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Noelie McDonnell to Come Alive

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 05-Nov-2009

Turn on any radio station these days and it’s likely that you’ll catch yourself humming along to The Big Release, the first single from Noelie McDonnell’s new album Come Alive. The high-energy, addictively catchy song was chosen by Today FM’s Ian Dempsey as his Single of the Week and has also been featured on a range of programmes on RTÉ and local radio stations. Featuring superb saxophone playing from Hugh Fielding, it’s certainly a song that crosses genres, and Noelie laughs as he says that his father was delighted to hear it on Brendan Balfe’s RTÉ Radio 1 Show on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Noelie and his band performed live on the Ian Dempsey Show on Monday – three tracks from Come Alive were played on the Ian Dempsey Show that day.

Things are going well for the Tuam man who will perform a matinee concert in Galway’s Town Hall Theatre this Sunday at 3.00pm to mark the launch of Come Alive, which was recorded over a seven-month period between Austin, Texas, and Toronto, Canada. It’s Noelie’s third album and sees him continue to develop as a songwriter, with lyrics that are simple and insightful, frequently containing a lovely turn of phrase.

His music is classified as folk/rock, or alt rock and that’s probably the most accurate way of describing him, but it’s too narrow. Noelie’s influences range from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to John Prine, encompassing Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Guy Clarke and Steve Earle along the way, but his voice is most definitely his own, and very definitely Irish.“

All those people sang songs that were simple and story based and local. The story element would be important to me,” he explains.This is Noelie’s fourth year as a fulltime singer/songwriter. Before taking the great leap he worked as a secondary teacher in St Pat’s secondary school in his native Tuam, where his subjects were English and History. But he says that while he liked the work and got on great with the students, he just knew teaching wouldn’t be his life-long profession.In fact, he knew from very early on that singing and songwriting was where his heart lay. He began playing guitar at the age of 12 and “picked it up pretty quickly”.

“If you could play three or four chords you could also play a full song,” he explains. And growing up in Tuam, being a musician was not unusual. “It was a perfectly acceptable career,” recalls Noelie. “Before I was around there were the showbands – a lot of them came from Tuam – and then there was a band called Blaze X who had a single in the Irish charts and opened for U2. And when I was a bit older, there was Too Much for the White Man and they were also in the charts.”

Then, in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Saw Doctors stormed the music scene with anthems such as N17 and I Useta Lover, and the Stunning were also riding high in the charts. They were another influence as their drummer, Jimmy Higgins, has family links with Tuam.“

As a young lad, you’d see these guys on the street that you’d seen on TV the night before and they’d all say hello and encourage you.”

Their encouragement fell on welcome ears – Noelie was in a band at the age of 13 and in 1991 his group took part in the legendary West’s Awake gig in Tuam which featured the Saw Docs, the Stunning and members of the Waterboys as well as a host of local talent.Noelie was writing songs at this stage too, but, while he was happy to play music, he was far more reticent about this aspect of his creativity. “I wasn’t confident about showing them to others,” he says, adding that he overcame this shyness when he lived in Galway.“

There were songwriters’ nights [in local pubs] and I used to go along them and I started playing.” That was nerve wracking initially, but the feedback was positive.

“When you play for other people you don’t know whether it’s good or not, but people liked them,” he says of the songs. “Then I was asked to open [gigs] for people such as John Martyn and John Spillane,” he says, praising the gig organisers and music pub owners who supported him in those early days.

“It brought me to a bigger audience and I was playing with people who I really respect.”

His debut self-titled album released in 2005 got an excellent response and its opening song, Stars was also picked as Ian Dempsey’s Song of the Week on Today FM.In 2008, Noelie won new fans with the wonderful single, Nearly Four, written about his nephew, which remained at No.1 in the iTunes folk chart for six weeks. The album that song was taken from, Beyond Hard Places saw Noelie being hailed by The New York Post as a startlingly good new Irish talent’. It spent two months in the iTunes Top 10 folk album charts.

The world isn’t exactly short of singer/songwriters and, so it can be difficult to get a break, says Noelie, who says that “a lot of it must be down to luck”.

Ian Dempsey has been a fan since the beginning and that has been a huge help.

“He and his production team seem to like what I do and I’m lucky in that because he has a popular radio show.”

But, while luck is important, it’s not the only factor. “If you are dedicated to something, there are ways of making it work for you.” And when it comes to dedication, he has earned his stripes.

His music and his personality have led to him getting support from a variety of sources from the Saw Doctors to American folk legend Greg Brown. It was when he supported Brown during the Iowan’s show at Campbell’s Tavern in July 2008 that Noelie unwittingly laid the groundwork for this new album, Come Alive.

