Meet The Voices Representing Ireland’s Underrepresented

Kathleen Keane

Image Credit: iStock

The cast members of the production of “The Lion King” received racial abuse following their
show in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre on the 31st of January

Irish R&B singer Erica Cody took to twitter to voice how she felt about the attack, referring to it as an uphill battle. “And people wonder why representation and accountability is important. To be quiet is to be complicit,” she said.

Irish society has been made up of various cultural and ethnic groups for decades. In the last decade, we have begun to see a long awaited shift in the way Irish culture is represented.

The College View spoke to a number of people who have been challenging the barriers of visibility and representation in the arts sector.

They are breaking down the walls that prevented the vast number of cultural identities present in Irish society from having their voices heard and hidden for many years.

“The Arts Council firmly believes that the Arts are for everyone. While we recognise that barriers to engaging with and participating in the arts continue to exist, we are committed to playing our part to ensure the inclusion of all voices and cultures that make up Ireland today,” said Dr. Suha Shakkour, the Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion with The Arts Council of Ireland.

Ebun Black wrote the poem ‘Where Ye From?’ and posted it to YouTube on the 4th of June 2020, where it has since amassed over 4,000 views.

Ebun grew up in Ireland, her mother is Irish and her father is Nigerian. She spoke of how she feels a strong connection with Nigerian culture, but she’s not from there.

“I wrote the poem ‘Where Ye From?’ to explain what it was like to be in the middle of the divide and also to fact check on the history of black Irish in Ireland, to question why people found it so hard to accept that I existed as an Irish woman who is black,” she stated.

Ebun felt that when she made the video in collaboration with The Ballyboyz it felt like the divide that had been happening for so long came to a head, like the elephant in the room was finally addressed.

The Black Lives Matter movement had gained traction on the world stage. She believes that if the world wasn’t in a mass lockdown and everyone wasn’t on social media, the movement would have been downplayed.

“I understood that people were angry and were discovering racism for the first time but to be
honest that didn’t really sit well with me because I had known racism my whole life,” she

It’s almost two years since the video was released and it still continues to reach and resonate with many people.

This February ‘Where Ye From?’ will be screening at the St Brigid’s Film Festival in Los Angeles & New York, which has exceeded their expectations.

Through meeting incredible people who are using their platforms to make changes and educate people, Ebun says that she can see the work from the ground up.

“I see it so much in the younger kids of today, groups of all different colours listening to afro-beat on the bus, lads with Nigerian parents playing hurling, Gaeilgeoirs’ that moved to Ireland at 10, the limits seem endless for the ones to come next. I’m excited,” she said.

“They’ll be more used to role models who don’t all look the same and so used to any colour person having an Irish accent that these won’t be their issues,” she added.

Speaking to The College View, Zeinab, an Irish R&B singer songwriter, spoke about how there was no one who looked like her in the Irish music industry with the exception of Samantha Mumba.

Growing up, Samantha Mumba made her feel that it was possible for people like her to make it in this country. She said she would love to see more women of colour being celebrated for their talents across all categories of music, film and literature.

“We need to be included for our talents and not just to tick a box to be seen to include people
of colour,” she said.

“I love that this has become more of an open conversation and hopefully overtime we will see
change happen because of these conversations,” she concluded.

Grainne O’Toole, an editor with the Skein Press team spoke to The College View about the success of the company since its inception and what led them to establishing the company.

Skein Press was established in 2018 to publish under-represented groups in Ireland to share their voices in the Irish literature scene.

“It was a collaboration initially between writers and publishers who saw a gap in Irish literature and publishing. There were a lot of voices absent from the types of books we were seeing coming out of Ireland, so we wanted to begin to address that gap,” she said.

The founders of Skein Press found that there were a lot of access barriers, and underrepresented groups did not have the resources to access them.

They decided to create pathways to ensure they could.

Some of the books that the company have published include ‘This Hostel Life” by Melatu Uche Okorie, about migrant women who are hidden in Ireland and ‘Why The Moon Travels’, by Oein DeBhairduin, a collection of stories rooted in the Irish Traveller community’s oral tradition.

The company has achieved great successes since 2018, through allowing underrepresented people to generate their own work, in the way they see fit.

Their aim is to see literature and publishing become more diverse and more representative of Irish society.

“We’re growing our team and are really trying to ensure that we have a diverse team, fit for purpose in terms of reflecting the world, the culture that we live in, and that we have the appropriate lens that we need for each project,” Grainne added.

Sandrine Ndahiro founded ‘Unapologetic’ magazine with Gareth Brinn and Professor Margaret Harper.

She came up with the idea for the magazine at the time of the Black Lives Matter movement. She found that she couldn’t find a publication where she could write about social issues from the perspective of someone who has a dual identity.

The aim of the magazine was to showcase why underrepresented voices need to be heard in
the Irish literary landscape.

“I hope that by being published I inspire young writers from marginalised communities to
have a profound understanding about the importance of their voices,” she said.

“The magazine name is significant as it sets out the premise of how individuals in our
magazine no longer need to apologise for not fitting into the mould of an outdated version of
what it means to be Irish,” she added.

She notes how the magazine celebrates the rich culture and diversity of the multiple heritages
that are visible across society.

Ebun Black believes that racial abuse may always exist, but by opening up the conversation
we can end the narrowmindedness and nervousness that comes as a result of so much
conditioning from years before our time.

“I have noticed that more people watch what they say, sometimes even when it’s not racist
they apologise in case it was,” she said.

“That shows how normalised things were before that people don’t know what they can and
can’t say when I think it should be so obvious to people, just be sound, have a conversation
like you would with anyone else instead of focussing on differences, differences that don’t
even exist.”

It is Ireland’s responsibility to ensure that there are equal opportunities for all underrepresented groups. It’s time that Irish society gave precedence to acknowledging and supporting a true reflection of our culturally diverse nation.

The conversations have begun to take place and it must be our priority to ensure that they
continue, to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all of our citizens.

Kathleen Keane

Image Credit: iStock