At Home With Nóirín Ní Riain

February 08th 2008

Source: The Limerick Leader.

OVER 225,000 viewers tuned in to the recent TV documentary on singer Nóirín Ní Riain. And although she doesn’t even have a telly of her own in her house, Nóirín was more than chuffed.

“We were competing with ‘Desperate Housewives’ that night and RTE had expected about half that figure. But then, it was well publicised beforehand,” she points out modestly.

She lives in a small, but very atmospheric house – she calls it a ‘little space’ – in a haunting sylvan setting in the woods of Glenstal. It’s the perfect place to write a book, which is exactly what Nóirín is doing at the moment.

The subject is “The Theology of Listening”. The publisher is Veritas, and deadlines, she said, are the bane of her life at the moment. But while the discipline may be a challenge, listening is a theme that has always fascinated her, even as a young girl.

“Every sound, like the wind through the trees reminded me of God. As a child, God was my best friend.”

Listening is also a theme that she has already explored deeply for her PhD – she became the first Doctor of Theology conferred by UL in 2003 – and she even has a word for it “Theosony”.

“In Western Society, the ear is the Cinderella of the senses,” she says. “Even when we come to a realisation of something, we always say ‘I see’.”

For Nóirín now in her new life, even the silence is filled with sound. She follows the daily routine of the Monastery – up at 6.55am for prayer.

“I love the quiet and stillness of the early morning,” – then it’s back to her house for breakfast. This is followed by Matins and lauds “chanting a prayer very softly” and then two long readings.

Most afternoons, she might play tennis. “I play tennis four or five times a week.”

In the evening, she has Vespers at 6pm, then supper and finally night prayer at 8.35. “After that, I have some time for myself. I don’t have a television. I buy the Irish Times every day and keep up with what is happening.”

Nóirín opened her heart and soul to the nation in the TV documentary ‘Voice on the Edge’, and was flooded with letters, cards and flowers in the days following the programme.

She thoroughly enjoyed making the programme which included a trip to Tibet, but she regrets that some parts that had been filmed had to be cut including a tribute to a great friend, the late John O’Donoghue, whose book Anam Cara, she once helped promote in America.

“As well as being a philosopher, he had a tremendous sense of humour,” she said. She also wanted to pay tribute to her mentor, Fr Eamon Conway of the Department of Theology at Mary Immaculate College.

She used to lecture full time in the college, and still does part time lecturing there in Spirituality and Education, and she has always loved it. At the moment, she is preparing for the eighth annual ‘Jung in Ireland’ seminar in Donegal and Belfast at the end of March and in early April.

Family is important to Nóirín Ní Riain. She is now divorced from her husband, Micheal O Suilleabhan, Professor of Music at UL, and their two sons, Eoin (27) and Micheal (23) are grown up and living their own lives. But they’ve all collaborated in the family’s first album entitled ‘AMEN’ – a collection of spiritual songs and sean n”s style hymns. Eoin, by the way, teaches at the VTOS at Sexton Street and Micheal Junior (Moley) has just done a Masters in Rap and now hopes to do a Doctorate.

She’s extremely proud of them – they have their own group ‘size2shoes’ and are currently producing their first acoustic pop album – but she also wants to mention her own family.

Her brother Noel, an accountant who lives in Caherconlish and his wife Annette who teaches in Monaleen and their five children, and her sister Marion and her husband, Dr Stephen Flynn of Charlotte Quay and their five children, and, of course, her late parents, Paddy and Nora.

Everyone is looking forward to her book. But there’s also a book in the life of Nóirín Ní Riain and she’s the only one who could really do it justice. She regrets the loss of a “sense of mystery” in Theology, but welcomes what she firmly believes will be a new inclusiveness, admitting that as a woman she too has “been in pain”.

Friendly, articulate, uplifting, open and full of hope, she’s all ears – the ultimate communicator. She’s also naturally stylish and elegant. In her mid fifties now, growing old holds no fears for her.

“I’ll enjoy the wisdom that comes with age. You can’t be wise when you’re young.”

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