An Spailpín felt very old and very sad when he read about Áine Ní Dhroighneáin’s participation in RTÉ’s rotten “talent” competition, Celebrity You’re a Star, in this morning’s Irish Independent.
Twelve years ago, Áine Ní Dhroighneáin used to sing on Sunday nights in Monroe’s Tavern in Galway with three friends – Breandán Ó hEadhra, who used also play the guitar in the same fashion as Oscar Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff played the piano – not well, but with great feeling – and two other girls, one named Marie and one almost certainly called Bernie, but An Spailpín can’t be sure. It is, after all, a long time ago.
They may even have had a name for their group, but I can’t quite recall. Breandán’s party piece was The Seven Drunken Nights, featuring guest verses from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Surreal and reasonably hilarious but, as in ABBA, the girls were the stars of the show. I remember they rustled feathers among the politicised of their admirers with their insistence on singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, which had recently been appropriated as the anthem of English rugby, but their showstopper was I am Stretched on Your Grave, from the 17th Century poem in Irish, Táim Sínte ar do Thuama. First Áine would sing solo:
I am stretched on your grave
And I'll lie here forever.
If your hands were in mine,
I'd be sure they would not sever.
Heavy stuff, but then the other girls would come in on the harmony, and blow the crowd away:
My apple tree, my brightness,
It's time we were together,
For I smell of the earth
And I'm worn by the weather.
Impossible to replicate in prose of course, but you may take An Spailpín Fánach’s word for it that a strange and chill wind used blow through Monroe’s on those Sunday nights when those three girls sang I am Stretched on Your Grave, all the way from the wild and dark Atlantic, across bleak Conamara and through the old medieval streets of Galway. Maybe those strange sprites that used sing Port na bPúcaí down the chimneys on the Great Blasket sent it – who knows, but An Spailpín still remembers that feeling.
I don’t know if Miss Ní Dhroighneáin herself remembers it, and I doubt it. The residency didn’t last long, the exams came quickly after and I never heard of any of them singing again. But even one evening, half-cut in Monroe’s Tavern as a student singing for beer money, was worth more and is more worthy than Áine Ní Dhroighneáin’s participation in this hideous freak show masquerading as a talent contest. You’re a Star is a succinct summary of all that is wretched and worthless in contemporary Celtic Tiger, Bouncy Castle, Up-to-our-lugs in debt modern Ireland, and if ill-chance should see a recording of that awful show survive for a future age, those who inherit this place after us will have no further need of any more time capsules to explain how Ireland lost her soul.
Áine Ní Dhroighneáin is putting herself forward to be judged by a goon squad who aren’t fit to lace her drinks. We only knew each other to say hello to but I remember those nights in Monroe’s and I’m begging you Áine, please don’t do it. It’s beneath you.
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