Iarla Ó Lionáird

Iarla Ó Lionáird is an Irish singer and record producer. He sings in the traditional sean-nós style. He was a member of the Afro Celt Sound System and is a member of the Irish-American supergroup The Gloaming. He has recorded several solo albums for Real World Records. He appeared in the 2015 film Brooklyn singing an a cappella version of the Irish song "Casadh an tSugain".

Iarla Ó Lionáird
Iarla Ó Lionáird in Woodstock Gardens, Inistioge, County Kilkenny in July 2011
Iarla Ó Lionáird in Woodstock Gardens, Inistioge, County Kilkenny in July 2011
Background information
OriginCúil Aodha, County Cork, Ireland
GenresIrish traditional
LabelsReal World Records
Associated actsAfro Celt Sound System
Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin
The Gloaming

Early lifeEdit

Ó Lionáird was born and raised in Cúil Aodha in the West Cork Gaeltacht, a primarily Irish-speaking region. His father was a teacher and his mother and grandmother were singers in the traditional sean-nós style. Elizabeth Cronin, whose singing was recorded by Alan Lomax, was Ó Lionáird's great-aunt. Ó Lionáird was one of twelve children in his family.[1]

Ó Lionáird first sang publicly at the age of five, and made his first radio broadcast at seven. At the age of twelve he recorded the traditional song "Aisling Gheal" for Gael Linn Records.[2]:159 He joined Seán Ó Riada's male voice choir Cór Chúil Aodha as a child and sang in the choir, directed after Sean Ó Riada's death by his son Peadar, until he was in his early twenties. [1] Ó Lionáird earned a Bachelor of Education degree at Carysfort College in Dublin and was employed as a primary school teacher for seven years before making a career as a singer.[3]

Musical careerEdit

Ó Lionáird collaborated with Tony MacMahon and Noel Hill on Aislingí Ceoil – Music of Dreams, a live album of traditional Irish music recorded in Dublin in 1993 and released in 1994 by Gael Linn. Ó Lionáird performed three songs in sean-nós style with piano accompaniment.[4]

Seeking a way to combine his role as a "culture-bearing" traditional singer with musical creativity in order to "make new music", Ó Lionáird was drawn to ambient music for its "capacity to accept ornate styles of music as part of its matrix". He has said that hearing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing on Peter Gabriel's album Passion was a "light bulb moment" which made him think that sean-nós could also "inhabit this ambient soundscape".[5] Ó Lionáird wrote to Peter Gabriel asking for a chance to record on Gabriel's Real World Records. Gabriel invited him to a "recording week" at his studio, which led to his membership in the Afro Celt Sound System.[3] Ó Lionáird joined the session in July 1995 at which Volume 1: Sound Magic was recorded.[6] He appeared on the group's five subsequent studio recordings.[1] He also sings on the Peter Gabriel album OVO.

Ó Lionáird has released three solo albums on the Real World Records label. The Seven Steps to Mercy (1997) was produced by Michael Brook. The production incorporated sampled nature sounds Ó Lionáird had recorded himself. The album includes a recording of the fourteen-year old Ó Lionáird singing "Aisling Gheal" in 1978.[7] It was followed in 2005 by Invisible Fields, which Ó Lionáird produced himself, and in 2011 by Foxlight, which was produced by Leo Abrahams.[8][9] His 2000 album I Could Read the Sky, also on Real World Records, is the soundtrack to the 1999 film of the same name. He sings on Áilleacht, a 2005 album by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin.

Several composers, including Gavin Bryars and Donnacha Dennehy, have written works for Ó Lionáird. Bryars first wrote a song arrangement for voice and viols that appeared on the 2005 album Invisible Fields. He went on to write a major work, Anáil Dé (The Breath of God) for Ó Lionáird and members of the Crash Ensemble. Ó Lionáird suggested the title and the texts for the piece, which is based on a collection of Irish prayers and poems. It was performed for the first time in Dublin in November 2008.[10]

Ó Lionáird collaborated with Donnacha Dennehy during Dennehy's research for and composition of Grá agus Bás, a work that "incorporates traditional sean nos singing within a contemporary music idiom".[11] Commissioned by Trinity College, Dublin, the work was first performed in Dublin in February 2007 by Ó Lionáird and the Crash Ensemble with Alan Pierson conducting.[12] It had its United States premiere at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City in March 2007, in what the New York Times called a "powerful account" of a "magnificently energetic, wildly cacophonous vocal work".[13] Ó Lionáird sang the piece at Carnegie Hall in May 2013 in a concert of Dennehy's music with the Crash Ensemble and Dawn Upshaw.[14] Nonesuch Records released a CD recording entitled Grá Agus Bás containing this and other works by Dennehy in May 2011.[12]

