Kíla's Rossa Ó Snodaigh talks about his influences and looks to the future

Rossa Ó Snodaigh of Kíla tells Ellie O’Byrne about the music, books and other touchstones that have influenced him, from his mother tongue to the global village.

Kíla's Rossa Ó Snodaigh talks about his influences and looks to the future

Rossa Ó Snodaigh of Kíla tells Ellie O’Byrne about the music, books and other touchstones that have influenced him, from his mother tongue to the global village.

Whistle-player and percussionist Rossa Ó Snodaigh grew up the youngest of five brothers in an Irish-speaking household in Dublin.

His parents who were cultural influences in their own right: writer and publisher Pádraig Ó Snodaigh and sculptor Cliodhna Cussen.

Last year, Kíla, the eight-piece band he’s in with his brothers Colm and Rónán, celebrated 30 years of their distinctive world-music-infused Irish sound.

Their current tour takes in two dates in Cork this weekend.

Outside of his musical career, Ó Snodaigh has written three quirky Irish lexicons including Cliúsaíocht as Gaeilge (Making Out in Irish).

He’s the founder of Electric Picnic’s An Puball Gaeilge area, which he has programmed for 12 years.

A lifelong hurler, he played on the Leitrim senior hurling squad when he moved from Dublin to Manorhamilton with his wife, the filmmaker Róisín Loughrey, and their young family in the mid-Noughties.


“As a child, I asked my dad to buyme an album, and he bought me Chieftains 4. The disappointment was huge. I wanted a pop album. But it was all I had, so I put it on and little by little I came to enjoy it.

"Our record player was in the living room and there was a heater in there with an aluminium surround, so without me even knowing it, that was my first drum kit.

"I’d whack away on it, playing along to music.

"In the early Nineties, the pop era was dwindling and most of the shit on the radio was shockingly bad.

"We’d started Kíla at that stage and we were doing a lot of busking on the street. There was a lot of heartfelt songs and lyrics, a lot of truth, a real explosion of joy.

"Moving Hearts were a massive influence in terms of instrumentation and interpretation.

"Anything Donal Lunny did, really; we had his Emmett Spiceland single with ‘Báidín Fheidhlimi’ on it and we listened to that endlessly.

"We got the Bothy Band, Planxty, and then just when you think it can’t get any better, there was Moving Hearts; The Storm — all instrumental and it was mind-blowing.”


“Dee (Armstrong, Kíla fiddle player) said she’d heard about this festival called Womad in England. We went over on the boat and hitched to Reading at midnight.

"I came back with about four different instruments — I’d done all these workshops — I got to see these bands from all over the world.

"There were purists who thought accompaniment was diluting the expression of Irish music.

"Suddenly, I could see all these bands from around the world with drums, rock-style bass guitar: all these instruments were being absorbed and not only were they incredible players, but it made the expression of the music even better.

"It had a huge impact on me. That set Kíla on a different path entirely. Everyone else in the band was just as into it.

"I remember seeing Dancing at Lughnasa and at the end of the play, the scene where they finally defy their mother and dance, this girl got up in the audience and started dancing.

"An usher went and told her to sit down, and she got up again, and then the third time she got up, she started dancing with the bouncers and the place went crazy.

"It was this ‘f**k you, we’re going to dance’ moment. We’ve had that at gigs for years and it’s incredible to see.

"It makes me very emotional. I’d be naturally very anti-authoritarian. There was something within Irish music and Irish dancing that was hugely suppressed, not only from Catholicism but also within the media.

"There are all these bands making amazing music in Irish and they don’t get a look in. Someone said art and music are the weather forecast of the soul.

"Imagine if you woke up every day and went looking for the weather forecast on the radio and all you could get was the English or American weather forecast?

"We’re not getting the weather forecast of the Irish soul. We’re not reflecting ourselves to ourselves.”


“We didn’t get TV until I was seven. Fergus, my eldest brother, was into CB radio and he put up an aerial, so we got the BBC on the telly when I was about 11.

"We were huge consumers of pop music. Aengus would have us all writing down the pop charts from Top Of The Pops on TV on a Thursday night.

"My dad would come in and look at it and say, ‘An bhfuil fadhb ag mo dhuine?’ [Is there a problem with yer man?] because there’d be all these guys that he thought were dressed as girls.

Now, I watch news and current affairs, and then once you get into a show on Netflix, nothing else exists until you finish it, a bit like the way people used to get into books.

"We have two boys, 11 and 15. When the kids were small, the TV became more theirs than ours.

"I was very keen to get them watching TG4, and there are shows on all afternoon until about five and then there’s the news, but there’s basically no Irish on TG4 after nine o’clock now.

"It’s the only Irish-language TV station in the world, and there’s more in English on it than Irish!

"But really, for kids, telly doesn’t exist anymore: it’s all about the iPad.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen media-wise: are we the last generation to watch telly? RTÉ and TG4 will have to start competing.”


“In the ‘90s, I discovered I couldn’t do Hollywood films anymore. It was all who’s shooting who and who’s riding who, and it was boring as hell.

"I started going to the IFI to watch foreign films; it was great to see films that still had humanity and astonishing storytelling and depth to the characters.

"Then I met my wife. She was acting and then she studied film and her student movie won awards, so she did the festival circuit.

"She started programming the mobile cinema when we moved to Manorhamilton.

"My absolute all-time favourite film? Some stick with you; one was called A French Twist, a French film which was really clever and funny, and another was Denise Calls Up, which would have been considered arthouse in America.

"Now, it seems harder to get good foreign films and it all seems to be American and English stuff available on Netflix.”


“I’m a terrible reader; I fall asleep when I start reading because it takes me an awful long time to read. I do a lot of research, though.

"If I get into a subject, I’ll read everything I can find on it.

"I just read my mum’s novel, An Eochair, that she wrote for adult learners, and that’s a lovely book. It’s a romance novel based on the story of Eibhlín Dubh ní Chonaill.

"Earlier on in my life, I was really into psychology books: The New Primal Scream, Manwatching,The Psychology of InterpersonalBehaviour.”

Kíla play De Barra’s in Clonakilty on Friday, Cyprus Avenue in Cork city on Saturday and the National Stadium on Saturday, December 21

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