Lisa O’Neill (40) is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Her style of folk singing is very distinctive and convincing. Born in Ballyhaise, Co Cavan, lives in Dublin.
I was friendly, curious and very cuddly. When I was three years old I was very romantic. I’ve always forced boys to marry: “You marry me now and my sister will be the bridesmaid.” I’ve always dreamed of the house and the family.
How do you experience coming from a large family?
I am the second of five and the oldest girl. Coming from a large family makes you more social. There’s a lot more to share and I’m more aware of how other people are feeling. That prepares you for life. Up until four years ago I never lived alone. I’ve always shared with people and it’s been like this since the day I was born. When you grow up in a big family, there is no personal freedom. But that wasn’t a bad thing.
What drives you?
It might be an idea I found last night. I’m in artist residency here in Cill Rialaig, Co. Kerry. I’m on the peninsula and I can see the Milky Way – I feel like I’ve landed in heaven. It couldn’t be nicer anywhere. And I’m very driven by the story and its relevance to today. I love learning about the history of so many different powerful women like Violet Gibson and Mother Jones. I want to write about her.
Choose three words to describe yourself.
Curious, thoughtful and fearless.
Tell us about your selective fearlessness.
I can be fearless in some ways and cowardly in others. I can be cowardly about normal, basic things. I could never imagine driving a car. This is absolutely insane to me. That I’m in control of a machine at this speed, no thanks. I prefer to walk. Still, I have no problem jumping out of an airplane with a parachute.
Best advice given?
I was asked to work on a Bob Dylan song Peaky Blinders. It was all last minute. This work landed on my desk and I felt quite isolated. I had just gotten Covid and one of my friends was dying so it was all very bittersweet. They needed the work in a week. They said, “Don’t think about it,” so I did. I didn’t have time to think about it, and that’s a good thing. Overthinking can be the road to perdition.
Best advice you give?
Listen to your gut. Our bodies are constantly giving us messages and we don’t always listen to them. The philosopher John Moriarty offered some wise advice. He said, “The big question isn’t am I happy, but am I still growing?” That really blew my mind.
Where did music start for you?
I could philosophically say that in the womb it started with the heartbeat. My parents liked to listen to music. I remember sitting on the kitchen counter listening to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and learning all the parts of the chorus – “Galileo, Galileo”. I felt like I could fly. And I always thought Garth Brooks was singing “I’ve got friends in many places,” and I remember thinking I get that. I have friends in Ballyhaise and Butlersbridge and Cavan Town.
Tell us about your upcoming concert at the National Concert Hall.
I was invited to host an evening with songwriters. There are different ways of looking at songs. I’ve often noticed that when I share a concert with Travelers, they say, “What’s your song about?”
Did you do anything differently during the pandemic?
I learned how to row a currach and I worked on Patrick Kavanaghs The great hunger in the abbey.
What are you reading?
A book about the playwright Eugene O’Neill. I love his line – “I’m tickled to death by life.”
Any thoughts on being 40?
It’s a thoughtful time, but I’m very proud to be alive and the work I’ve done so far.
Lisa O’Neill is at the National Concert Hall on November 26; nch.ie
https://www.independent.ie/life/singer-lisa-oneill-i-was-always-forcing-boys-up-the-road-into-marriage-42068023.html Singer Lisa O’Neill: “I’ve Always Forced Boys into Marriage”