Arts

Trad: Irish troubadour Áine Tyrrell on her extraordinary life and career

Robert McMillen chats to Australia-based Irish singer and musician Áine Tyrrell about her music and extraordinary life story...

Áine Tyrell grew up between counties Galway and Clare
Robert McMillen

AS A journalist, Zoom has given my profession something invaluable. Rather than talking to a bodiless voice on the other end of the telephone line, being able to see your interviewee in front of you can tell you much about them from the nuance in a look, or the genuineness of a smile.

Speaking to Áine Tyrrell on line from her home in Australia on Wednesday, it was great to see her face and gestures animating her words, which told a story of violence and great hurt and hardship – but these were easily superseded by a mix of fieriness and tenderness and intelligence. Just like you find in her music.

Áine grew up between counties Galway and Clare and is the daughter of Seán Tyrrell, himself a great singer. Her earliest memories of music are of its communal aspect

"I saw music first as a communal, family gathering or at sessions where everyone had a song for something to share but it was the gathering which came with the music that I remember most," she recalls.

However, Áine never had plans to become a singer, despite adding backing vocals to her dad's music as she was growing up.

"I think it was when I got my own guitar when was was going a-begging when I was around 16 or 17 that I got the creative bug to write about feelings and to express that in sound, but I saw it more as translating a story rather than me being a singer and that's what Dad taught me.

"'You're a storyteller' he'd say, 'so get out of the way of the song" and that's what I try to do."

After leaving school, Áine moved to Dublin, got a degree in English and Spanish and did what any fit young woman with a sense of adventure would do – she got a job as a bicycle courier in Dublin's fair but congested city, then moved to New York and did the same there.

Around 2004, she came home to Dublin, met a man and together they began to raise a family. However, this was to be no fairytale ending: the man Áine took up with had a history of violence behind him which continued into their marriage and beyond the birth of their children.

Often marriages do turn sour, but according to Áine, looking back she's not sure if it even started off well.

"There were warning signs all the way through, there was drama all the way through, emotions were high all the time even before the violence and I was in a sort of fight or flight mode.

"I was in a relationship with a very controlling person but I didn't recognise the signs until it was too late."

By this stage, Áine and her partner had moved to Australia to ostensibly start up a new life – but the abuse continued. So, Áine being Áine, she decided to buy a bus, a 1966 bus, and take herself and her children out of harm's way.

"I didn't want to stay within the four walls and in the same community in which I was a victim, because it's hard to rebuild your life when you're working in the same place and the kids are going to the same places and everyone around you knows what happened," she says.

"On the road however, there was an adventure every day, a brand new landscape to heal in. Another part of it was safety, because to stay we would just be sitting ducks and the courts and the police can only do so much.

"And the other part of it was 'how am I going to be myself again as a touring musician and a single mum?' And the answer was 'we go on tour as a family, that's what we do'," she laughs.

This came at a time when Áine had started playing music again, which was always part of her very being and that's what got her through.

Áine gives talks and talks to groups of women who have suffered domestic violence found solace or healing or recognition in listening to Áine songs. And it would be wrong to think for a second that the singer/songwriter/musician/poet is in any way living the life of a victim. Hell, she's far too strong for that.

She is a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matters movement, has worked with the #MiseFosta and Fair Plé campaigns and sent an open letter to Irish President Michael D Higgins asking him to use his influence to urge others in the music industry to tackle the question of gender disparity on Irish radio.

Áine is also very much involved in supporting indigenous communities in Australia and works with Aboriginal artists, especially her close friend and collaborator, Emily Warramura.

"When I landed in Australia the first time, coming from such culturally rich counties as Galway and Clare, here I couldn't see culture. I couldn't find it, whereas wherever you walk the streets of Galway, there are street performers and there is stuff happening all over the place, but Australia felt very empty," she recalls.

"I was asking all these questions and white Australia couldn't give me any answers apart from beer and barbies."

She was asked to perform a gig with an indigenous singer and, listening to him, she was in floods of tears, because it seemed that he was also telling the story of Ireland – the loss of language, the denigration of native culture, the colonialism of the mind.

And in return: "They saw in me that similar connection to story and place and language and how I wanted to reclaim the language and find out more about our stories and so on," Áine explains. Look out for Áine and Emily's We Call You Now on You Tube.

She has recorded two much loved and highly praised albums, Queen of Swords (2015) and most recently, Return to the Sea (2019), Irish folk infused with Aussie Rock which she calls her "call to arms."

Áine's is such a fine story of Redemption that it is no surprise that Drogheda-born Enda Murray has made a film about her, Áine Tyrrell, Irish Troubadour, which weaves her life story with her performances on video and live at the Woodford Festival down under.

Enda, who has lived in Australia for the past 33 years, liked the idea of linking Áine to the idea of the troubadour.

"I was interested in the idea of a troubadour as someone who has to eke a living as a storyteller and a musicians within society and that is what Áine does. I wanted to celebrate that fact because it is something that is becoming more and more difficult, more so here in Australia than in Ireland," he says.

We discussed much more in our Zoom call but to find out more about Áine, you can visit her website, watch her on You Tube, listen to her on Spotify – and then buy the albums – and then, hopefully, Áine Tyrrell: Irish Troubadour will come to a cinema near you.

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