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She Came Out of the Mist - Máire ní Bhraoináin of Clannad
by William Ramoutar
I recently looked at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin’s web site to find out the date that I first saw her and the band Clannad are not even mentioned as having performed there. It was a huge shock to me, as it was a seminal moment in my life. Life changing, beyond believing, actually.
I had convinced someone, but I don’t remember who, to go with me when I heard Clannad were to perform at a “midnight concert” in the Olympia. Well, for that one reason alone, I wanted to go; there had never been a “midnight” concert anywhere in Ireland, ever! So not needing much persuading, we were going! Even though I was doing the persuading! This was over thirty years ago.
Me and whomever, (!) were sitting in the balcony after having a few adult beverages when through the shrouds of the smoke machine came the ethereal notes of what was to be the “Clannad sound.” Appearing out of the mist was the wisplike figure of the voice of magic herself, Máire ní Bhraoináin. She was beautiful. We were entranced. Well, I was.
I couldn’t tell you who I was with because it didn’t matter. All that mattered was her presence, her sound, her breathing. That is what I experienced that night. Pure magic. She sang and played troubadour or Irish harp, her brothers Paul and Ciarán were there on whistle and double bass and vocals. Her uncles, Noel and Padraig, on guitars, flutes and of course, vocals. Then, or since, there has never been a sound like them. They also had James Delaney on keyboards, and the overall sound was sheer heaven.
As a matter of fact, if you closed your eyes (and I couldn’t, because of her), you would imagine this must be like Heaven is supposed to be like. It was around the time of their Magical Ring album and if you hear it, you will immediately know what I mean.
They started out singing in the family home with their parents on the Brennan side. Máire, Ciarán and Pól (or Paul in English) sister and brothers and children of Máire nee Duggan (or Baba, as she was known to all), and Leo Brennan lived in Gweedore, a gaeltacht, or Irish speaking, area of the west coast of Ireland. The Duggan family must have been the ideal family to nurture these children to grow into the multi million cd-selling act they became. By the way, at one stage they asked Maire’s little sister Éithne to join, which she did for a little while, but a European tour where she felt she had been slighted forced her to leave with the tour roadie and sound man and his wife. The sound man and his wife were Nicky and Roma Ryan, who went on with her to make her sound a worldwide smash too. Nicky is the sound engineer, Roma is the lyricist. and Éithne is Enya.
There are many Internet sites I am sure dedicated to explaining the band Clannad - its formation, its members, its sound - but all I can tell you about is what they have meant to me. To bring me back to Ireland from years living in the US, all I have to do is even think of their sound. It stays in my head. It is unmistakable once heard. Many have tried to emulate it but they end up sounding like a pale imitation.
They started with an Irish traditional sound on their first albums but there were little hints of what was to come. Their harmonies, many believe, stemmed from them being family. I’m not sure why - all I can say is even the “new” members of the families can sing as guests on recent cds, and you cannot but know they are related.
I have often said Americans are the reason Irish music exists today, but there is no two ways about it, Irish people in Ireland took Clannad to their hearts and many of their albums went to the top of the Irish music charts. Máire has collaborated on hit singles with Shane MacGowan of “The Pogues,” Paul Young of “Everytime You Go Away” fame, Bono of U2, and many more, but her solo albums and work with Clannad are the most noteworthy. On an unbelievably stupid note, Clannad’s “Magical Ring” cd was deleted once, by “the suits” in the record companies. It was because of the buying public and the television advertisement of a German car manufacturer who shall remain nameless that the cd was re-released. (Ah heck, I have to give them credit, it was Volkswagen.) Someone in their agency had the smarts to use their “Theme from Harry’s Game” (the theme music from an English TV show) in the ad. “The suits” had to swallow their pride and reissue the cd.
It also happened with the second Enya cd, when VH1 started to play “Orinoco Flow” almost every day. Oh that was a great moment for me. I hate “the suits”. Hate. They are gormless, as we say in Ireland. Pie charts and surveys and this and that - Have an opinion of your own, I say. If you think it is good, or great, it might be! There again, you might be wrong. I’m not. You will like Clannad. No - you’ll love them. When I play them on my radio programme they set the stage for the rest of the show. It can be magical, it usually is. Not because of me, but the atmosphere they can create. They can transport you to a different time, place or feeling. Believe in magic.
Another thing you will realize when you go to find Máire's solo music is, some years ago she got a bit peeved at how her Irish /gaelic name was being slaughtered by all and sundry who were doing their best to pronounce it. Something I am not sure she took into account is how the pronunciation of the language is very different in her birthplace to other parts of Ireland. Anyhoooo due to the aggravation she changed her given name to the simpler "Moya "and seemingly solved the problem.
By the way, I am sorry I have forgotten whoever was with me that night, seeing Máire and Clannad for the first time; but then, they must have forgotten me too!
BIO William Ramoutar
IRISH WAYS RADIO PROGRAMME
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Review written by William Ramoutar Presenter of Irish Ways Radio Programme, St Augustine Florida
Main image credit: Celtic Music Fan
Family Photo: Clip from Bono introduces Clannad on You Tube
Group image: Clannad web site
Clannad recordings are available on Amazon
Moya Brennan's solo recordings are also available on Amazon
Fri, Nov 3, 2017
The Round Towers
The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.
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According to the 30 or more reviews we've read, if you own just one Irish Christmas recording, this should be it. Featuring Anthony Kearns, Ronan Tynan and John McDermott, we are treated to both solo and trio performances of a dozen or more best loved holiday airs, sung in their trade-mark Irish tenor style. As one reviewer cleverly observed, if these three sang the phone book, she'd buy it!
Click here for Home for Xmas