Nóirín Ní Riain

Nóirín Ní Riain, photo taken from autobiography

Nóirín Ní Riain, photo taken from autobiography

Nóirín Ní Riain is one of Ireland’s best known musicians, in one of the quietest ways possible. From a listening experience, it is obvious that the reason she is not talked about as much as she should be is because of the nature of her voice. No one who listens can stop, and all an eager fan can do is hear; hear Nóirín’s unique sound. Many’s the time people have found themselves, after a few hours of listening, with a few tears in their eyes. Her voice is beautiful, perfectly synced, limitless. Nóirín’s voice is the only such gift from God, so strong, that is can immediately hush the atmosphere around the listener and cast them into a gentle, but important stream of thought.

Nóirín Ní Riain has the voice of a Byzantine angel. She is surely the High Priestess of Gregorian Chant.
– Anjelica Huston (Actress and Film Producer)

Often it is asked how a singer of her calibre can remain so meek, so shy. Nóirín Ní Riain grew up shy, meek, and intelligent. Reading her thesis, listening to her speak is calming, but still has the brain, and more importantly, the ear, listening and wondering into thought. Nóirín is a complicated lady, and that is one of the reasons people are so intrigued by her frame of thought which is, to say the least, humanly advanced, although Nóirín would never think that. She is undoubtedly one of the most welcoming people to encounter in the music business, and treats each and every living organism with love and passion, spreading the word on her faith and the songs which she sings.

Born in Caherconlish in County Limerick on the west coast of Ireland, Nóirín began to take singing lessons at the tender age of seven and studied music at University College, Cork, her speciality being religious music. Although also known as a sean-nós singer and writer, her spiritual songs have been a spark of inspiration for so many. Sinéad O’Connor, who collaborated with Nóirín in 2004 said, “Nóirín is my biggest influence and heroine in music,” something that people consider Nóirín to be in their own lives; Ní Riain has, so gently, helped thousands through her music and gentle encouragement of life.

Her sophisticated understanding of the ancient ritual songs from Irish and other cultures connects us all with the Divine
– Lynne Franks (Author / Entrepreneur)

As a young girl, Nóirín used to visit Glenstal Abbey on a regular basis, singing and listening to the Gregorian Chant of the monks, something that she herself is now renowned for. Ní Riain has performed at many events that other spiritual musicians can only dream of, including 1989′s International Peace Gathering in Costa Rica, introducing His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. She went on to perform for His Holiness a third and fourth time upcon his visit to Ireland in 2011, a feat known by only a handful of living artists.

Nóirín has been a great force in music since the day she released her début album, ‘Seinn Aililiú’ in 1978 under the famous Gael Linn label. Some of her early recordings have recently been remastered, one of the essentials being ‘Caoineadh na Maighdine’, or ‘The Virgin’s Lament’. The first time one listens to such an album, they are guaranteed to produce a tear – the conviction in Nóirín’s voice so unique and so clear. The album’s beauty is indescribable, delicate, dríochta. One song, Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire, tells the story of the three Marys on Calvary and their lamenting conversations as they look on in disbelief and anguish: their beautiful Jesus on the cross, in pain. Following that album, many other labels have followed her journey, including recordings under CBS Records, Hummingbird Records and Sharon Shannon’s Daisy Discs with her sons Eoin and Mícheal as Amen, yet Nóirín continues to record in Glenstal Abbey, as opposed to the “stereotypical” studios that one would use as career gained foot, and Nóirín has more than gained foot.

Nóirín is my biggest influence
and heroine in music
– Sinéad O’Connor

Her production skills are also intricately perfect; listen to the ‘In Praise of Mary’ album by the Cistercian Nuns of St. Mary’s Abbey in Glencairn, where Amen was recorded. In 2008, Ireland’s national television station, RTÉ One, broadcasted a biographical vision of Ní Riain which surpassed the ratings of Britain and Ireland’s The X Factor. In 2009, she released her autobiography, ‘Listen with the Ear of the Heart’ and in 2011 she will release a book on her own subject, ‘Theosony’ – the cross between God, the God of all worldly faiths and religious, and Sound. Afterall, “those who sing, pray twice“. And prayer is a comfort, acted on in calmness.

Yes, there is something unique about Nóirín Ní Riain, something magical that one cannot pin-point, something we can only hear; an aural grace, if you like. There is a lot to be learned from this “precious stone in the crown of the High Priestess” (to quote Brian Kennedy). One can only begin to dream of what is next for Nóirín Ní Riain, but one thing is certain, and that is the sound of perfection – love, care, authenticity and honesty – that we rarely hear nowadays. Amen.

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