Artist Profiles: Iarla O Lionáird

Iarla O Lionáird

Born in 1964 as one of 12 children, O Lionaird grew up in west County Cork in Cúil Aodha, a remote, rural Gaeltacht area where Irish was the first language spoken by the people and emigration was as common as supper.

Because I grew up in the countryside, I can understand so strongly that the only things these men had ever really heard were birds and cows and horses. So, from a familiar world of country lanes and cottages and seasonal farm work – that’s the mindscape Noel’s and Martin’s music comes from, a world of birdsong, of gentleness-all of a sudden, these people were hearing monstrous machines, Hilti guns, buses. The mind wouldn’t have the apparatus to deal with that, it could be quite a crushing experience. That was the threshold we were trying to cross…”

I spend a vast proportion of my working time in London now, but until recently I knew nothing about the London-Irish community, apart from old fellas in Cull Aodha who’d worked their whole lives as laborers and their memories were very scattered. That workman’s life in London had, and indeed has, quite an invisibility to it. A never-ending supply of young men who are dead by their early 60s...’

Although many voices and accents and experiences are brought to bear on his solo CD, many percolate. From O Lionáird’s native Cúil Aodha where the local hinterland hosts many fine poets, storytellers, fiddlers and flute-players. 0 Lionáird’s own childhood experiences with the native choir in the Cúil Aodha church tangibly influence his music. Iarla was involved with the choir until his early 20s, when he left to study literature in University College, Dublin and worked for some years as a teacher. Increasingly, however, his sean nós (literally “old style”) crooning began to pop up on recordings such as on Shaun Davey’s symphony The Pilgrim and on the great accordion-player Tony McMahon’s album with Noel Hill, AISLINGI CHEOIL Indeed. It was McMahon who coaxed O Lionáird back into singing after a two-year “sabbatical.”

Nowadays, O Lionáird spends a considerable amount of his time with the big touring outfit Afro Celt Sound System. However O Lionáird also tours his own “multi-media” solo show, backed up by projected computer-generated imagery. “It’s basically a set of 17 songs, about half of them accompanied by backing tracks from Michael Brook, like ambient poems. It’s pretty intense, but it’s a fantastic workout for me.”

I’m extremely fortunate with my solo work, in that I can indulge myself and make the work more dreamy-and more hardcore at times. I don’t have to go down the paths that people other than Real World would try and carve out for me. I’d wither away without that opportunity.”


The Seven Steps To Mercy (Real World Records, 1997)
I Could Read the Sky (Real World Records, 2000)
Invisible Fields (Real World Records, 2005)
Foxlight (Real World Records, 2011)

With The Afro Celt Sound System:

Volume 1: Sound Magic (Real World Records, 1996)
Volume 2: Release (Real World Records, 1999)
Volume 3: Further in Time (Real World Records, 2001)
Seed (Real World Records, 2003)
Pod (Remix album) (Real World Records, 2004)
Volume 5: Anatomic (Real World Records, 2005)
Capture: 1995-2010 (Real World Records, 2010)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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