Musicians of Cork: (Courtesy The Knotted Chord Archive, 2002)
Iarla O’Lionaird(1964- ) Sean-nos* singer
(*Sean-nos is an old singing style(literally means ‘old style’), in the Irish language, which survives in the Gaeltacht(Irish language speaking) areas of Ireland. There is also a sean-nos dance style).
Born in Cuil Aodha, the West County Cork gaeltacht, into a sean-nos singing family.
He is a grand nephew of the famous Cork singer and collector Elizabeth(Bess) Cronin. He was first recorded at age seven and became a member of the Cuil Aodha choir which was founded by Sean O’Riada and later led by Sean’s son Peadar, who Iarla cites as a major influence. The choir performed local traditional hymns as well as Sean O’Riada’s compositions.
Iarla featured in composer Shaun Davey’s The Pilgrim in 1983 and in the mid 1980’s went to University College Dublin to study literature.
In 1988 he went on to present the Irish music television show The Pure Drop the highlights of which have since been made available on video.
He recorded Aislingi Cheoil(Gael Linn) with the legendary concertina/accordion duet of Noel Hill and Tony MacMahon from County Clare in 1993. A video of that live recording was also produced.
He released a solo album called Seven Steps to Mercy/Seacht gCoisceim na Trocaire in 1997 on Peter Gabriel’s Realworld label.
In more recent years Iarla has been a member of the Emmy award-winning band Afro Celt Sound System who fuse West African and Irish music with modern dance rhythms on ancient as well as electronic instruments. They have three albums to date in which Iarla’s sean-nos singing makes a significant contribution.
His last recording, in 2000, was the soundtrack to the movie I could read the sky (about immigration from Ireland to London) which teamed him up with Sinead O’Connor, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, and Noel Hill.
But, after all that, Iarla still remembers where he and his music comes from. "It's not an ordinary place," he says. "I honestly believe that I grew up in paradise".
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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