Over 5m people watched Coláiste Lurgan’s Irish version of Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up’, writes Pet O’Connell.
"I’M NOT a native speaker. When I was younger I didn’t even really like Irish — I didn’t see any point in it,” admits Stiofán Ó Fearail, singer and guitarist with bilingual folk-pop band Seo Linn.
Five million YouTube views of the Gaeilge version of Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up’ they performed with Coláiste Lurgan are just some of the reasons why Ó Fearail feels a whole lot more positive about the language these days. Add in the recent launch of Seo Linn’s debut album ‘Solas’, a book project, and a high profile Vicar Street gig on the horizon, and Ó Fearail is really seeing the point of turning a lifeless school subject into the vibrant means of communication for a new generation.
A native of Co Roscommon, his conversion to Gaeilgeoir happened almost by accident.
Aged 14, he agreed to attend Coláiste Lurgan Irish summer college in Indreabhán, Co Galway, for the first time “because my friend was going”.
Using Irish in a social context gave it a relevance beyond that of the classroom, Ó Fearail explains. “We were engaged in Irish as a living language; we were kayaking, playing football, music – all those things as Gaeilge. It became something real.”
He enjoyed the experience so much that he went back for more the following summer, and when his own days as a pupil were over, returned as a cinnire, or student leader.
It was at Lurgan too that he met future Seo Linn bandmates Keith Ó Briain, Kevin Shortall, and Dáithí Ó Ruaidh.
The youthful energy of summer college was encapsulated in Lurgan’s Irish trad Avicii video. “We got 1m views in a week, which is kind of crazy when you think that it’s just an Irish college in Galway that did a cover video,” says Ó Fearail. “It was at the height of that whole fad of the viral YouTube video and we were just very lucky that it caught on.
“It was a cool amalgamation of talent and youth and exuberance and I think that really came across in the video,” he adds. “One of the biggest reasons the video impacted on people was this collective energy that you could feel from the students.”
From that launchpad was born Seo Linn, whose rise to fame took even the band by surprise. “Things started moving very fast and we were going from a small college gig in Maynooth to playing at the NYE ball on New Year’s Eve 2013 supporting Madness, which itself was absolute madness because we had to really jump in standard very quickly,” Ó Fearail recalls. “I remember thinking wow, we were really in over our heads, but it was good fun.”
The next three years brought a whirlwind of projects in both Irish and English. The band became ambassadors for Seachtain na Gaeilge, recording ‘The Irish Roar’ for the Euros 2016, and ‘Musicmakers’ for 1916 commemorations, as well as touring to the US and Australia.
Still regularly playing at school and college gigs, their most recent work brings Seo Linn right back to their roots, engaging again with young people through Irish, but in new ways.
‘Solas’, their debut album of original compositions, features a single of the same name, recorded at Cork School of Music with 120 members of the Cork Youth Orchestra.
The idea emerged from a concert at Cork City Hall, “one of the favourite shows we’ve ever done as a band” says Ó Fearail. “Usually our gigs are mad high energy and everyone’s up dancing, but this was a sit-down affair with a big orchestra behind us. It was just so magical.”
Accompanying the album is an interactive workbook with lyrics and chords, plus text written by the band on topics as diverse as sport, recipes, and even mallachtaí, or insults, all as Gaeilge. It encapsulates the band’s ethos: “Essentially what we’re trying to do with the book is to take [Gaeilge] out of the classroom setting and make it real for young people.”
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