Áine Tyrrell Is Breaking Stereotypes Around What We Know As Irish Music

21 April 2023 | 4:44 pm | Áine Tyrrell

I carry on the great Irish tradition of making art cradling that balance of joy and sorrow, pain and triumph. That’s Irish as f*ck.

(Pic by Renae Saxby)

I was born in Galway, Ireland. Hailing from a lineage of music. Proudly carrying on the tradition of stories and songs passed down to me. Culture, like me, is always evolving. As does the lineage, as I forge my own path. Having spent time in America growing up, then emigrating to so-called Australia over ten years ago at the time of the global financial crisis, mine is a migrant story influenced by movement throughout my life. 

After a few years here, I hit the road again, this time as a single mother escaping domestic violence and at the same time touring this vast continent in my big Bedford Bus committed to full-time music and committed to myself after years of losing myself. 

I am a survivor of many adversities in life, and I always found strength in our stories of Irish women: our heroines, archetypes, and goddesses. Legends full of the grit that got me through so much in my own story as a modern Irish woman. My calling and my healing has been through storytelling, and I’ve been proud to share this through my music. 

As my career started to develop and expand to more opportunities, I began to feel problematic ways of being represented. This wasn’t new to me; I had witnessed my Dad, Seán Tyrrell, an Irish folk legend, face this touring America in the 90s as well, but I had naively thought we were beyond the Irish tropes. The Irish jokes come at me weekly where some punter thinks it is novel to tell me a new racist joke disguised as humour where the Irish person is always drunk or stupid. 

At a venue, I try to dodge the alcohol comments about being Irish and not drinking or try to stop the MC from telling the joke they all love about my name; “real good Aussie name, good on ya”. These are small in comparison to what goes on in the world, but week after week, it wears you down when trying to do my job singing about the depth of my culture and the healing and growth we can do as humans after trauma through storytelling which is part of the very fabric of my country’s story and complexities post-colonisation and how we are healing and growing. 

These comments just reinforce what I see out there when the Irish have a reason to celebrate our art (like Jimmy Kimmel’s comments at the Oscars this year), we continue to be put back in our place and portrayed by the media years after colonisation as dumb, uncivilised, apes, alcoholics, and aggressive. 

The angry Irish woman stereotype haunts me on stage. I am passionate and articulate and have been told I am too much, wouldn’t want to take me home, and even had a man complain he felt assaulted by my performance. It feels to me like there are different standards for male Australian performers in their power and passion while I battle having had gigs pulled because they’ve been worried about me offending audiences. 

I’ve had men dressed as leprechauns jump on my stages, people shout mid-set for an Irish rebel song, and an MC introduce me then add, “I hope she hasn’t left a bomb under your cars”. All little micro outdated stabs at my culture that I learn to brush off or make humourous, but it is sad not to be seen as the performer in front of them, just as some trope they are projecting on me. 

I’ve had festivals dictate which parts of my culture they want to get the gig; play the tin whistle, sing an Irish sing-a-long, sing in language, or I’ve had festivals tell me they already booked an Irish act, so couldn’t possibly have another. 

This feels like we, as “Irish Acts”, are then being reduced to one version of what the Australian Music industry wants from us and negates the incredibly diverse Irish music industry that exists. I dipped a toe into the “Celtic Festivals” in this country and found potato throwing competitions, leprechaun dunk tanks, and drinking sock vendors that made me laugh and cry in equal measure. 

I ran from that Plastic Paddy stuff but was also kinda kicked out with a leprechaun's left boot as I wouldn’t play the game they are selling. Selling some lost translation of “Celtic” where a potato throwing competition is not even seen through the lens of actually slightly disturbing considering the traumas Ireland faced in famine times. I have too much integrity and dignity to sell my culture like this, but then it left the question of where do I fit? 

I have spoken to some of this before, but get the old favourite, “Just go home then” (bet you ten shillelaghs it’ll find its way into the comments here). I tried to navigate other spaces but was told; too niche, too Irish, and not Australian enough. I am an Australian and Irish citizen, yet I am only niche-green-marketable. This narrow Irish folk lens shuts me out and limits the mountains of depth within me that I can share, which flows irrespective of the place I was born.

My intention for this tour is to call us into a conversation. To shake people out of stereotypes. I share in the hopes that the industry can upgrade itself and examine how boxes of genre, descriptions and tags of countries next to our names were made for an outdated music industry 50 years ago. As music lovers and makers, we are modern and evolving, constantly taking risks. We love music for how it makes us feel. Do you remember a moment of stretching yourself out of our genre box and finding our favourite bands ever? That gold is what the industry can learn from. 

For those of you looking for a grand stretch into a genre that can’t be defined by one continent, looking to hear stories that aren’t championed by the industry always, I invite you into my room. Into a woman who is resilient as fuck, learned my power and truth, owned my migrant's story of movement, and continued my connection to culture despite distance and roadblocks. I carry on the great Irish tradition of making art cradling that balance of joy and sorrow, pain and triumph. That’s Irish as fuck. 

Áine Tyrrell's 'Irish As Fuck Not Irish As Folk' Tour kicks off tonight in Sydney. You can buy tickets to her shows here.