Caitriona O’Leary – singer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I come from a musical family and grew up surrounded by music – it’s always been part of me. I decided at the age of 13 that music-making was my vocation and I never wavered.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Every experience I’ve ever had feeds into my music. But the support and encouragement I’ve always received from my parents has been crucial to my development as a musician.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Probably the greatest challenge of my career has been finding my place, my own voice, my own style and then singing only that which is most dear to me.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud? 

I’m very proud of all my recordings! I sometimes think back on my past self and my long and interesting journey to now and am embarrassed by my youthful foolishness. But when I actually listen to (or watch) a past performance, I’m always impressed and pleased.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

The songs to which I’m irresistibly drawn. Generally speaking, I think I perform medieval music, traditional Irish songs and folk songs best. Modal music! And my own compositions, of course. And I don’t quite know why, but I’ve always been attracted to laments. I feel well able to get inside and embody them.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I become interested in a topic – or a wisp of a theme – and start researching. I always become completely obsessed with it as it unfolds itself to me and blossoms into a project. Sometimes it will have been sparked by a commission or sometimes by my desire to collaborate with certain other musicians. But the development of the project always takes on a momentum of its own. And even after the recording and performances, I often keep going with the idea and let it develop in alternate ways.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I love to sing in beautiful churches – places where I can play with the acoustic. It adds another dimension to my performance.

Before I found my dream sound engineer, I was very wary of places where amplification would be necessary. It’s very liberating to be able to trust an engineer. In fact, good amplification opens up a whole new world of sonic and expressive possibilities.

But a warm and receptive audience makes up for even the most acoustically-dead and uninspiring venue!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been many, but the one that springs to mind right now is the debut concert of my group, Anakronos at the National Concert Hall, Dublin last year. Although we had potential calamities in the months leading up to the performance (and I was still sewing my costume right up to curtain time), there were absolutely no bad feelings amongst us, no gaffes on the night (at least none that weren’t incorporated into the musical texture with some deft finger/breath work). We had a blast onstage and the audience loved it! (And I don’t think anyone noticed the pins in my hem…)

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Finding the means to truly express oneself and to express oneself truthfully.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Expressing oneself truthfully, as noted above.  Listen to others. Find those you can trust and be informed and inspired by them, but never imitate! Experiment and let your own soul shine through. It might take time. A lifetime, perhaps, but above all, enjoy the journey!

What is your present state of mind?

I am grateful to have had the opportunities and the setbacks that have led me to this point in time.


‘The Red Book of Ossory’ is the debut album by Anakronos, Caitriona O’Leary’s new ensemble, is released on 10 July on the Heresy Records label. ‘The Red Book of Ossory’ takes its title from the 14th century Irish manuscript of the same name, a collection of texts that includes sixty poems by Richard de Ledrede, Bishop of Ossory, here set to medieval music from England, France, the Netherlands and Italy.

Caitríona O’Leary is known internationally for her intense and passionate performances of Traditional Irish song and Early Music. Her recording of The Wexford Carols, an album of traditional Irish Christmas carols, with producer Joe Henry & featuring guest artists Tom Jones, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Dónal Lunny & an all-star band reached #1 on the Billboard charts.

She has recorded over twenty critically acclaimed albums with her band Dúlra and the celebrated early music ensembles Sequentia, The Harp Consort, Joglaresa and eX (the Irish-based Early Music ensemble she founded with Eric Fraad in 2006). These have been for EMI Virgin Classics, BMG Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Heresy Records/Naxos, Vox and Avie.

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(Photo by Laelia Milleri)

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