Colm Mac Con Iomaire from The Frames told David Hennessy about his ‘inspiring’ visit to Israel and Palestine, Fine Gael’s RIC commemoration ‘fumble’ and how he developed a solidarity with the street as a busker
Together for thirty years this year, the band The Frames have reached a milestone few bands make it to. Known for songs like Revelate, the band has been more influential than most in the Dublin music scene. Glen Hansard has been honoured with an Oscar and former John Carney has progressed into film directing. Violin player Colm Mac Con Iomaire has been with the band from the start and will be supporting Lisa O’Neill at her London show this week.
Colm travelled to Palestine, Israel and the West Bank in November with the Irish author Colum McCann to work with Colum’s organisation which works to equip and embolden young adults to improve their lives, their communities, and the world.
Colm told The Irish World: “It was an incredible trip. I’d got involved with a non-profit organisation that he set up a couple of years ago called Narrative 4. It’s all about building empathy but it’s through a very simple thing called story exchange where we work with schools and teachers so kids from all over the world come together and they share a story with each other.
“You listen to the other person’s story and often times it’s kind of an intense story and then you go back to the group and the other person will introduce themselves in your name and tell your story in the first person.
“It’s really transformative and it’s just really powerful for something so simple. As part of that we were in Israel and Palestine visiting schools in both places, kind of learning about the situation over there. It’s pretty complex but it was a really, really inspiring trip and really hopeful as well with the amount of amazing people over there.
“We visited Aida the refugee camp in Bethlehem. It was just really life changing visit. I’m actually writing lots of music since then and I was at the time. My next record will have a middle eastern flavour for sure.”
Many attempts to resolve the conflict have been made but with little success but Colm looks to Northern Ireland and the work that’s been done there for hope.
“When you go somewhere like Israel or Palestine that’s so, from the outside looking in, kind of irreconcilable differences but on the ground there’s so many inspiring people. Northern Ireland once upon time would have been thought of as impossible and unthinkable that people would sit down together.
“Once people break the glass of otherness and actually create the context for people to be able to share their stories, inevitably you’ll find your humanity is far more that you have in common than the stuff that divides you.
“I’m a history buff anyway and I grew up in the 70s in Ireland so I’m pretty attuned to all things political and historical. Just being there, I think Irish people, we understand intuitively the subtext and just from our history and there are so many parallels going back to the British empire and its part in the creation of all that.
“The historical legacy is something that we’re living with here. Brexit has its roots in the past and harking back to another time. History is something that, rather than it being a dusty thing, it’s very much something that I always thought informs the present.”
Leo Varadkar’s proposed RIC commemoration was perceived as being historically insensitive to say the least and the people certainly let their feelings be known.
On this episode, Colm says: “I think that was very interesting, I think that hit a nerve.
“I’ve no problem the idea of including everybody in some way and acknowledging each person had a part in the history and that often comes down to chance at birth. It makes perfect sense.
“On the other hand, I think starting off a year charged as the centenary of 1920 with a commemoration/celebration of the RIC of which a part of was the G Division and The Auxiliaries and The Black and Tans so it was very clumsy I think and I think it was a fumble.”
Colm’s bandmate Glen Hansard supported the homeless people who took over Apollo House, a government building that was just sitting empty while so many remained on the streets. Colm also feels that homelessness is where this current government have failed.
“They (Fine Gael) have been in power for nine years and the amount of homeless people on the street is just obscene. Whenever I go back to Dublin, I get just a shock at the amount of homelessness there is and wasn’t there when I grew up.
“In a way I think it is that neo-liberal thing that when you hear Leo and their government talk, they very much speak of homelessness as being a common feature with the rest of Europe, all modern economies have this problem as if that’s acceptable.
“I think hopefully Irish people will have had enough of that, the idea of trickle-down economics and an ideological aversion to building social housing. I think it harks back to Thatcherism as well, a notion of, why would we build houses for Labour voters? It smacks a bit of that.”
As a teenager, Colm busked on the streets of Dublin and this exposed him to all sorts of characters trying to make their way on the street: “When you stand still on the street and you play, you disappear in a way. You start noticing the other pieces of street furniture. The flower sellers, the beggars, the pickpockets, the shoplifters, there’s a whole community going on there.
“I remember at the time, there was a bunch of lads who would be standing around drinking cans and whatever. We were kids at the time, 14, 15 playing music on the street. They kind of took a shine to us and they would keep an eye out for us if we were getting any hassle or whatever.
“It wasn’t until years later there was a march in solidarity with the people who had been abused as children in industrial schools and things like that. I met one of these guys. Of course, these were all lads who had been sent to industrial schools as kids and had to escape that and were kind of coping in their own way.
“I think busking really gave me an insight into all that, how fortunate I was as well. It gives you a sense of appreciating your privilege.”
Colm Mac Con Iomaire supports Lisa O’Neill at Union Chapel on Thursday 6 February.