Seán-nós singer Nóirín Ní Riain is truly an enigma. A lady with a deep faith, she has just released a new album Celtic Joy, a Celebration of Christmas which also features her two sons, Eoin & Mícheal Ó Suilleabháin. The beautiful album, which features songs like The Coventry Carol, Ave Maria The Beatitudes, The Holly & The Ivy and Ave Verum, was recorded in Waterford’s Glencairn Abbey, a sacred place which is very close to Nóirín’s heart.
“I’ve had a life-long relationship with the community at Glencairn. I’ve been going down there for the past 20 years helping with the singing and the praying. We were looking for somewhere different to record and the sisters have such a love for music that it seemed natural to choose there. They were so wonderful. We disrupted their whole day, dragging in equipment and everything, but it was truly special. I’ve always been dedicated to the sisters. Even when the boys were young they would send me back with vegetables and queen cakes, which became known as Nun’s buns in our house.”
The collaboration between mother and songs has proved very popular in the States, and next year the family are set to tour, having signed a deal with CMI Entertainment. The top agents also promote established Irish acts like Phil Coulter and the Three Tenors. The trio now go under ‘AMEN’, which Nóirín admits is ‘cheesy’, because aside from the obvious cannotations, also denotes Audience, Mícheál, Eoin, Nóirín. Despite her obvious reverance, Nóirín has a fantastic sense of humour and says she still loves performing and the work she does, despite having set out in 1970.
“A friend told me to stop reinventing myself but I love it. It’s never quiet in our house, and no two days are the same. You never know what’s round the corner so you just have to live each day. Of course I still get nervous when performing, but it also gives you such a sense of peace. You have to keep focused when you are performing, even when you see people are affected by it. You know it’s not you, but something they are getting through being there, and even if one person walks away feeling better, then my job is done. There are huge thereaputic properties to chant and so humbling to be in the presence of God. It’s really a pity we lost chanting in church.”
Despite having performed all over the world, Nóirín didn’t actually start performing publicly until she was 35. Married to legendary composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Nóirín wanted to stay at home while her children were small. She soon became involved with Amnesty International and teamed up with Angelica Huston and Gregory Peck, whom she describes as “friends”.
“They are not celebritied, just ordinary people. I had an instant rapport with Angelica and she invited me over for dinner. When I went she had made pizza and was smoking a fag. She’s just normal. She then offered me a vignette part in Agnes Browne and it was brilliant to see the other side of the film industry.” There have been many highlights in Nóirín’s career. “I guess one was when I was introduced to His Holiness The Dalai Lama. I led him into a huge cathedral chanting, and it was so powerful. Another would be when I led the Olympic Flame onto the bridge in Sarajevo in the early 90’s. Of course, my old favourites are singing in Glenstal Abbey here, beside my home and with the sisters in Glencairn Abbey. My prayer life is above and beyond the most important thing to me and singing just happens to slot into that. Singing is a gift that comes from somewhere and if you have a talent you must use it. There is a wider purpose for performances, I believe.”
Nóirín’s devotion to God can certainly be heard in the new album, ‘Celtic Joy’, which is in all good record shops now.
© Waterford News & Star 2008