Along with fiddlers Martin Hayes and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, guitarist Dennis Cahill, and pianist Doveman, Ó Lionáird is a member of The Gloaming, an Irish-American supergroup whose self-titled first album was released in 2014, winning the Meteor Choice Music Prize for Irish album of the year.[15][16]

From September 2016 Ó Lionáird appeared in The Hunger, an opera by Donnacha Dennehy about the Great Famine.[17]

Other workEdit

In 2013 University College Cork appointed Ó Lionáird the School of Music and Theatre's first Traditional Artist in Residence.[18] In that capacity he gave lectures and taught sean-nós singing, as well as performing.[19]

Ó Lionáird appears in the 2015 film Brooklyn. He has said that he was reluctant to take the role "because I'm not an actor" but that he decided to accept when he learned that Colm Tóibín, the author of the novel on which the film was based, had asked the film's director to ask him. Ó Lionáird plays Frankie Doran, a poor workingman who sings the traditional song "Casadh an tSúgáin" (Twisting the Rope) during Christmas dinner at a soup kitchen.[20]

In May 2015 Ó Lionáird hosted a five-part radio documentary series about singing entitled Vocal Chords, which drew on "personal experience, academic contributions and a global cast of vocalists" including Sinéad O'Connor and Christy Moore.[21]

Personal lifeEdit

Ó Lionáird earned a Master of Arts degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Limerick in 2003.[22] He lives in Inistioge in County Kilkenny with his wife Eimear and their three children.[5]


Solo albumsEdit

Albums With The Afro Celt Sound SystemEdit

Other albumsEdit

  • Tony MacMahon, Iarla Ó Lionáird & Noel Hill – Aislingi Ceoil / Music Of Dreams (Gael Linn, 1994)
  • Donnacha Dennehy – Grá Agus Bás (Nonesuch Records, 2011)
  • Cork Gamelan Ensemble – The Three Forges (Diatribe Records, 2015)
  • Pádraigín Ní UallacháinÁilleacht (2005)


  1. ^ a b c "Iarla Ó Lionáird". Real World Records. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  2. ^ O'Flynn, John; Fitzgerald, Mark (2014). Music and Identity in Ireland and Beyond. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4724-0968-3.
  3. ^ a b "Aisling Gheal: an interview with Iarla Ó Lionáird". FolkWorld – the Online Music Magazine (4). May 1998. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  4. ^ Fairbairn, Peter. "Tony MacMahon, Noel Hill & Iarla O Lionaird". The Living Tradition. No. 5. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  5. ^ a b Helen Shaw (Contributor), Iarla Ó Lionáird (Contributor) (19 February 2015). "Episode 5 – Iarla Ó Lionáird". The Family of Things. Episode 5. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  6. ^ "Volume 1 – Sound Magic". Real World Records. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  7. ^ "The Seven Steps to Mercy". Real World Records. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  8. ^ "Invisible Fields". Real World Records. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Foxlight". Real World Records. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  10. ^ Wallace, Arminta (13 November 2008). "Farewell to philosophy? Not quite..." The Irish Times. Dublin. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  11. ^ Dennehy, Donnacha (January 2015). "Owning overtones: Grá agus Bás and spectral traditions". Tempo. 69 (271): 24–35. doi:10.1017/S0040298214000904.
  12. ^ a b "Donnacha Dennehy: Grá agus Bás". Nonesuch Records. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  13. ^ Kozinn, Allan (30 March 2007). "Listening to then and now (They sound a lot alike)". The New York Times. p. E15. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  14. ^ Schweitzer, Vivien (20 May 2013). "A genre, old and Irish, is renewed". The New York Times. p. C7. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  15. ^ Kelly, Aoife (5 March 2015). "The Gloaming win coveted Meteor Choice Music Prize Album of the Year, The Script bag Song of the Year". Irish Independent. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  16. ^ Hickling, Alfred (23 July 2014). "How The Gloaming assembled their craic squad". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  17. ^ Anne, Midgette (2 June 2016). "Opera 'The Hunger' offers an austere, earnest thesis on world history". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  18. ^ "Iarla Ó Lionáird appointed first Traditional Artist in Residence at UCC". Music at UCC. University College Cork. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  19. ^ "Iarla Ó Lionáird concludes his year as the first Traditional Artist in Residence at UCC". The Arts Council. 16 June 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  20. ^ Campbell, Brian (26 November 2015). "Singer Iarla on Brooklyn and The Gloaming ahead of northern gigs". The Irish News. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  21. ^ Heaney, Mick (2 May 2015). "Radio: A bit of fine tuning and Iarla Ó Lionáird will hit all the right notes". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Iarla Ó Lionáird". Blas International Summer School of Irish Traditional Music and Dance. Archived from the original on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.

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