WILDE, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett are among the artists synonymous with what it is to be Irish. But who are the Irish artists operating today that might one day be held in such esteem? Using a number synonymous with Ireland, Irish Post writers choose 17 artists that make them particularly proud to be Irish...
Singer and activist
Few major artists are as loathed among Irish people as Bono – and for no particularly good reason either. There’s no tabloid scandal; no immoral act to hang him on and yet the man christened Paul Hewson is roundly shouted down in pub corners as a good old-fashioned ‘gobshite’. It never fails to strike as ridiculous comment because here is a man who serves as a fine ambassador for Ireland. Rock stars are notoriously self-centred, yet Bono utilises his fame to help the most needy in the world and raise awareness of their plight. He doesn’t have to do it. Were he to kick back in Killiney and stick to the day-job with U2, no one would bat an eyelid but yet – for no gain – he puts in the hours to meet with the world leaders and keep Africa, Africa, Africa on the world agenda. His selfless, humanitarian work is to be applauded and it makes me proud that Bono is Irish.
Friel’s plays are as relevant now as they ever were; perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to a playwright. Not only did 1964’s Philadelphia Here I Come! Vividly capture the emigration experience, but it was written and performed at a time when changing attitudes were leading to a secular Ireland that was just over the hill. In that context, Friel’s masterpiece now works as a play that captured the relationship between Irish people and Irish society, brilliantly executed by the Private Gar / Public Gar characters. That play was written nearly 50 years ago and Friel – at the age of 84 – is still writing great work from his modest home in Donegal, never letting the quality of his writing slip.
Lisdoonvarna! Is it a pop song? I'm not sure. But I remember singing it in the early '80s. We'd bellow the lyrics from the back of the Cortina en-route to holiday-time in Rosslare. Sure wasn't Christy one of our own, from up the road, a Moorefield man. Cut him in two and he'd bleed Lilywhite blood. It would be a cliché to name one of his albums as the first I ever bought, but Live at the Point was surely among the first 10 and Ordinary Man was definitely number 11. That's Christy - ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. How he bridges that divide while remaining understated and passionate about his art is something which makes me proud. For me he's among the greatest Irish singer/songwriters/ lyricist/ poets.
Cillian Murphy makes me proud to be Irish because it seems either that he continually pushes himself out of his comfort zone or that he does not have a comfort zone - and I am not sure which would make me more proud. Either his ability to motivate himself to try new things verges on the heroic or he is innately suited to the avant-garde. He's like Sean Penn, but Irish - all the artistic brilliance without being devoted to public politicking. Perhaps Murphy is overdue another classic indie-flick performance like the one he gave in Breakfast on Pluto, but he is still capable of playing almost any role. And because he has worked to keep his off-screen and off-stage life so private, the role is all you ever get.
McPherson’s ability to write cleverly constructed plays that deal with real life horrors (see broken relationships, addictions, death) but leave a somewhat optimistic aftertaste is to be cherished. He’s to be admired as an Irish artist who couldn’t care less what the theatre critics, who regularly applaud him, think of his work. After 20 years writing, the multi-award-winning redhead continues to wow the international theatre world with his gritty dramas, and the unique playwriting talent has carved a unique niche within the already well-stocked Irish canon of writers. Without a doubt he has opened up new audiences to the dramatic medium and the joy of modern theatre too. With all this in mind McPherson does us very proud indeed...
He used to be in Bracken. Then he was in the Usual Suspects. Apart from being among my top 10 movies of all time, this felt like a Hollywood endorsement embossed by the heaviest stamp. Gabriel Byrne was a Dub and he starred as a Dub. Ireland's star was on the rise, not just his. But Byrne had class, still does. His interviews are always marked by considered answers, his Irishness always defined by the creative pillars which make me proud - a wise sage, who always seemed to end up with the leading lady (maybe that was just once - Ellen Barken, Sea of Love).
Irish presenters on British television have an illustrious history - Eamonn Andrews, Terry Wogan and Henry Kelly all brought urbane blarney to our TV screens. Multiple BAFTA award-winner Graham Norton currently carries the torch with smooth aplomb, blending affable banter with laser-aim wit, and unabashed sycophancy with acerbic humour, on his A-list celebrity gathering The Graham Norton Show. Norton was candid about his homosexuality when such honesty was hard, particularly for high-profile performers. A mercurial, mischievous mickey-taker, it seems unlikely that a gay boy from County Cork should become the most impressive presenter on British TV, but then that’s so Graham Norton.
There are no maybes when it comes to the irresistible charms of Imelda May. Not yet 40, Imelda is an incredible 20 years in the music industry - reaching headline status the grafter's way by singing in clubs and bands since she was a teenager. In 2009 she knocked Bruce Springsteen off No. 1 in the Irish album charts, becoming the first Irish female artist to reach the top spot since Mary Black two decades before. But there are no diva antics from this down-to-earth Dubliner. A seductive singer, she's an ever proud Irish woman, a mother and a wife (to band guitarist Darrel Higham). Her live shows never disappoint. That I know from heart-stirring performances at the likes of Somerset House and Camden's Roundhouse where 'encore' is always the last order of the night. You'd be in good company waltzing through Kentish Town with this girl any day. But don't take my word for it, just ask some of the artists she's shared a stage with - Eric Clapton, Shane MacGowan, Van Morrison...the list goes on.
