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The Irish For: Bond and Banríon Eilís - a good collaboration?

Getting a singer like Eilís to perform a theme song for an ancient spy saga is an attempt to exchange youth and relevance for prestige, writes Darach Ó Séaghdha.

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

WHEN BARACK OBAMA included Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” on his list of favourite reads of 2019, it was a fitting end to a remarkable decade for the young Mayo writer.

Presidential endorsements of books have often turned unknown authors into superstars overnight.

In the 1980s, a Baltimore insurance salesman called Tom Clancy became a publishing sensation when Ronald Reagan declared “The Hunt For Red October” to be unputdownable.

But the most significant example remains Jackie Kennedy mentioning in an interview that her husband loved a series of espionage novels by Ian Fleming.

Sixty-odd years later, James Bond still isn’t going anywhere.

In fact, this very week it was announced that Billie Eilish – a singer born during Pierce Brosnan’s tenure playing the violent, drunken civil servant – would be singing the theme tune to the next Bond movie.

The juxtaposition of Billie Eilish and Bond (especially in the context of its initial endorsement by Kennedy) is an intriguing one.

The first Bond novel was released before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and few people remember a time when these stories were fresh and new.

A new Bond generation

On the other hand, I recently asked people on Twitter to identify the pop culture moment when they started to feel that the term “young people” no longer included them.

Along with Snapchat, Eilish was the most common answer; between the dark comedy of her lyrics, her standoffish delivery and the way her music references and pastiches trends of the 1990s and 2000s (the same way that bands in the 1990s did to 1970s trends) reminds some listeners that they are on the greyer side of a moment of generational change.

You can probably guess what age someone is by asking them who they think of first when they imagine a female singer named Billie (Holiday, Whitelaw, Piper or Eilish).

However, it’s the rest of the singer’s name that has piqued interests in Ireland – Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell.

Her Irish heritage has received the ultimate compliment in that her song “Bad Guy” has been given the TG Lurgan (Coláiste Lurgan) treatment.

It’s interesting that when truncating her own name she went with Billie Eilish and not “Billie Pirate” or “Billie Baird” or even “Billie O’Connell”.

Eilish (more commonly spelled Eilís in Ireland although the version with a h is also used) is not one of the Irish names that has caught on in America, especially when compared to Irish surnames used as first names or Irish names that are rarely used in Ireland.

And while I’m cautious about the practice of translating people’s names against their will, Eilís has been suggested as an Irish version of Alice, Letitia and Elizabeth.

This last one is particularly relevant as James Bond’s employer, Queen Elizabeth II, is Banríon Eilís a Dó on the nuacht.

Back to the book, and the president

The presidential endorsement of a book is a two way transaction – the book takes some of the fame and authority of the politician while the politician takes some of the intellectual insight, warmth or excitement of the book.

This can be a poison chalice if the politician or the author go on to make a show of themselves.

Similarly, getting a singer who is at one with the zeitgeist (meon na linne in Irish) to perform a theme song for an ancient spy saga is an attempt to exchange youth and relevance for prestige.

Personally, I don’t understand how modern audiences who squirm at the badly-aged parts of relatively recent works like Friends, The Simpsons and Harry Potter are so willing to give something as backward as James Bond a free pass, or that a bold casting decision can absolve the franchise of its many issues.

ny-daniel-craig-at-omega-bond-watch-launch The new Bond film, starring Daniel Craig and Oscar winner Rami Malek as the villain, will be released in Ireland in April. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

In particular, I’m not looking forward to all the corny Brexit analogies that will surely accompany the next Bond film. However, rather than being a total spoilsport I’ll grudgingly give you some vocabulary to talk about it in Irish:

Spy – brathadóir (bra-ha-door)
Secret Service – Rúnseirbhís (roon-sher-veesh)
Shaken – croite (critcha)
Not Stirred – neamhchorraithe (nave-chur-a-ha)

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About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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