“Skinty Fia”: Fontaines D.C. on Irish Identity


Photo Credits: Pitchfork.com

In a world characterized by discontent and division, Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. turns to music as a way to make their voices heard. The five-piece group is carving out their place in history with innovative sounds and impactful lyrics. What sets them apart from other bands currently on the scene is how they imbue every release with Irish language, history, and imagery. Fontaines D.C. always has a stance; no sentence is mere filler, and each beat, word, or guitar riff is intentionally positioned to advance the political undertones of their music. Fontaines D.C. deftly pull together their own memories, recollections of Irish history, and analyses of current events to create succinct and relevant commentary on their ethnicity.


Throughout Fontaines D.C.’s work, their Irish identity is integrated through their lyrics and sound. The “D.C.” in their band name is an abbreviation for Dublin City, paying tribute to the group’s beginnings. Their debut album Dogrel (2019) refers to doggerels, poems popular amongst the Irish working class in the 17th century. Fontaines D.C. is truly a band for the Irish people, heavily drawing inspiration from their hometown through songs like “Dublin City Sky” and lines such as “Dublin in the rain is mine…” from the song “Big.” This influence continues onto their second album, A Hero’s Death (2020), as the band delves even deeper into the richness of Irish culture. Songs like “I Don’t Belong” explore the band members’ overwhelming feelings of separation, both physical and emotional, from their Irish identities while touring the world after the release of their debut album.


Fontaines D.C.’s newest album, Skinty Fia (2022), incorporates a new extreme of commentary on ethnicity and national pride for the band. While the group has always paid homage to the Emerald Isle throughout their musical career, this release masterfully critiques the general public’s perceptions of Irishness and its palatability. “Skinty fia” roughly translates to “damnation of the deer” in Irish Gaelic, which is a multi-layered linguistic choice: mainly, it is an old Irish swear. Using a watered-down translation of the endangered Irish language as the album title demonstrates how the group simultaneously recognizes the importance of keeping the language alive, while acknowledging that Irish identity seems to only be widely accepted when it is diluted or weak. The phrase is also a reference to an extinct Irish deer species, drawing attention to the impending extinction of other aspects of Irish culture, like the Gaelic language. Lead singer Grian Chatten does not attempt to hide his Irish accent and use of the language across every album, instead choosing to fully embrace his Gaelic ties.



In addition, the album art featured on Skinty Fia depicts a deer quite literally caught in the headlights, offering a visual representation of the well-known expression to describe states of severe panic or confusion when faced with impending doom. Over the past few years, Fontaines D.C. has felt this same disorientation and fear that is artistically represented by their album cover. The group has moved out of Ireland and now lives in London, where their Irishness is constantly challenged by harassment, feelings of displacement, and guilt. British suppression of Irish identity is also criticized in Skinty Fia’s track “In ár gCroíthe go deo,” which means “in our hearts forever.” This track was created in direct response to a 2018 opinion by the Church of England, which prevented an Irish woman buried in England from having a Gaelic phrase engraved on her tombstone. The Church worried the saying was too provocative and could be misconstrued as an Irish political slogan by onlookers. Thanks to the strong resistance sparked by this catastrophic decision, the Church of England overturned their ruling just two years later. To publicize and immortalize their feelings of sorrow and anger, Fontaines D.C. wrote “In ár gCroíthe go deo,” sent it to the family of the Irishwoman, and authorized the song to eventually be played at her burial. The events that transpired in relation to this ruling indicate the unrelenting attempts of the Irish to have their voices heard and ameliorate ethnic discrimination in a kingdom that is not as united as its name suggests.



Fontaines D.C. is bringing attention to Irish identity and taking strong stances in response to the ethnic and political strife of the 21st century. The group is able to create meaning out of chaos and scavenge hope out of demoralizing circumstances. Fontaines D.C. continues to forge a lasting name for themselves with every record, demanding listeners pay attention to the power identity can hold in music.


 

Annika is a sophomore in the SFS majoring in Culture and Politics with minors in French and Women’s and Gender Studies.