Glen Hansard speaks to the Phil about influences, activism and the danger of fame

Mary Hartnett fills you in on yesterday’s passionate and emotive conversation with prominent Irish musician and activist, Glen Hansard


Best known for his roles in the iconic film The Commitments and Academy Award winning musical Once, Glen Hansard yesterday took to the stage in the GMB’s Debating Chamber yesterday as he was awarded the Phil’s  Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage.  As well as being well renowned for his singing and songwriting talents, Hansard has recently become a prominent activist on the issue of homelessness in Ireland. His role in the Apollo House occupation was discussed during the event, as was his musical career.

The musician started off by saying a few words, referencing the famous songwriter Thomas Moore whose statue he passed every day as a young man busking on the streets of Dublin. This was followed by a Q&A session from the Phil’s Matthew Nuding, which included questions on the topics of Apollo House, the national homelessness crisis, his passion for music and of course the musical ‘Once’.

The singer came across as a down to earth and yet passionate, hardworking man.. Despite admitting that many of the organisers of the occupation were “completely out of our depth from the word go”, he stated that the reason he got involved was to “start a national conversation.” He believes they have succeeded in this sense, and that this movement has prompted the government to “really make an effort to make a difference; the whole homelessness system has been upgraded.” He also praised Minister Simon Coveney, which proved somewhat  surprising considering it is not usually the norm to hear “honest” and “passionate” mentioned in reference to a politician.

Hansard went on to describe how his passion for music stemmed from his mother who played Dolly Parton, Van Morrison and Simon and Garfunkel on suitcase record players while she washed Hansard and his brother in the kitchen sink. As a young boy he lost himself in his music, specifically in his guitar playing, which he described as “a lifeline to my imagination”. His love for Bob Dylan ultimately led him to cross O’Connell Bridge from North to South side where he began his career by busking on Grafton Street.

Fame and fortune were addressed during the Q&A session, as the movie Once came up in discussion. It was surprising to hear that it was made within three weeks for €125,000 with no filming permits. This Academy Award winner would not have reached such dizzying heights of fame if it were not for a stroke of luck when an American producer spotted it at the Galway Film Fleadh whilst on holiday. It went on to win the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, from which it was originally rejected, after which it was picked up by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The Oscars, which Hansard described as “a bizarre, beautiful, welcome madness”, changed everything for him. He revealed that “success is like failure […] It really rocks you. You struggle to keep friendships; everyone’s going a little mad around you.”

The Q&A session was then opened up to the audience, where topics such as Irish talents, the late Jeff Buckley and Hansard’s own future were discussed.  This was followed by a noteworthy performance by Stephen James Smith, a poet and friend of Hansard’s who took to the stage to recite a new poem of his. The passion and conviction with which he spoke, as well as the actual words of this poem, were both extremely powerful and emotional. This was a definite highlight of the event.

The afternoon ended with a short performance by Hansard as he played a couple of songs, a huge treat for those in the audience, though to my dismay, he did not perform his most well known song Falling Slowly. Aside from that, the event was undoubtedly a success. It was an honest, passionate and emotive conversation with an interesting and talented man who continues to inspire in so many ways.  

The full event is available to watch on on The Phil’s  YouTube channel.

Mary Hartnett

Mary Hartnett is the current Managing Editor of Trinity News. She is a Senior Sophister BESS student, and a former Trinity Life Editor.