Disability and I: Róisín Ní Haicéid

Róisín Ní Haicéid is truly one of my favourite people. I’ve never seen her without a huge smile on her face and she never fails to put one on mine. I hadn’t seen her in three or four months because of the lockdown before we decided to do video chat interview about her new music.

Róisín Ní Haicéid TCD Student

We met at a debate in our college nearly two years ago and have been friends since. We were both on the proposition side of the motion – ‘This House Believes Society has Failed Disabled People’. Ní Haicéid spoke very candidly about her experiences with severe scoliosis and Cauda Equina syndrome, and how her life with an acquired disability was shaped by the society in which we live.

I didn’t know then, but Ní Haicéid is a really talented lyricist and musician. I remember doing karaoke with her at a college event at the end of last summer and I remember thinking how lovely she sounded and being thoroughly embarrassed that my off-key singing was ruining the whole performance.

Around the same time last summer, Ní Haicéid released her first single, ‘bins’, before her band formed. The single was released under the name ‘banríon’ which means ‘queen’ as Gaeilge. ‘Banríon’ later became the name of Ní Haicéid’s band.

In ‘bins’, Ní Haicéid sings very frankly about her disability. I really loved this. The disabled community encourages unconditional self-love, positivity and confidence, but sometimes I just want to wallow in self-pity and miss simple things that my disability won’t allow me to do – just as Ní Haicéid sings in this song.

Ní Haicéid tells me that before she put out the single, she had always been into music on some level. Before an open mic last summer, Ní Haicéid hadn’t preformed live since she was in a talent show in secondary school. “The thought of performing live back then was terrifying,” says Ní Haicéid, “but I love being on stage now.”

“’Bins’ kicked it all off”, reminisces Ní Haicéid, “after that, I was invited to play a gig a month later and I was like “damn I need a band” so that’s how the band started.” This was when Ní Haicéid reached out to  Micheal Nagle, now the band’s drummer, and the two recruited bassist John Harding and guitarist Ivan Rakhmanin.

The EP was created under “frantic circumstances”, says Ní Haicéid. Over just two days in a house in Connemara during a storm this February, Hackett and her band recorded the three songs. They had planned to do more over time, but then the coronavirus hit and the lockdown stopped them from meeting up to write and record more music.

Titled ‘airport dads’, the EP features three songs: ‘yesterday’s paper’, ‘bunkbeds’ and ‘ouchie’. “I think it sounds how we sound at a gig” says Ní Haicéid. I can vouch for her on this having had the pleasure of seeing Banríon preform live.

“Almost all of my songs are a bit sad…. if not very sad”, Ní Haicéid admits, laughing, “‘ouchie’ in particular”. The song is about a rough break-up Hackett went through and the resulting internalised-ableism. Ní Haicéid’s honesty and frankness when speaking about disability is refreshing to hear, she tells me that it’s important to her to be authentic: “I weave my disability into everything – my lyrics, especially – it shapes every aspect of my life.”

Interested to know, I asked Ní Haicéid if there are any other musicians that sing about physical disability. Hackett mentions a song by Clairo called ‘I Wouldn’t Ask You’ in which she sings about her arthritis and feeling like a burden because of her disability. Ní Haicéid says she relates to that because “it’s refreshing to hear something so relatable and honest, you know?” I definitely do. It’s the same feeling I have when I listen to Ní Haicéid’s music.

Ní Haicéid tells me she has always been a fan of writing things in her diaries: “I find it healing. If I didn’t write about my disability – the good and the bad – it just wouldn’t be authentic”. Ní Haicéid and I spoke about the importance of having a creative outlet. We both find writing cathartic, even though we prefer different forms.

I asked Ní Haicéid where she plans to go from here in regards to her music. Hackett paused before answering and smiled before admitting that it’s her dream to play a festival or to tour around ! d Ireland playing gigs with her band, saying, “I love being with them, I love playing with them. They’re my best friends.”

The interview then devolved into the two of us talking about our relationships, our breakups and general chit chat that we would have had over coffee if not for the lockdown.

The music video for ‘yesterday’s newspaper’ is set to be released on Friday. Keep an eye out on banrion’s YouTube channel and other social medias for updates! And, of course, have a listen to airport dads here