All opinions expressed in this article are those of the person quoted and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the other team members or ESC United as a whole.
It’s 5 days to go until Junior Eurovision 2023, and we are counting down the 16 nations who are participating in Nice, France on Sunday, November 26, 2023.
Every day we will do an overview of a participating nation in alphabetical order, recapping how they got to Junior Eurovision, a brief history of the nation’s participation, a brief biography of the artist, and finally, our “expert” panel of editors give the entries a score out of 10 and a brief review.
Next up, we look at Ireland, a country that has struggled in both adult and junior formats, though has won plaudits for getting the kids to fly the flag for Gaelic culture.
Ireland’s history at Junior Eurovision:
Ireland only debuted at Junior Eurovision in 2015, and unfortunately they have only performed slightly better than Ireland have at Eurovision in the same time span. But for very different reasons.
Relative lack of success at Junior Eurovision is not for lack of trying, though, and Ireland has not been afraid to showcase Irish culture and Irish musical heritage. It took a while for the rub of the green to work for Ireland, but their moment arrived with a 4th place finish in 2022 with Sophie Lennon’s “Solas.” Ireland’s prior best was 10th place in 2016 with Zena Donnelly’s “Bríce ar bhríce.”
Taylor Hynes’s “IOU” has quite the cult following, especially among editors at ESC United, but could only land in 15th for Ireland at Junior Eurovision 2018. Similarly, Anna Kearney’s “Banshee” retains a cult following, even though it placed 12th at Junior Eurovision 2019. Ireland bowed out of Junior Eurovision 2020 due to COVID-19 hampering its preparations.
Maiú Levi Lawlor brought some Gaelic rock swagger with “Saor (Disappear),” though unfortunately came in 2nd last and 18th.
However, Ireland soared to fourth in 2022 with Sophie Lennon’s “Solas,” and will no doubt have taken notes as to what pushed their usual straddling of the Gaelic traditional and the modern kid appeal into a top half finish.
Another quirk: though Ireland is allowed to sing entirely in English due its being an official or language of business or language of a sizable native population group in Ireland, Ireland has on seven occasions sent more songs in Irish to Junior Eurovision than Ireland’s entire history in 50-plus years at Eurovision (once, with Sandie Jones at Eurovision 1972).
Before Junior Eurovision 2023:
Ireland once again used Junior Eurovision Eire as a method of selection for Ireland’s representative. Junior Eurovision in Ireland is supervised by TG4, a subsidiary of the independent Irish language network Teilifís na Gaeilge. Though owned by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE), by law TG4 has been independently run and operated since 2007.
Junior Eurovision Eire 2023 started with four Heats rounds, with the four winners advanced to the Semi-Finals. The second and third placed performer in each heat then faced off for a second song, where the winner of the duel also advanced to the Semi-Final. The Top Two of the eight Semi-Finalists then made it to the Grand Final, and third and fourth place went to a duel, the winner of which also made it to the Grand Final.
Most of the songs the kids performed were pop songs – both local and foreign – familiar to Irish viewers. In the Grand Final, the three kids had to perform two songs: a pop song from an influential artist, and three songs that had represented Ireland at Eurovision. Niamh Ní Chróinín and Aindriú de Paor were the judges for each episode, with a rotating guest juror every week. Mickey Joe Hart, Ireland’s representative at Eurovision 2003, was the guest judge on the Final, which was aired on October 8, 2023.
For the second year running, the winner was decided by online vote ran on TG4’s Junior Eurovision website, which opened on October 1, 2023, right after the Semi-Final was aired.
Out of all this, Jessica McKean emerged victorious over Clare Keeley (who was also the second place finisher at Junior Eurovision Eire 2022) and Niamh Beatrix Smith in the Grand Final.
10-year-old Jessica McKean is from a small farm in Lifford, County Donegal. At age 10, she is the youngest performer to represent Ireland.
She is a regular on the festival circuit in Ireland, having won her first Irish language singing contest at age 3.
An “aisling” is a Gaelic vision poem – essentially, the lyrics to the song describe Jessica’s dream, a mythical and warm depiction of a land that though has danger on its periphery is welcoming to everyone.
