Irish music legend Phil Coulter has teamed up with a choir of 40 Ukrainian singers across Ireland to release a new version of ‘Steal Away’, his 1983 song about a couple fleeing the Troubles.

The song was partially translated into Ukrainian and a national Ukrainian choir in Ireland was formed with support from local development companies after a Cavan community worker came up with the idea some months ago. Since the song’s launch yesterday, the initiative has won widespread media coverage, helping to highlight community work to integrate and support Ukrainians in Ireland.

Speaking just before the performance at Saint Stephen’s Church, Mount Street Crescent, Dublin, yesterday, Phil Coulter said that the rehearsals and listening to the choir sing Steal Away in Ukrainian “was the most uplifting experience I’ve had in all my years”.

The initiative was the brainchild of Terry Hyland, CEO at Cavan County Local Development, and was put together in collaboration with Phil and Adeline O’Brien, CEO at Empower, the local development company for Fingal; and was centrally co-ordinated by the Irish Local Development Network.

The collaborative project brought Ukrainians together from across the country to express themselves through music and song and some of the national choir members have now started their own choirs locally.

Terry Hyland told Changing Ireland: “Local development companies around the country are at the coalface in terms of supporting displaced Ukrainian people coming to this country, on the health and wellbeing side of things as well.

“One of the things we set up here in Cavan through our Fáilte Isteach programme was a choir. The whole idea of it was is that people could mix with Irish people, sing in the choir, improve their English. But also mentally it’s good to sing, it’s good for the soul.

• Terry Hyland speaking at the launch of the song in Dublin. Photo courtesy of Michelle Mulally from the ILDN.

“Then I had Phil Coulter on the radio in the car, it was Steal Away. And I thought, this song has a lot of connotations of what Irish people went through in our recent past in terms of conflict with a bigger, more powerful neighbour and the history of people having to leave Ireland.

Steal Away is essentially about people fleeing the Troubles in Northern Ireland. And I thought that it resonates exactly with the plight of Ukrainian people.

“And there’s a lot of fatigue out there amongst the Irish population in terms of the war on Ukraine, this perception that accommodation is being taken up by refugees that could be used to house homeless people. There’s a whole right-wing agenda that’s out there.

“So I thought that maybe this song could be used in a way that might help to win back the dressing rooms, so to speak, in terms of the Irish people, and get people to think about ‘Yeah, we went through this ourselves’. And then see how people can relate to the plight of the Ukrainians coming here, and what their needs are, what they’re going through. And it’s a good opportunity for Ukrainian people to understand the Irish history as well.”

Terry was introduced to Phil Coulter through a friend of his, Young Wolfe Tones singer Andreas Durkin.

When Terry put the idea to Phil about a Ukrainian choir recording a new version of his song, luckily he was “hook, line and singer”.

“He thought it was a brilliant idea, a lovely concept to explore. And Phil jumped in with us from day one. He’s doing this on his own back, his own time – we’re not paying Phil to do this,” revealed Terry.

He added: “What’s also happening now is that new choir groups are out performing around the country in their local areas as a result of this. So not only have we formed a strong choir, but also we’ve been able to get new choirs set up in other parts of the country.

“I think they (the Ukrainians) are getting a real kick out of it, it’s very special and they feel like they’re doing something worthwhile.”

The choir’s journey and the process of recording the song has also been documented by a film crew. The group hope to launch the documentary in September.

Terry concluded: “There is a fatigue out there. The war continues on, and there are other natural disasters and things happening. So it’s just to keep the focus on the war on Ukraine and that we do have 80,000 people in the country here. They’re doing their best, and we’re doing our best for them as well.”

Promoting inclusive communities

Speaking at the launch, Adeline O’Brien, CEO at Empower, local development company for Fingal, said:

“Our community is always at the heart of what we do in local development companies and our goal is to deliver positive change for individuals and marginalised groups in our area. We wouldn’t be able to do this work without SICAP funding from the Department of Community and Rural Development.”

“The lyrics of the song are just as powerful today as they were in 1983 when the song was originally released. The choir has provided a safe space for those fleeing the war in Ukraine to express themselves, to find friendship, to seek out new opportunities and to learn English,” she said.

• Carol Baumann.

Carol Baumann, CEO at the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN) said she was “delighted” to have been able to co-ordinate the initiative in conjunction with Local Development Companies across the country.

“The single ‘Steal Away’ is just one positive outcome from this initiative. The most important outcome is the impact on the community. Some of our national choir members have started their own choirs locally providing an opportunity for further integration.

“Along with initiatives like the Ukrainian National Choir, local development companies assist communities and disadvantaged individuals and groups with personal development and well-being; education and training; employment services; family supports and urban and rural development. Our LDCs are doing remarkable work across the country, and we hope to continue to help build inclusive communities where all members are valued and supported,” she said.

Steal Away was first released by The Furey Brothers and Davy Arthur in 1983. Watch their recording here:

Lyrics and chords here:

And here is Phil Coulter singing the song beautifully some years ago: