Ukrainian Irish trad and folk band The Jolly’s will be in Cork this month.

A Jolly chapter in a tale of war, exile, music and hope

“We are Irish, not because we were born in Ireland, but because Ireland was born in us.”

Before Russia invaded, Ukrainian Irish folk and trad band The Jolly’s had always dreamed of visiting the home of the music they have come to love so much.

It’s a beautiful dream and one that deserved to come true in happier circumstances, yet here they are in Ireland, exhausted and heartbroken having fled the nightmare of war in a small car full of big dreams, hope, and musical instruments.

Their journey west has taken them from their home town of Odessa, through Germany, Italy and Switzerland, playing gigs as they went to earn enough money to keep pushing towards their dream. It was a difficult journey for many reasons, not least the sudden and catastrophic failure of their poor car’s engine, right in the middle of the road. A mechanic was called who confirmed that the car, which had carried them safely from the grips of war, would go no further.

Turning up for a concert in Switzerland in a tow truck was never part of the plan for The Jolly’s, but they made the best of it, scrapped the car, and purchased plane tickets to Ireland, an emerald light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Now, with tears in their eyes and their feet firmly planted on Irish soil, The Jolly’s have set forth to bring joy and music to every corner of the island.

Recalling the past 6 months, band member Svetlana says she and her bandmates never expected to see war in their lifetime.

“It’s been long, hard and terrible time since the war has started. I remember the first day, it was like the worst nightmare, when each of us woke up to sounds we had never heard before – explosions in the middle of the night. But it is what it is, so we got used to living to the sound of sirens and explosions here and there.

“We feel helpless. War today is not about ordinary people, it's about politics. They measure their strength and ordinary people suffer and die. It's not fair, but to be honest, there's nothing to fight for.

“We don't read the news often because it's not the most reliable source of information. We are always waiting for news from our friends and relatives – every day we want to hear that they are alright. I really want to believe that everything will end soon and we will be able to live a peaceful life again.”

The Jolly’s remained in the Ukraine for several months after the invasion, trying to think of ways to make a living as the violence spread and work became more and more scarce. Then they had the idea to play a series of online concerts which were very successful and gave them a foundation upon which they began to build a new future.

“I'll tell you that Switzerland is not the best country where you can have problems with your car. It’s incredibly expensive. So, we were left without a car and with a huge amount of stuff it was carrying – clothes, food, musical equipment, musical instruments. Some of the stuff we left behind. Then we had to buy plane tickets, and here it is, a moment of happiness – we are holding tickets to Dublin in our hands,” says Svetlana.

The Jolly’s played Irish music in the Ukraine for 10 years and put the love affair down to a “kind of magic” they can’t rightly explain – a soul-deep longing that has put down permanent roots in their hearts. It’s no wonder they cried when they set down at Dublin Airport, clutching their instruments and looking for their next road.

“What we love the most about Irish music is that it brings people all over the world together. This culture has taken root very deeply. It is what High Kings sing in their song: “Wherever you go around the world, you’ll find an Irish pub,”, which is very convenient for musicians who play Irish music.

“Of course, we are worried about the quality of performance, we are worried about how the Irish will appreciate what we do. It's like an exam that we have to pass at the end of our university. We had never been to Ireland before, never studied this music with any teacher. Everything we know, we learned from the internet. But the coolest thing is when everyone sings songs together with us. This energy of love and solidarity charges us every time.”

Having already played a handful of gigs in Cork, The Jolly’s are back on Leeside on 7 September at the Thomond Bar, 9 September at Kelly’s Bar in Cobh, 10 September at the Hibernian Hotel in Mallow, and 11 September at Geary’s Bar in Charleville. Their plan now is to buy a car.

“We want to play gigs in order to make money for living. We want to buy a car to be able to move around. We want to travel all over Ireland, explore every corner of it, soak up the atmosphere. We'll probably be here for a few months. Or maybe we will stay forever – who knows how life will turn?”