Interview with Nodlaig Ní Bhrollaigh

7th March 2024


Ahead of her performance on Sat 23 March, we were delighted to chat with Nodlaig Ní Bhrollaigh about her new Album Cuimhní rúnda

1. In Cuimhní rúnda, you take listeners on a journey through various places that have inspired your music. Can you share a specific experience or memory that played a significant role in shaping one of the tracks on the album.

I travelled to Fanad to stay in the lighthouse there. The new accommodation had just opened up and I thought it would be an adventure to stay in it.. on my own! When I arrived, I was captivated by the first view of the lighthouse with the stunning seascape. It felt like I’d arrived at the ends of the earth and as it turned out, there was no internet coverage at all and no television. I took the harp in from the car to keep me company and with the sound of the wind and the waves, I composed a song that became the title track to the album, ‘Cuimhní Rúnda’. The atmosphere and the colours of the place were very mellow and for the first time ever, in my head, I heard a saxophone to go with the mellow Irish harp. The next morning, I was listening to ‘Marty in the morning’ on RTE Lyric fm and thought to myself, I could hear that music I just composed on his programme. Amazingly, when the album was released in November, it was Marty’s recommended album of the week and those tracks were played! I don’t think I’m clairvoyant but it was a lovely coincidence!

2. Cuimhní rúnda features a collaboration with talented musicians from across the North West. How did the collaboration process unfold, and what unique elements did each musician bring to the project?

As I mentioned, I heard a saxophone in the music and the first person I thought of was Gerard McChrystal from Derry city who is a phenomenal musician. He was playing at a concert at home and myself and my friend went to hear him and to ask him if he’d be interested in recording with me. It turned out we both had the same music teacher in Derry and when I sent him the music, he agreed to get involved- I was thrilled! Martin O’Kane is a fiddler from Banagher near Dungiven. He comes from serious traditional stock! His grandfather Jimmy Kelly was a legendary collector, singer and fiddler and Martin has inherited the tradition and the talent! Martin uncovered a really special piece composed for his grandfather and we have incorporated it into the set. Paul Gillespie from Letterkenny has classical and traditional training like myself and plays the cello and uilleann pipes which were instruments I really wanted to incorporate into the arrangements. Having recorded in the studio with the Paul, Martin and Gerard, I knew we had a good core group. To cover all the elements, I then brought in Afraic Brophy, a fab young fiddler and friend of Paul’s and Carra Nic an Bhaird, one of my senior harpers from the Scoil Ruaidhrí Dall harp school. The music has really evolved since bringing the group together and their energy, enthusiasm and ideas have changed the direction of some of the pieces.. it’s been magical.

3. Could you elaborate on how your classical and traditional training has influenced the composition of In Cuimhní rúnda?

My parents were musicians and I was the youngest in the family. I was impatient to start playing and began classical piano at age 4. I went on to study classical flute and was fortunate to play in the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland. This experience was overwhelming and had a massive impact on my own creative process. Since then, I hear a full orchestra in my head but can’t afford it! I was surrounded by traditional music in the house and in our community in Dungiven and that is the soul of the music. The classical training has changed how I hear the music and informs the way I arrange the music. John Toal, the BBC presenter asked me recently in an interview, “it’s not classical, it’s not traditional, what is it?!” I like that it has yet to be defined and I think that new, original music should bring something different.

4. The Irish News describes the album as "life-affirming" yet also a "lament for what’s lost." Can you delve into the emotional and thematic aspects of the album, and how you balance celebrating life while acknowledging the sorrows or losses within your musical narrative?

Sometimes words aren’t enough to convey human emotion and that’s where music comes in. At times, I have been so carried away in the joyous moments that my head runs riot with musical notes and these are captured in the livelier pieces on the album, like ‘Joy Exchange’ and some of my more recent compositions that we’ll perform.

To experience loss is a common human experience and music can help cope with loss. I find it helps me express how I’m feeling and it is a way to pay tribute to the people I have been blessed to have in my life, like my father. Empathy is how we feel another’s pain and I have written music in response to other people’s pain and to console. I think the challenge for all of us in this broken world is to keep hope alive and for me, creating music is a way of doing that.

5. Cuimhní rúnda aims to enhance the listener's understanding of place and heritage. How do you believe music can serve as a powerful medium to connect people with the landscapes, histories, and cultures you explore in your compositions?

The Gaelic language and culture has always been a source of inspiration for me and I think I must have retained some cultural memory of the language as I have always felt strong pull towards it. In the Roe Valley, we are incredibly lucky to have such a rich cultural heritage that is weaved into the beautiful landscape. I love nature and I’m a very visual person so when I compose I can see the places and colours. I hope that by bringing together some of our most famous tunes from the area in a suite of music (the Roe Valley Suite), that local people and visitors will be able to connect with the area at a deeper level and spur them on to engage with, and cherish our cultural heritage and natural landscape.

The great thing about the live gigs is that I get the opportunity to share the heritage and stories behind the piece. I have had really positive feedback from people who felt differently about the music having found out more about the origins of the pieces.

Book your tickets for what will be an exceptional night of music here - Cuimhní rúnda

Share This Story

Recent News

A Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Website

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Logo

Built by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council ICT Team