Abrahamson’s work can be so incredibly ambivalent and this is an appealing facet of his films. While classical character types and plotlines are as ubiquitous as ever, his films do the much-needed job of muddying the water. When you observe the slow and seemingly unplanned movements of Richard in the first half of What Richard Did or Adam in Adam and Paul, it is very hard to know where their lives are going and where they have been. It is more than the fact that they are not cliché characters that makes me admire Abrahamson's work, it is the way he manages to film them as if they are animals in their natural habitats. If I could ask Abrahamson one question, I would ask him if he was a nihilist. But perhaps I would not like the answer...
A writer of tender, human insight and sardonic, character-driven humour, there’s pride in knowing that Maggie O’Farrell hails from Ireland. Her sixth novel, Instructions For a Heatwave, is that rare thing, a fictional take on the Irish in England, depicting the Riordan family who face family trauma during the famous scorching summer of 1976, when tarmac bubbled and simmering psychological troubles boiled over. “We’re used to feeling supreme as a race,” Farrell says, “it’s good when we’re reminded we’re not.” Her stories show we’re all slaves to nature in one form or another. Winner of Betty Trask and Costa Book awards, further acclaim is surely imminent.
Co Clare fiddle player Martin Hayes might well be the finest musician Ireland has ever produced. Certainly there are few who can trigger such raw emotion with the touch of a fiddle. Watching and hearing him perform live constantly triggers the question: how does he do it? What makes one particularly proud of him as an Irish artist is in how he’s cultivated a unique, lyrical and contemporary sound to his playing without neglecting the tradition which bore out the music he plays. Mastering his art form Hayes also remains true to the tradition of passing the music on and, despite being in demand to perform worldwide, spends a month in east Clare every summer teaching aspiring players and ensuring a fine tradition is kept alive.
Filmmaker and writer
Neil Jordan’s international renown as a filmmaker is a consequence of his visual daring, cultural candour and moral courage. Jordan helped form the creative nucleus that has evolved into the body of fine Irish directors currently enjoying success. With imaginative features like Angel (1982) and The Crying Game (1992) he ironically showed both the complexity and simplicity of responses to violence in Ireland, challenging the unbridled machismo and ersatz heroism of Irish masculinity. One critic said: “He confronts everything about Irish men.” Jordan introduced Stephen Rea’s engrossing features to our screens. Had he done that and nothing else he’d deserve our gratitude.
Pat McCabe can be credited with rejuvenating the unique Irish take on the English language and distancing the vernacular from any hints of stage- Irishness – and there’s great pride to be found in this. The Monaghan writer blended Irish-English with influences and references in his work that have marked him out as the most startlingly original Irish writer in wake of Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien. A staggering influence on young Irish writers, McCabe is a brilliant synthesiser of influences (who else could blend country music, Irish folk, The Dandy, Behan, and Enid Byton?) and perhaps the only living Irish writer to have created his own sub- genre, which critics have dubbed ‘Bog Gothic’. Key works include The Butcher Boy, The Dead School, Breakfast on Pluto and Call Me The Breeze.
To describe Paul Muldoon’s influence on contemporary poetry is like trying to assess the influence of The Beatles on post-war music: it’s to be seen and heard in the work of almost every British and Irish poet since the 1970’s. Publishing for over 40 years, and still only 61years of age, Muldoon’s prolific output is best read in his Collected Poems, which traces the poet’s journey from young, modernist imitator to post- modern master. Though ‘Incantata’, an elegy he wrote in memory of Mary Farl Powers, remains his masterpiece, Muldoon is still producing work that marks him out as the most accomplished poet of his generation – and he’s Irish!
Peter O’Toole makes me proud to be Irish because he, like all the great Irish heroes – whether globally famous or known locally about the town – is one of those characters who everyone has a favourite story about. Mine is based on a time he reportedly went out for a long lunch with friends. Many glasses of wine later, the group decides to take in a play. As the party takes their seats, O’Toole suddenly realises he is supposed to be in the show! That, and he graciously turned down a knighthood in 1987.
Simone Rocha makes me proud to be Irish because despite having a fashion icon father she has worked slowly, diligently and creatively to hone her own raw talent and prove herself a sartorial star in her own right. That star burst onto the international fashion stage fully this year - if Cara was the face of Fashion Week season Simone was most definitely the designer - and her lines seem set to remain a regular feature on catwalks in London, Paris, New York and Milan. With a limited fashion scene back home, Simone brings a refreshing twist to contemporary design and becomes an ambassador for modern Irish fashion, like her father and the likes of Orla Kiely and Philip Treacy before her.
Comedian, writer and actor
Sharon Horgan belies the common presumption that clever women can’t be attractive and that funny girls aren’t sexy. Like Ronni Ancona, Jessica Stevenson and Sarah Solemani, Horgan’s comedy captivates male and female viewers alike. BAFTA nominated for her cult sitcom Pulling (co-written with Dennis Kelly), she astutely tapped a desperately neurotic vein in women seeking anything resembling love, or at least sex, in a world full of rubbish men. One character voices the wickedly funny yet undeniably truthful line: “He may be a flasher, but he's my flasher.” Witty, smart, gorgeous. Makes one proud.