Padraig Mac Oscair wrote this article for Rupture, the ecosocialist quarterly of RISE – Revolutionary, Socialist, Internationalist and Environment. He reviews  the recent ‘Gig for Gaza Fundraiser’ in the 3Arena, as well as highlighting the clear link between the cultural and the political in expressions of solidarity from Ireland.


On Tuesday, the 28th of November, Dublin’s 3Arena was packed almost to capacity for a traditional music concert. That would have been seen as remarkable enough in itself several years ago. What made this particularly interesting was that this was a benefit gig for Medical Aid For Palestine entitled Gig For Gaza headlined by Damien Dempsey, Lankum, Lisa O’Neill and the Mary Wallopers which was MCed by Joe Brolly and brought about by the efforts of a former UN Diplomat turned cafe owner, band manager and Bohemians FC chairman, Daniel Lambert. The event raised €200,000 for Medical Aid for Gaza. This can only come as vindication for Lankum, who had recently seen a show in Germany canceled by the venue over their public solidarity with those suffering in Gaza.

Interestingly, this wasn’t even the only major event organised by the Irish cultural and musical community to show support for Palestine that evening. Irish Artists for Palestine held a concert in Dublin’s Olympia headlined by The Saw Doctors and Mary Black, accompanied by Irish Writers for Palestine’s first event in Belfast. Many more are to follow, with Christy Moore announcing that he will be performing a benefit for Gaza alongside upcoming Irish Writers for Palestine events in Dublin, Cork, Galway and London.

A renewed cultural activism

It’s nothing new for Irish artists to take a political stance. Lankum or Lisa O’Neill playing Gig For Gaza echoes their forebears in the traditional music community such as Luke Kelly’s principled refusal to play apartheid South Africa in the 1970s or Christy Moore’s Anti-Nuclear Power Show in 1978. That’s to say nothing of much more widely known activism such as Bob Geldof’s Live Aid or Bono’s very public efforts to fight the HIV crisis in Africa by wooing statesmen and corporations to back the Red campaign. Much smaller traditional music gigs to raise money for Gaza have been held in squats in Phibsborough and pubs such as Peadar Browne’s in Portobello, alongside a spate of other events across the country to raise money. Palestinian film festivals have been held in Ireland to raise awareness and funds in recent years. Dublin Digital Radio commissioned a collaborative project with Palestinian radio station Radio Al-Hara which broadcast a soundworld made by a Palestinian artist based in Bethlehem as part of their recent Alternating Current festival. Bohemians FC launched a jersey to raise money for the charity Sports for Life Palestine, mirroring the longstanding willingness of League Of Ireland fans across several teams to fly the Palestinian flag at European games and risk fines for doing so. What unites all of these, and many other efforts to raise money for Palestinians and awareness of the issue across Ireland, is that they represent bottom-up efforts in which crowds are participants rather than merely passive donors in the mould of a political party fundraiser or a telethon.

Neither Gig For Gaza nor Irish Artists for Palestine could ever have happened on the scale they did without this groundwork over the course of several years to build an engaged audience informed on the issue and passionate about bringing it into cultural spheres like music or football. As the legacy of the Great Recession, the austerity that followed in its wake and the ongoing housing crisis have come to define the lives of those who came of age after the 2008 financial crisis, audiences and performers within Ireland’s cultural community have responded by using their profile to draw attention to the issues which have in many cases made it nearly impossible to pursue making art or playing music.

The most dramatic example of this was the 2021 protests against Smithfield’s The Cobblestone being demolished to make way for a hotel. This would have devastated Dublin’s traditional music scene by depriving it of a major venue and hothouse for emerging talent – Lankum started life as the house band there, to give just one example. A movement called Dublin Is Dying emerged on social media to draw attention to how the loss of the Cobblestone, and the wider trend of venue closures caused by property speculation and development, were suffocating the city’s social and cultural life. These culminated in a massive céilí in Smithfield Square on the 30th October 2021, and a decision a few days later by Dublin City Council to deny planning permission on the grounds that The Cobblestone was of cultural significance.

Importantly, this movement was based on a mass mobilisation which combined fans and musicians in protest, making it an interesting counterpoint to the Bono-Geldof model of cultural activism, wherein the spectator was passively taking action to solve the issue by buying tickets or donating money in an act of solidarity via expenditure whilst the celebrity was the activist. This mirrors the efforts of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign to organise an artists boycott of Palestine over the last decade, in which artists sign a pledge “ not to avail of any invitation to perform or exhibit in Israel, nor to accept any funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights”. The most famous contemporary example of this was signatory Sally Rooney who managed to incur the wrath of the Israeli lobby in 2021 whilst bringing the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign (generally known as BDS) to the attention of a wider audience by declining to allow Normal People to be translated by a publisher with ties to the Israeli Defence Forces.

Rediscovering a voice

Examples such as Rooney’s brush with antisemitism allegations are a revival of the model of cultural activism practiced by Luke Kelly or Christy Moore in the 1970s, in which the artist was willing to risk their commercial interest by potentially alienating patrons or the media to create awareness of a cause and engage audiences. Taking a stance against Israeli apartheid or socially destructive property speculation in Ireland is far more contentious than merely trying to solicit donations from the wealthy or beg governments in Europe to show charity towards their former colonies, given Hollywood actresses are being dropped from film productions for calling for a ceasefire and many cultural venues in Ireland are dependent on sponsorship for survival. To attend a concert to show support for Palestine or fly a Palestine flag at a football match also involves a level of engagement and prior knowledge on the part of the audience that goes deeper than simply buying a ticket. Music and sport are two of the main ways in which our social and cultural life takes place – it’s only natural that they can also be avenues for political expression at times such as these.

Could this be the beginning of something?

This reassertion of the cultural space as a political space is something which could intensify in coming years as the housing crisis, alongside the loss of venues, practice spaces and secure work in the arts accelerates to potentially create a situation where only the children of privilege can even think of being involved in music, film or theatre as anything other than passive customers. The emergence of organised and experienced people in the cultural community, and the sympathetic audience that made the recent wave of grassroots events for Gaza that culminated in Gig For Gaza possible has common cause with the struggle to save cultural spaces, and the same urgency to reclaim culture as a space for social and political expression on the part of both performers and fans.

Perhaps, rather than merely describing it as a great example of Irish-Palestinian solidarity, we should take a step back, and, after seeing Gig for Gaza in its wider context, ask ourselves if it’s simply the biggest example of a more involved activist presence within the Irish cultural scene in recent years, with immense possibilities if audiences and organisers have the courage to pursue them.




also see:

The language issue and the challenge to the UK state – Allan Armstrong, Intfrobel Books

The Irish language is for everybody – Fergus O’Hare

Cultural capitulation and cultural resistance in Ireland – Socialist Democracy (Ireland)

Exploitation, oppression and alienation: Emancipation, liberation and self-determination – Allan Armstrong, RCN/RCF