For many, impressions of Irish culture come from a handful of pop-culture sources — shamrocks, Sinead O’Connor, Riverdance, the leprechaun on the box of Lucky Charms.
But this St. Patrick's Day, get a taste of Ireland straight from the source when the Oxford Arts Council presents a night of authentic singing, dancing and live music from the Emerald Isle.
“Women Of Ireland” brings the best of its home country through vocals, fiddles and even an aerial performance that shows audiences just what Ireland is made of.
“If they’ve seen ‘Riverdance’ they’ve got the dance part of it,” said vocalist Fiona O’Neill. “But I don’t think they’ve seen the combinations, and how singing and dance can interact together as well as having a live band onstage.”
Born and raised in County Kerry, Ireland, O’Neill and her two sisters perform classic selections native to their home country. In her cheery Irish brogue, O’Neill talked about working so closely with her siblings, being an ambassador for her country and finding her way back to her center.
Q: You and your sisters grew up singing together, and have worked together professionally for several years. How does that dynamic work from a personal and professional standpoint?
A: I think it works pretty well, because we’ve been doing it our whole lives. We’re so used to it that it doesn’t really affect us … and if we do fight, two minutes later we’re over it. It’s not even a big deal, you know? I think we’re so used to doing this it’s like second nature.
Q: This performance gives concertgoers a first-hand taste of Ireland and may be the closest many ever get. How does it feel to be an ambassador for your country?
A: It just makes me really proud — to be able to grow up in Ireland and be surrounded by the Irish music, the song and the dance and then be able to share that with the Irish diaspora in America. It’s great that we get to bring it to them. And after the show people always come to us and say thank you because they might not have the money to travel to Ireland or they might be too busy ... So they say, ‘Thank you … you brought Ireland to us.’
Q: You and your sisters chose to relocate back to Ireland full time after spending a few years living and working in the United States. Do you miss it?
A: Sometimes. You know there’s aspects of it. For Los Angeles, definitely weather. For New York, it would be the hustle and bustle — it never sleeps. There’s always something going on. We lived in Louisiana for a little bit as well, in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I loved New Orleans. (They have a) big Irish community down there — very fun. We’ve been very blessed. We’ve have many jobs. We’ve done many genres in our life. We grew up doing classical and church music and folk because of our mom and her background, and obviously Irish music as well. And then when we traveled to New York we did some R&B and pop and in LA we did some pop and dance music.
Q: How does living back in Ireland shape your work as vocalists?
A: Particularly where we live it’s very quiet, not a lot going on, so it does gives you a lot of time to think and be creative without any distraction. When we were living in America there was always something going on. I always find (that) America is the “action” place. Once you have your album or your music done then you go out … America’s the place where action comes about. The album in 2005 was an Irish album and that’s kind of what got us to America. We traveled all around America for awhile, and then when we came back to Ireland in 2011. We recorded songs that we wrote ourselves and some songs that our mom sang to us … American folk songs, as well as songs that are Irish … kind of a mix, but very folksy.
Q: When you perform live, what songs do audiences enjoy most?
A: We do “Danny Boy” acoustically in the first half, and I think everyone really appreciates that because it’s just our three voices and the guitar … I think that’s a big favorite. The other songs that they really react to are “Red Haired Mary” and “I Know My Love.” They’re happy, upbeat songs, so I think that’s what they enjoy the most. They’re never bored because the next piece is always something new and different. It’s never the same.
IF YOU GO...
WHAT: “Women Of Ireland”
WHEN: March 17 at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Oxford Performing Arts Center, 100 Choccolocco Street, Oxford