The Leader Interview: Eoin Ó Suilleabháin

October 20th 2006

Source: The Limerick Leader.

AT JUST 26-years-of-age Eoin Ó Súilleabhain, musician and director of the Sionna Festival, has already led a most interesting life. AINE FITZGERALD meets the singer who does not watch tv, but who can count actor Russell Crowe amongst his mates. Eoin moves in direction of the river dance and the music.

“I SUPPOSE they did, I suppose my friends thought that I was cool when I was growing up but when you are young and your parents are a bit different. Your friends can think that you are a bit strange too. In my case they probably still do. “Look at t his teapot,” laughs Eoin Ó Súilleabháin as he attempts to pour tea from a rather wrecked teapot. The son of famed musicians Micheal Ó Súilleabháin and Noirin Ní Riain, Eoin spent the first eight years of his life in Glanmire in Cork before moving in 1988 to Murroe. In 1993 the family moved to Newport in Tipperary. “There was music everywhere and also a lot of interesting people. I have loads of great memories of my parents bringing me to gigs that they were doing in these cool churches and while they would have to perform we would be left to run loose and climb around backstage at these weird churches,” he explains. The “we” Eoin is referring to, is he and his younger brother Micheal who is four years his junior at 22. He is also a singer. For Eoin, the voice was the first instrument that he would play and the one that he would use most in his colourful career. “I’ve always been singing. Jasus this teapot. Yeah the voice has always been the main instrument for me. I’ve played a bit of piano and I play a bit of guitar but no other instrument really took me like the voice. I got into performing through school musicals. I loved it. I got sucked in. I used to play, not the lead roles, but the baddies, the more interesting ones,” he explains. All types of music influenced Eoin growing up. Of course his parents were big into traditional and classical music but these sounds were not to become Eoin’s musical mainstay. “My father would have had a huge influence on me. I would be influenced by other traditions from India and all over the world, really. The first cassette I bought was Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. I loved Jackson. And then I got into Nirvana. Nevermind was probably one of my first tapes as well. Nowadays, I love electro music, jazz, everything really,” he says.

“The power of music to bring people together, to get everyone tapping to the same beat, even for a minute, is quite crazy”
- Eoin Ó Súilleabháin

Currently, Eoin is overseeing the Sionna Festival which takes place this week in Limerick. He is the director of the festival. Hosted by the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, Sionna is a celebration of music, song and dance, featuring performers from Ireland, England, Scotland, Hungary, France, India and the USA, and is taking place in venues throughout Limerick city. “It has come up and down in different guises over the years but in the last three years it has really consolidated and grown. I was directing it last year as well. It’s the showcase of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at UL and they have nine Masters programmes, a BA programme and another BA programme coming on stream next year. Sionna is their public event and all the programmes come together to make something that is unique to Limerick-that can’t be found in any other city in the world, something that you wouldn’t even get in New York.” The position as director of the festival is a part-time job for Eoin. “We are finishing Saturday in the Concert Hall with the Chieftains, who will be surrounded by about 50 or 60 of the Irish traditional music and dance students and that’s going to be electric. “The Chieftains were the first ever Irish trad band to go professional and now you have students doing BA programmes in Irish music and dance performing with them-It’s going to be pretty magic,” he says. *Having completed his own Degree in Philosophy in UCD Eoin went on to do a Masters which brought him back to Limerick. “I did my Masters in Peace and Development Studies in UL. It was an amazing course and what was even better was that we set up a students society called the Peace Society and we did the most amazing stuff. We fund-raised, I think it was over €40,000 in two years for different charities and then we would go and travel to these places and actually pass on the funds,”says Eoin excusing himself to answer a call on his mobile before continuing. “I’ve always been drawn to event management. I did my work experience with the Irish Chamber Orchestra and then the Summer before last, I went for this job as orchestral manager with the World Youth Orchestra which is based in Rome. It’s a full 60 piece orchestra-the best of young classical musicians in the world. They are all in their twenties and they get scholarships. They came to Italy and rehearsed for two weeks. Then we went on a tour to Israel, played a gig in Jerusalem, went up to Ramallah and crossed the border into Jordan and went into Amman. “Two tour buses and a van with five double bases, these massive things and we trying to cross the border, surrounded by Israeli soldiers with M16s.” The World Youth Orchestra did succeed in getting Palestinian and Israeli musicians to join them in song. “The power of music to bring people together, to get everyone tapping to the same beat, even for a minute is quite crazy when you consider the conflict,” he adds. Meanwhile, Eoin also performs with his mother Noirin and his brother Micheal, in a trio called AMEN. “The M is for Micheal, the E is for Eoin, the N is for Noirin and the A is for the almighty or the audience. Mum brings us to gigs a lot. If she gets invited somewhere she says, oh sure I’ll bring the lads along too-so that has been a lot of fun. “I perform with my brother a lot too. We write our own songs and we are recording our first album of songs, in December which we are releasing in March. We are called Size Two Shoes and we came up the title, New Wave Acoustic Unplugged Irish Pop Music. The songs are really focused on our two voices and the harmonies that we do. We keep it really chilled out and unplugged.”

