Cork singer: I gave up drink, learned to live.... I feel freer than I’ve ever felt

Cobh woman Victoria Keating opens up to COLETTE SHERIDAN about giving up alcohol, finding love again and her upcoming solo album, due out in December
Cork singer: I gave up drink, learned to live.... I feel freer than I’ve ever felt

Cork singer Victoria Keating. Picture: Declan Sinnott

SINGER Victoria Keating has been through the wars, but now, at 51 years of age, this mother-of- four (and grandmother-of-one), who is in a relationship with musician Declan Sinnott, is in a good place.

Cobh-reared Victoria, now living in Bandon, live streams a Friday evening show, Little Rooms, Big Music, on Facebook every week at 8pm. She sings, plays a bit of guitar (which she taught herself recently) and reads anything from poetry to blogs that have caught her attention. Declan sometimes collaborates and the couple recently released their take on Joe Jackson’s song, Is She Really Going Out With Him?

Victoria starts recording her solo album in December and she and Declan have vague plans to record an album together. But none of this would be possible if Victoria hadn’t given up drink. Describing herself as a recovering alcoholic, she has been sober for 11 years. What made her give up alcohol in 2010?

Victoria Keating, singer/songwriter, in her home.
Victoria Keating, singer/songwriter, in her home.

She says she was a “horrible” person before she got sober.

“I had a car crash and was off the road for a year. It was just me and the car. I went through the windscreen and broke a couple of ribs.

“Then I had another car crash in Crosshaven, driving there to a gig. I had started drinking that morning. Then I was at a communion party of my youngest child. I left that langers, got into my car and drove to Crosshaven. 

"I drove into a car full of teenage girls. It was an absolute miracle that nobody was hurt. I don’t think I could have lived with that. I was arrested and locked up in a cell in the Bridewell for the night. My parents came to collect me — at forty f****** years of age.

“A friend of mine gave me a number for AA. I had gone there before but once I saw the God stuff on the wall, I thought ‘nah, I’m out of here’. I just wasn’t ready.

“I’m not a religious person. I believe in goodness in people and the universe but not this idea of a punishing patriarchal figure telling us what to do with our bodies and our lives. When I got into the rooms the second time, I thought — ‘yeah, I belong here’.”

Victoria got sober in May and continued to go to AA meetings. But by November, she thought she was “going out of my mind.”

She said: “I thought I was losing it. Things had been very difficult. We had been evicted from our house. There was loads of stuff to deal with and all the hurt and damage I’d caused my kids.

“All these things were starting to surface. I was sober and suddenly had to deal with everything. The one thing I’d used to escape was gone.

“So I phoned a friend and she put me onto Arbour House (a treatment centre for addiction).

“Apart from giving up the drink, that was the best thing I’ve ever done. I learned how to live, I learned the skills to live on life’s terms. Things like getting up in the morning to bring my youngest daughter to school, brushing her hair. It was a privilege, something I was allowed to do.”

Victoria’s children range in age from 30 to 17.

A feeling of worthlessness was what triggered Victoria’s drinking.

“I just didn’t believe I was worth it. At the bottom of all my thinking, there was this idea that I was not worthy to be happy or alive and I wasn’t worthy to have all these beautiful children. I felt I wasn’t worthy of love.”

Victoria doesn’t know where her low self-esteem came from.

“I have amazing parents. I don’t know what happened to me. There was always a want in me.

“I wanted to do music as a kid. But we didn’t have enough money for piano lessons. So I suppressed all these things, and even talking about it now, I’m feeling sorry for myself.

“But we didn’t want for anything. My parents put us first. My dad was in the Navy and my mom was a cleaner. They’re just gorgeous people. One time I found a tenner in my mother’s coat. I was always looking in her pockets for bits of chocolate. It was 1978. My parents brought us down to the chipper. It was us they spent the money on. It was extra money. The bills had all been paid as my mother was a brilliant budgeter. That’s the kind of people they are.”

The eldest of six children, Victoria says she was always a worrier and is on medication for OCD.

Victoria Keating, singer/songwriter, and Declan Sinnott, musician. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Victoria Keating, singer/songwriter, and Declan Sinnott, musician. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Meeting Declan Sinnott was good for her.

“I was a month sober when my friend asked me to go to a gig with her in a pub in Crosshaven. Declan was playing in a band called Small Town Talk. I arrived late. There were only a few seats left at the front. I thought I’d brazen it out by going up front.

“I got chatting to Declan at the interval — and that was it. I loved the way he played guitar. I thought it was open and generous like the sky — and I loved talking to him. We’re together over 11 years.”

Victoria, a big fan of Charles Dickens, has always been writing and had a poem published in the then Cork Examiner when she was a child. A couple of teachers told her she should be a writer. She has combined writing with music.

“I didn’t start singing in public until I was about 21 or 22.

“I married into a musical family (the Frahills) and they did pub gigs every weekend as a family band. I sang with them.

“Next, I joined a Bob Dylan tribute band, which I loved. I’d trace Bob Dylan’s lyrics to Dickens.”

Victoria Keating, singer/songwriter, and Declan Sinnott, musician. Picture Denis Minihane.
Victoria Keating, singer/songwriter, and Declan Sinnott, musician. Picture Denis Minihane.

Victoria has also sung with Christy Moore over the years and describes him as generous and very funny.

She also writes and sometimes sings with Áine O’Gorman. The pair, along with Jamie Kelly, wrote The Poor Ground about the Tuam mother and baby home.

A long time collaborator of Victoria is Mark Wilkins. They performed a show with Dominic Moore and Ruti Lachs based on the writings of Mick Lynch from Stump, which sold out at the Cork School of Music.

Victoria has recently been asked to collaborate with a ukulele orchestra.

“My soul is in indie rock, opera and classical music. But I’ve allowed a lot of other music ‘in’ as I’ve gotten older. And I love it. Music is music as long as it speaks some truth to me.”

And the singer says she is embracing being 51.

“I love the freedom of it. I am no longer in the arena of youth and stupidity.

“I love the fact that I no longer have to subscribe to somebody else’s idea of what a woman should be. I feel a lot freer in my head, more than I’ve ever felt.

Victoria Keating, singer/songwriter, in her home. Picture Denis Minihane.
Victoria Keating, singer/songwriter, in her home. Picture Denis Minihane.

“I’m embracing wrinkles and all that — for now. But I might say to my brother (a make-up artist who has worked in a cosmetic procedures clinic) ‘give us a bit of botox!’”

But that’s unlikely. Botox is fine for anyone who wants it. Go for it. I’m just not there and don’t think I’ll ever be.”

You can follow Victoria’s Little Big Room sessions on Facebook @littleroomsbigmusic


For anyone struggle with addiction see:

Arbour House Treatment Centre is at (021) 496 8933.

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