President Higgins’ Video Tribute To Sharon Shannon for the ‘Late Late Show’
Friday, 4th December, 2020
What a privilege it is to pay tribute to Sharon Shannon on this special edition of the Late Late Show. Sharon is a truly exceptional musician and to all who know her a unique and lovely person.
This celebration of Sharon’s music is timely in more ways than one.
Music plays a hugely important part in Irish life. It is a vital form of expression, enabling us to delve into our history, to tell our stories, to reflect on every aspect of life and love and the everyday pursuit of happiness – and also to come together in moments of celebration, whether within families, among friends or on great national occasions.
In traditional and folk music in particular, we have an extraordinary body of unique and brilliant Irish art and artistry: powerful songs and marvellous melodies; laments that draw on the deepest emotions; and playful tunes that make you want to smile and dance and – on occasion at least! – as Sharon Shannon so encourages, throw caution to the wind.
The beauty, the joy – and the irrefutable cultural importance – of what our musicians collectively give to us is, I believe, immeasurable. And yet they, more than almost any others in Irish society, have been devastated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the course of the past nine months, they have not, either individually or collectively, been able to fulfil their creative destiny, or to earn a living by playing their music live, for the people.
And so, may I suggest that we might see this special occasion as a moment for us all to pause, and to think of musicians and performers, all over Ireland – like Sharon Shannon – and to express our gratitude for what they do for us all year ‘round, every year – and our appreciation of how much they contribute to Ireland, and to the hugely positive perception of Ireland, throughout the world.
Of course, that extraordinary collective contribution depends, to a considerable extent, on the genius and greatness achieved by individual musicians. Over the years, and often from a very young age, they work and practice – and work and practice more... and more... and more again – as they strive to achieve complete fluency, and mastery of their instruments.
When they get there, the best musicians bring something of themselves – of their spirit and of their soul – to every performance. And so this tribute is timely too, in that it is at this level of mastery that we now find Sharon Shannon. Sharon Shannon has been performing since she was just eight years of age.
In an increasingly stellar career, she has played with some of the most important and influential musicians of the past 40 years – from her seminal work with The Waterboys, through collaborations with virtuosos like Frankie Gavin, Nigel Kennedy and of course Donal Lunny, to sharing the spotlight with luminaries like Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Sinéad O’Connor, Christy Moore, Adam Clayton of U2 and far too many more to list here.
All of this, Sharon has done in a way that only a supremely talented artist can. I am reminded of the poem ‘Among School Children’, wherein William Butler Yeats famously asked: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
There is a kind of magic that occurs when great musicians play. We are drawn into one moment, and then another, and then another, as the notes begin to flow, in a way that seems – indeed in a way that very often is – beyond logic or comprehension.
It is in these extraordinary moments – especially where a marvellously talented artist and musician like Sharon Shannon is concerned – that imagination and soul are joined with supreme technique and we, as listeners, get to share in the experience of something utterly transcendent.
In these moments, it is as if the instrument and the musician have become one. We cannot tell the dancer from the dance.
When a great musician like Sharon Shannon is going full tilt, whether on the accordion, the fiddle or any of the many instruments she plays, what happens between the head, the heart and the hands is inseparable.
It is gloriously free. The joy of it all as the music takes flight and we take flight with it.
Sharon Shannon from Ruan, Co. Clare, I wish you every success for the future. Long may you continue to bring light and joy and love into the hearts of listeners here and across the world.
Beir Beannacht do’n todchaí.