WHO would have thought it? An Irish song about the Lakes of Connemara has caused a political storm in France, setting off a class wrangle between the right-wing and left-wing, the working class and the so-called ‘Champagne socialists’. Politicians have interrupted their holidays, newspapers have written editorials, social media has been abuzz with the story and political parties have weighed in.
Now, when I say an ‘Irish’ song, the ballad in question is Les Lacs du Connemara, a French-composed and performed song. But it is immensely popular in France, a staple of student parties, village fêtes, and weddings. The song was released in 1981 by Michel Sardou (now 76) but is still capable of selling out tours and commanding huge fees for appearances.
However, he is most famous for Les Lacs du Connemara, a ballad set at a wedding in Limerick — which, you will remember, is not in Connemara but significantly to the south. The storyline deals with Maureen and Sean, who we learn are both Catholics: “Maureen plunged / naked in a lake in Connemara / Sean Kelly says, 'I am Catholic / Maureen too!'"
It was written by Pierre Delanoë to a tune by Jacques Revaux. None of the participants at the time, it is believed, had ever been to Ireland.
Apparently, all the research was done from an Irish tourism brochure. It had originally been intended as a Scottish song, but no literature on Scotland had been available.
So Ireland it was.
The song focuses on the wedding celebrations in Limerick, a social occasion which boasts enough drink to last for two days and three nights. Families are mentioned almost in a Lannigan’s Ball fashion — Flaherty, O’Connolly, and Connor are all name-checked.
Plenty of paddywhackery going on then, although so far little controversy.
But step forward Juliette Armanet earlier this month, also, like Sardou, an exceedingly popular French singer.
She was asked on a show broadcast on the Belgian channel Tipik what three songs would make her leave a party. The 39-year-old replied that it was Les Lacs du Connemara three times.
She said, “It’s a bobo gaucho,” (which isn't good, I think, but I’m not sure).
Juliette continued, according to the Euro-dayFR website, “The music is filthy, a song that deeply disgusts me. It’s the … sectarian side, the music is odious. It’s right-wing, nothing’s good about it,” she said.
Well! Poor old Connemara.
But opinion quickly mounted up against the singer. Gilbert Collard, a former member of the National Rally and now an MEP for Reconquête, a party that’s to the right of Genghis Khan on a windy day, said: “Juliette Armanet, the voiceless one, declares her aversion to Sardou’s Lakes of Connemara," and suggested a word to describe her could be found in the song title — “the word is ‘conne’ (idiot).
According to The Times, Éric Ciotti, leader of the conservative Republicans party, said: “Michel Sardou is quite simply France. The idol of many generations, he is a singer with a strong character with no qualms about that. The self-righteous can’t stand him.”
But the Green Party supported Armanet, saying that Sardou represented something that the working class of France never liked., in fact always despised — someone who peddles patriotism and mawkishness in equal measure.
The row over Connemara and its lakes seems set to continue.
But there is a melancholy footnote to the tempest in a teapot. It focuses on Jacques Revaux, whose name might just possibly ring a bell with you. He is the same composer who wrote the music for his friend Claude Francois. The two musicians had come up with "Comme d’habitude" — the original version of My Way. The song, with English words written later by Paul Anka, was composed in Paris in 1967.
Sadly, Claude died after truly doing it his way – changing a light bulb while standing in his bath.
But he left behind a song that is a staple — not of weddings — but funerals.