Eoin also teaches English part-time with the city of Limerick VEC at the Adult Education College under the vocational training opportunity schemes (VTOS). ” I teach English to refugees and international students. I used the school as a case study for my Masters, when I examined how traditional Irish structures like a VEC have had to change because of this new client that has been presented. What with so many pokers in the fire, is there one area or one path that Eoin O’Súilleabháin would like to pursue in the future? Having given up on pouring tea from the spout of the pot, he takes the practical option and lifts the lid off. “For the moment my plan is not to have one,” he says carefully ensuring that the tea makes its way into his cup. “I am interested in peace, society, relationships, community, and then outside of that everything is a spin off of that, like books and plays. I think politics is amazing and I’m constantly checking it out but as a profession it is all consuming. I read everything except for fiction for some reason I never got into novels. And I don’t watch television either. I never got into television. I think that if I got into it I would really get into it too much. So I don’t watch any television-not even the news. I read. If I want to find out something I will go to the Internet or I will pick up a specific paper. The question is put, that someone with such a multifaceted and full lifestyle, must have encountered many interesting people on his travels? “Ah sure yeah, you know,” he responds casually. “Who would be cool now that I’ve met?

A long silence ensues and then an explosion of laughter. “When Russell Crowe was over for the event in Kilkee, the council, who were organising the statue to be unveiled to Richard Harris asked me and my brother to come down and to help out with the music because Russell wanted to sing a song that he had composed for Richard. “We jumped in the car and headed down to Kilkee. On the way down we were getting phone calls from the lads in Kilkee saying that Russell was there, he had arrived. When we arrived he was with his entourage sitting outside one of the pubs having a pint waiting for the band. We didn’t know what to expect at all. So we went over, ordered a pint and sat down with Russell. We really got on. He was just so relaxed.” Eoin and his brother got on so well with the Gladiator star that they ended up having dinner with him that night in Kilkee, followed by an invitation afterwards to join him in Dromoland. “He just said, okay lads jump in the cars and come out to Dromoland for a jam. He was there with his guitarist friend Alan Doyle, the lead singer with a Canadian group called The Great Big Sea. Alan and Russell write songs together. Then there were these two ex-SAS bodyguards driving the van and so we headed out to Dromoland. We hung out there, jamming and singing. There was a wedding there and they joined us and money was not an issue. Then suddenly one of the ex-SAS bodyguards said-in a James Bond accent-there you are sir, a key for a room, you have been invited to stay the night.” *Up the next morning at eight, having been entertaining into the very early hours, Eoin and Micheal spent the day with Russell and had “a lot of fun.” “He has actually invited us down to his farm in Australia to play. He is not at all like the media portray him. He is just so down to earth. And he said an interesting thing, that if he comes out about anything that is said about him or anything that he feels personally, then the media will take him and just lash him. But he doesn’t give a damn himself; he cares about his family and friends of his wife and their family and work associates and colleagues,” says Eoin. For the moment a visit to Australia is put on the long finger and the more pressing appearance of musician Barry Douglas from Northern Ireland, at this week’s Sionna Festival, is to the forefront of Eoin’s mind. A Belfast based pianist, Mr Douglas, Eoin says, is a prodigy-”the type of person whose hands blur when he plays the piano.” “He just rocks it. This is the type of classical music that you just sit up on the edge of your seat. It’s not boring with a bunch of ould men shaking away. This is young and sexy-really hot like. 100 per cent cool.” Barry Douglas plays in St Michael’s Church on Denmark Street this Friday night at 8pm. For further information on the Sionna Festival go to www.Sionna.com.

© Limerick Leader 2006

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