dead hand of Catholic nationalism or the murdering hand of the free market.

The weight of our history grounds us against that onslaught that wants us to believe we have no human soul, that there is no community.

When The Gloaming seamlessly fuse our most basic traditional rhythms into the new, the unexpected, the vibrant and the creative, it gives us hope that we too can use our history not as mud to hold us down, but as roots from which a socialist republic can be born.



Frankie, you’ve been on my mind the last few weeks.

Before then, your sickness was on my mind, or your death was on my mind.

Now, you are, and we, together, our future – we are on my mind.

I don’t really have any special insights or things that are thoughtful to say. It’s all just fragments. But I’m so scared of losing the fragments, so I’ll leave them here a while.

First of all I started remembering you. I remembered us meeting first, I was so late running across town and when I saw you, you were in your leather jacket and looking just so dapper and handsome, and you said “Alright” as you do. I thought you’d take one look at me, have one sneaky drink, and hit the road. I’m not a leather-jacket-guy kind of girl.

Of course we ended up rowing then, me shouting after a beer too many about the evils of anarchism, and you defending yourself but enjoying it, and cocking an eyebrow once in a while for a carefully directed jibe in between my ranting. It’s so hard to know why we fell into each other, then, but we did. A combination of boozy romance-goggles, a shared understanding of the role of Russia in the world, a stupid nerdy sense of humour, and being able to talk about cats and dogs and their intricacies and personalities for hours on end. Nothing glamorous anyhow.

What did I fall for?

I fell for you feeding my cats, casually, in the morning, the first night you stayed in my house. I loved how you squeezed your arm tighter around my shoulders when I laughed a particularly raucous laugh at some stupid joke on TV. Gradually I learned to expect small, calm, reassurances from you, when I panicked about my own value, what I could or couldn’t do, with you or in work or anywhere else, and even more gradually I started to settle into an understanding that you weren’t going to run away from my madness.

I fell for the pride you took in your work. One morning when I thought you had left, you came back over to my door and knocked to call me across to your car, and you took out a beautiful, tiny, miniature expandable dining table – a model you had made for class. I was so impressed, and you couldn’t keep the look of pride off your cynical boarded up face.

I took great pride in being able to raise the corner of your cynical mouth upward a little, with a corny joke or a silly story. I’m not sure I ever made you laugh, but you took pride in being the only one who could make you laugh – after all you were the funniest man in the room, naturally.

We pulled apart for a bit, because you were too laid back and I was too up tight and neither of us could quite get it together, but we missed one another and didn’t stay separate long.

All the same it broke both our hearts that we didn’t quite get it right before you got really sick. For me, it would have been better to know you wanted me whether you were sick or healthy. For you, you wanted the certainty of knowing I was there for more than guilt.

Of course I was. The day I walked down the corridor towards you after you met the doctor and heard all the news. I saw you across the room reading some comic I’d brought earlier that day, looking as if a rock hadn’t hit you from the sky. I stayed because I loved you, I love you, I love you Frankie.

You told me what the doctor had said – stage 4, inoperable. You told me “Don’t get upset, because if you get upset then I’ll get upset.” You said it again the day you fell asleep for the last time, and so many times in between. I’m still upset I’m afraid. But you’re not, anymore.

So that’s what I remember. Tiny silly things. Breaking my heart more than the trips to chemo, more than refilling your pill box, more than trying to make you drink more water, more than the last time we walked into the hospital and we had to get a wheelchair for you, but we told ourselves it was just because you had done too much the previous day.

Remembering the time you fed my cats without asking and me realising you were a good and decent man, that you would have been a good and decent father – remembering that is more heartbreaking than any of that bad stuff.

I’m not a strong person. People think I am, but I’m not. I worry, incessantly. I worry you were it, for me. I worry I’ll miss you every time I’m with another man. I worry that, had you never gotten sick, we’d never have learned how to fall in love.

Mostly I worry that I’ll never stop feeling sad.

I lost a little bit of what gave me strength, too. I saw you face the most difficult of news, and not resort to a God you didn’t believe in, and I felt I had to leave behind the God I don’t believe in, once and for all, as well. So writing, to “you,” I know you wouldn’t approve. Because you are gone. You’re not watching over me, you’re not here to guide me.

If I’m honest, sometimes I’m angry you left me here. But if I’m to stay, at least my soul is a little more at peace with the world than it was before I knew you. I wish I had some great lesson to take from all this, some parable or some meaning. There is none. That’s the hardest part – enormous things, things that crash into you like a train barreling full force down the tracks – they are supposed to have meanings. This has no meaning.

I learned from you, though, and I try to keep your voice that taught me, with me. When the world feels like it’s attacking me, you calm me, still, with your little reassurances. “Do you respect them? No? Then why are you listening to what they say?”

You’ve been on my mind so much, the last few weeks. I decided I’m going to let you be there, let myself be with you, just for a few weeks yet. I’ll spend your 40th with you on my mind, I might watch Star Wars, or maybe I won’t, I’ll think how much I would have enjoyed forcing Christmas cheer on you, Grinch. You’d prefer if I took a more hardline approach – moved on, took care of myself, didn’t think about memories. But I think I’ll hang on to you a little while all the same.

Love, Éilis x