Brown subsequently invited Noelie to open up on some US dates which lead to the Tuam man playing at the International folk conference in Memphis, performing with the elite of Americana including Anais Mitchell, Devon Sproule and Jess Klein among others. After that, he went to Austin, Texas, to start work on Come Alive at the Aerie Studio with producer and engineer Mark Addison. Noelie finished the recording with musician/producer Don Kerr (Ron Sexsmith, Rheostatics) in Canada at the end of this summer.

America has been an important outlet for Noelie’s talent and he goes there twice a year, performing for a few weeks each time. He’ll be returning in February and August, and doing some shows in England in December but in the meantime he has a series of gigs lined up at home to promote the album.

“I want to get as much publicity for that as I can and pick up more fans. If you get people along to the gigs, they tend to come back.”

Noelie McDonnell plays the Town Hall Theatre at 3pm on Sunday and tickets are available from the venue, online at or by phone at 091-569777.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Rory takes on fresh challenge as lauded DruidMurphy returns

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 03-Apr-2013


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After twenty years Sarah lands dream role in Druid

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 04-Apr-2013

 Sarah Lynch has been living and breathing Druid Theatre since she wangled a job as a runner fresh out of college two decades ago at age 20. After holding down just about every role imaginable there – from company manager to director to stage manager – her appointment as general manager to one of the country’s most prestigious theatre companies last October seemed almost inevitable.

Because once she had tasted the fruit of Druid she was going nowhere . . . and going everywhere. Sarah’s tenure at Druid since 1998 has brought her on a journey that has reached just about every corner of the globe and almost all the islands off Ireland in between.

After graduating from Limerick with a degree in French and English Sarah spent a stint teaching in a secondary school. But it immediately became clear that wasn’t the road for her.

“One thing I was always certain of was I’d be involved in the performing arts, whether on stage or off stage or behind it. The immediate reaction of the audience is such a buzz,” she grins.

Her earliest memory was of her grandfather, Bud Clancy, on stage with his trumpet and dance band. “I must have been three or four because he died shortly after that. But it never left me. I got bitten by the bug. I started playing the trumpet. A friend of my grandfather taught me how to play and I was with the Limerick brass and reed orchestra known as the Boherbuoy Band, I was just a kid with all these adults.”

She learned to play other brass instruments such as the French horn and cornet before turning her hand to the guitar and song-writing. “I taught myself guitar. Sometime I tinker on the piano and I think that’s my next instrument. I love percussion. You can’t get me off a drum kit for love or money. Many is the night I’ve made a fool of myself on one of those,” she laughs.

In 2010, Sarah released her debut album, Letter to Friends, which was launched by playwright Enda Walsh, whose short play, Lynndie’s Gotta Gun, she had directed as part of the 2008 Galway Arts Festival.

The collection of songs was produced by Wayne Sheehy, a musician she had met when opening for Juliet Turner on Turner’s Burn the Black Suit tour.

“I could probably have done it ten years ago but for the manic schedule with Druid and touring so much,” she reflects. “I haven’t done much with it since. I used to play gigs in the Róisín Dubh. The bigger twin is theatre at the moment. The bigger twin bullies the other twin. You don’t get much time to do music.”

After fleeing the classroom, Sarah knocked on the door of a former college mate, Andrew Flynn, now with the Galway Youth Theatre, who kindly offered up his couch. He also managed to get her a job as a runner – the person who does everything from making tea to helping with props – on a Druid production of As You Like It.

“I remember working with Mark O’Halloran, I had great fun with him. There was Helen Norton, it was Maeliosa Stafford directing. He’s coming back to the Druid after ten years to star in Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark. He left me as a runner, now I’m general manager.”

Much of Sarah’s time behind the scenes at Druid has been spent on the road. In 2009 alone, Druid toured to Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA presenting 364 performances in 26 venues.

Indeed so much of life has been out spent living of a suitcase that she gave up her base in Galway to move back in with her family in Caherdavin, on the Galway side of Limerick city.

The tour of the Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh was so long the crew were instructed to pack two suitcases, one with summer clothes, the other winter gear, as they would be spanning the seasons. Her job now entails a lot of commuting, but driving is where she gets a lot of thinking done.

Sarah’s decision to apply for the more home-based job of general manager was one she made discreetly while on the Druid Murphy tour around the US. She had to undergo her interview in between shows at the Lincoln Center in New York. It was the most nerve wrecking experience of her life, she admits.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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