Niall Mooney, who co-wrote “Et Cetera” for Sinéad Mulvey & Black Daisy at Eurovision 2009 and “It’s for You” for Niamh Kavanagh at Eurovision 2010, returns for songwriting duties.
Mooney co-wrote Sophie Lennon’s “Solas,” Taylor Hines’s “IOU”, Anna Kearney’s “Banshee,” and Maiú Levi Lawlor’s “Saor (Disappear)”.
Speaking of Sophie Lennon, she has a lyrics credit for “Aisling,” alongside Niamh Mooney and Fiona Mooney.
Ken McHugh, a co-composer of “Solas” returns, and Will Weeks is added to the team.
With the background out of the way, here is what we at ESC United think of Ireland’s entry for Junior Eurovision 2023.
Providing their thoughts for Junior Eurovision this season: Alexandros (Greece), Yehonatan Cohen (Israel), Boris Meersman (Belgium), James Maude (Los Angeles, California), and William Carter (Dallas, Texas).
Alexandros – 5 – “The recent songs from Ireland for the Junior Eurovision Song Contest have this magical quality with powerful vocals, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit like something was missing in terms of authenticity. On a brighter note, the addition of Sophie Lennon at the end brought a really sweet touch to the performance, creating a lovely and charming ending that left a positive impression. Perhaps a bit more authenticity in the overall song could make it even more enchanting.”
Boris – 8.5 – “This year definitely suffers from too many ballads for a JESC year. However, what it suffers from more is that many generic mid-tempo nothings (ballad and otherwise) which are overproduced and lack a heart. Enter Ireland with this refreshing and ethereal ballad that stands out because of it’s sincerity and lower tempo. “Aisling” is a very pretty song, and quite distinct from the rest of the playing field. The range of where it could finish is very wide though, and the pressure is on Jessica to deliver a strong vocal performance. If she succeeds, Ireland may be looking at a very good result here.”
James – 8 – “My chief criticism would be for the video, and I hope that they don’t use similar color palette for the stage presentation. To sell a dream, they’ll need to amp up the bright colors, perhaps even play around with green and gold (for the castle she sings about) to wash out the grey and the darkness threatened briefly by banshees. Otherwise, this is a great showcase for Gaelic culture to the point where the Irish Tourism Board should use this. If Jessica can nail the vocals live, she should be a hit with the juries. Another slight quibble, the beats towards the end distract a little bit, but you barely notice because it hits the same time as the Sophie Lennon reveal, whose performance works even if you have no idea who she is.”
William – 6.5 – “Maybe a little too similar to last year’s entry (and not as memorable), but it’s nice to see TG4 carving out a distinct identity for Ireland as a Junior Eurovision contender. (RTE has struggled to do that in the adult contest since before any of this year’s performers were actually born.) The embrace of Irish Gaelic soundscapes and language in the song is refreshing, and Jessica’s voice is rich and transportive. I do have one simple request, however: Ireland, please give up on final chorus key changes in your Junior Eurovision entries. We don’t need them.”
Yehonatan – 9.5 – “There are not enough words to describe how magical this song is. Maybe I’m just a sucker for an excellent Celtic tune, but this is such an uplifting, charming song that I just can’t get enough of. I wish we saw more of this in ESC.”
Total: 37.5 points (Average = 7.500)
In aggregate, we at ESC United love the Irish with an average of 7.5. We have 9 more entries to go, and France remains in 1st place with 8.5 points average.
Seven countries in, here are our current rankings in editor scores:
1.) France – 42.5 points (Average = 8.500)
2.) Armenia – 38.0 points (Average = 7.600)
3.) IRELAND – 37.5 points (Average = 7.500)
4.) Georgia – 35.0 (Average = 7.000)
5.) Albania – 33.5 points (Average = 6.700)
6.) Estonia – 32.5 points (Average = 6.500)
7.) Germany – 30.5 points (Average = 6.100)
What do #YOU think of Ireland’s entry for Junior Eurovision? Do #YOU think they will get another good result off the back of another traditional Gaelic infused entry? Let us know in the comments below, on our social media, or in our forum.