‘O SnodA.I.gh’ – A Two Part Spiel

And now for something a bit different. Dublin songwriter Rhob Cunningham graces us with his presence today to unveil ‘O SnodA.Igh’, an essay and conversation piece concerning our inherent distrust and the virtues of AI, as well as the benefits of visiting spiritual sites around Ireland.

The article also discusses a song and video by Myles O’Reilly and Rónán O’Snodaigh which you can view in full below.

Myles and Rónán will be performing a number of gigs this September including a much anticipated appearance at Electric Picnic, and you can find details of all shows at the bottom of this article.

Now without further ado, HeadStuff presents ‘O SnodA.Igh’.



It’s a kitchen table whereby I sit.

A damn fine table too.

A corkboard’s photo-collage to the right of me,
a now bubbling coffeemaker on the gas hob in front
and a small but welcomingly leafy garden to the left.

The table belongs to Myles O’Reilly and I’m threatening a swim.

It’s June. Solstice to be precise.
Any intermittent Dublin showers have yet to affect the high temperatures but, with coastal options aplenty, something has gotten between us and a plunge.

That something sits across from me at the table. A trim, hispid chinned, smart lookin’ hero.
Percussive maestro, cultural torch-carrier, Rónán O’Snodaigh has just dropped in to visit Myles.
I’m trying to play it cool.

In the moments before Rónán had knocked on the door, I have watched a new A.I.-tinged video for their latest song together, Níl Aon Easpa Orm, a song from Rónán’s sophomore album with Myles, entitled The Beautiful Road.

I’m going to digress for a second – but with good cause.

An A.I. Digression.

There are but a few times in any person’s life where an opinion held dear must be swiftly relinquished. Where a stance honed and held must be cut adrift, sent to the sink, spiralling.
Today was one of those days for me. The crux of said opinion pertains to what folk refer to as Artificial Intelligence.

Some of you may have been up in arms at the blue-haired imposter espousing the pitfalls of fake-tan recently in the Irish Times. Some of you may have been thrown by the BBC reports of Stalinesque retouched photos, smiling Indian wrestlers on their way to post-protest incarceration. Some of you may just have been wooed by the proficiency of a poem that the Elon-Musk-funded chatbot generator ChatGPT fashioned for you, after you fed it some keywords and allowed it access to your mobile number and associated metrics.

Whatever your introduction to the buzzword ‘A.I.’, it’s been on your radar.

I’ve long turned to philosophers on the subject. John Searle. Hubert Dreyfus. I’ve stolen their opinions. We’re too quick to conflate intelligence to consciousness, too quick to see the endpoint of technological advancement as some sort of neurological evolution, speeding towards a nebulous, tacit Sentience, clevernesses beyond our own.

I, like many, love to glide through Lex Fridman’s podcast chats too. Chats with The Smarter People.
Listening. Hoping that their intelligence rubs off, soaking through my pores like some quotient osmosis.
I try remind myself that advancement is not the same as progress.

A. Goddam. I.

The term doesn’t sit well.
There’s certain terms I can’t embrace of late. When people type “Chef’s Kiss”. When people type “Make It Make Sense”.

My main point of consternation with A.I. is with the “I”.
We can argue this is an argument of semantics – move the goalposts if you wish.
Athletes, Dancers, Surgeons and Artists all deploy  kinaesthetic intelligence that would put any lexical juggler to the sword.

“For now” is a response some may proffer. “For now” is about as pivotal a phrase upon which we ought rely.

Look, I’m swaying wildly from my point. Sure, there’s dangers, perhaps not so many as those who currently steer the wheel would suggest . It doesn’t take much to surmise that many of the leaders in the technological climb wish to pull the ladder up after them, now that they’ve scaled the wall.
Careful! they decry.
The oil is struck, not just any fool should drill a well.

You get the idea.

I’ve held a position on A.I. for a while now. It crushes creativity. It makes things uniform and similar.

Yet now, as I sit across from two chirpy and passionate creators, having seen their latest collaboration, I’m a changed man.

Delicate use of a modern technological tool. Manhours replaced with subtlety and grace.

I catch myself kissing my fingertips.

Digression over.

O’Reilly has been much vaunted for as long as I’ve known him. A capturer of song, a framer of magic. His experiences on both sides of the lens have afforded him a rare sensitivity,
the offerer and the shown.
With Rónán’s new album, a second collaboration between the two, Myles has once again held sway over, in the simplest terms, what our eyes might do while the music plays.

It is while the two are chatting that Rónán makes a riveting point, one that makes me think I’ll race home and write this whole spiel.
They’re talking about where they filmed this new video and the benefits of drawing foreign visitors to the site’s majesty.

“Ró, could you say that again, I half-heard you say that we’re missing a trick?

It’s not easy to get the right words. I end up using the wrong words because… I’m from here. I haven’t got the experience of not being from here.
There’s people coming to Ireland from Syria, from Ukraine, from Kenya, from the Congo.
What I was saying was, when we did that video, I told Mufutau [Yusuf, the Irish Dance Artist who co-stars] to bring his parents up to that place, to bring his kid brother or to bring his friends because I think that, until they go,
go and visit the places and open themselves to the actual spirits of the lands we’re in, then they won’t feel like they’re connected.

Somehow, I feel that it’ll connect them, it’ll anchor something for them and they won’t be unsure, they won’t be walking on eggshells.
There is a bit of eggshell walking here. I feel people with different skin colour or different nationalities are hesitant here. They’re unsure because they’ve arrived under one premise or another: they’re not sure – are they welcome? Are they useful?
We all like to feel useful in the world.

Besides that, to actually go to these places, these are the places that anchor us, these are the deepest parts of our Identity! As Gael, as Muintir na hÉireann, the People in these islands.
I think the new people who are living here, in amongst us, growing their children here, being part of our world, they should go and visit these places,
go and take part in that Spiritual Conversation.
Everyone’s Spiritual conversation is private, I don’t know yours, I know my one, or rather, I’m always trying to get to know it, but these places are open for them as well. This is a spiritual thing, it’s not to do with skin colour or tribes and stuff.

So, is it that the government is missing a trick by not bussing people to these places, or is that too impersonal?

Rónán :
No, it’s not that. Most of life is practical.
It takes people like artists, people who have deliberately taken a bit more time to think about other things, to showcase it.
Maybe its up to us to bring people up to these locations. Invite people. Tell someone from another country: oh, yeah , there’s a Holy Well nearby where you’re living
and they’ll say, Oh is there?
and you go: Yes. You can go and pray there. There’s active Spiritual engagement in this area!

Then, it’s up to them, of course, but it’ll give them an anchor. An anchor into the actual Spiritual nature of the country. I use the word Actual. I mean… They’re really big concepts to try put into phrases that’ll hold, y’know? But, in a way, by doing this video, using these images, maybe that will hold some more than what can be written down.

For sure. I love it.

Rónán :
I just think its really important.
I suppose, if I was in a country, I mean, heaven forbid, imagine if we were all run out of Ireland again, where would we end up? I might try South America.
If someone took me to something in the stones in Argentina, I might suddenly go, Okay, if the deeper spirits can hear me or accept me or engage with me or if I can engage with them, I’ll probably feel like I’ll be alright. In the subconscious of the Country, of the Land I’m in. 

Myles :
It’s functional of the visitor to be more familiar with the land.

Rónán :
It really is. It really is. I think it’ll have really good effects. I think the eggshell thing would be reduced.

With the video itself, how did you pick that spot to work at, to dance at, to sing at, that day?

Rónán :
Well, there’s a few coincidences. It is a special, special spot. I suppose coincidences is what we’re chasing as well.
Do you know the way sometimes people won’t talk about God if they’re in a church? Like, its too big, or something? I get the same kind of thing in these places.
I don’t pretend to know anything. I just like to go and try be humble. I’m just trying to pay homage a bit… “I hope yiz are alright with my stuff.”
It’s like a prayer or something. I’m hoping to lead by example and go: This is a prayer place. I don’t mind praying in churches either, mind you. Any place of prayer is a good thing but, somehow, because these places are so old, they can feel like they are bigger gods or something! They’ve been around way before us.

What’s the history of the setting in the video itself?

Rónán :
Well, that’s Loughcrew, It was reported to be an ancient matriarchial civilisation. I mean, the history goes so far back that it’s not as accurate as more recent peoples but, like, thats a tribe from pre-Newrange. Those stones used are from Wicklow, like, they pulled those stones up by boat.
It’s called Sliabh na Calliagh in Irish, which means Witches’ Hill. It’s called Loughcrew in English. Its fascinating stuff.”

The conversation is cut short. Any swim can wait. A dog needs to be ferried from A to B.

The Sun finishes speckling through the Sycamore. A sickle moon climbs half the sky.

I play the video again.

It makes it make sense.

You can see Myles O’Reilly and Rónán O’Snodaigh at the following dates this coming September:

Sat Sept 2nd – Electric Picnic.

Sat Sept 23rd – Waterville, Kerry.

Sun Sept 24th – Connolly’s, West Cork.

Wed Sept 27th – Whelans, Dublin. 

Friday Oct 20th – Culdaff, Donegal.