A CORK singer-songwriter will be performing a special St Patrick’s day concert of Irish traditional songs in Paris to share her musical heritage with French audiences.
Liv Monaghan’s concert in Montmartre coincides with the release of her take on the old Irish song, Óró mo Bháidín. The song was written in the 19th century as part of the Gaelic revival movement, which championed Irish language and culture, and the lyrics describe the beauty of the currach.
“Living in a foreign country and speaking a foreign language has made me more curious about the truths that can be revealed through my own native tongue,” said Liv, who has lived in the French capital since 2012.
“Call it homesickness, but the distance has made the heart grow fonder and I have found re-discovering and singing the Irish language both grounding and inspiring.”
Liv grew up in Cork city before moving to Dublin at 18 to study at Trinity College. After graduating, she moved to Italy for a while and then back to Dublin to work in the Abbey.
“I moved to Paris to continue studies in theatre design. While majoring in drama studies in Trinity, I specialised in design, which led me to working with a lot of theatre companies and wonderful theatre and film actors all over Ireland before I’d even graduated, and I wanted to broaden my horizons by studying at Ecole Jacques Lecoq International theatre school,” she said.
“But the course was more performance and movement based than I had banked on, which actually worked out great due to the fact that I basically spoke no French at the time – so it was a good time to work on miming for your life,” she said.
Shortly after, she formed an alternative jazz group and started getting paid to sing in cafes and small jazz venues, and the rest, she says, is history.
The lullaby Óró mo Bháidín follows the success of Liv’s folk and jazz album Slow Exhale, and her EP Beauty In The Park.
Slow Exhale was an independent release, and got a great reception in France.
“Considering I am a one woman show (from the management, publicity and business end), I am incredibly honoured by the amount of interest the album received in France. It was completely in English and the French welcomed that and played me on all the main radio stations and took the time to understand the quirkiness and otherness of it all.
“Elle magazine wrote up a feature piece on the album ... not bad for the foreign woman who arrived here not speaking the language and expressing herself through mime and broken heart blues. There was lots of radio play, and several small tours of the album, though the pandemic did a great job of putting a halt to that.
“I was also really delighted to be able to do an independent tour of Ireland with my bass player, playing in the Triskel, Prims Bookshop, Kinsale and Dolans, Limerick. I long to get back here for more of that, with the full band,” she said.
That bass player is Sava Medan, who with Liv started to gather together a repertoire of Irish music and songs in 2021.
“ Óró mo Bháidín was one of them - I think my parents’ generation associate that song with their primary school years. I actually hadn’t been taught this song at school, and naturally, Sava, who is Serbian, had never heard it before, so it gave us a fresh canvas to work from. I think there’s already something ghostly about the Irish language, and I think (and hope) that all these elements offer something otherworldly and new at once,” she said.
Interestingly, growing up she says she disliked Irish at school, but says that was mainly because of how it was taught.
“I was thrilled when the Leaving Cert exam was finished - joyful at never having to think about the language again. Isn’t that awful? At least I see how tragic that is now, living in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, and understanding the magic of seeing the world through a different lens. Not to mind the lens being one as ancient as the Irish language.
“Moving around the world, ironically, made me much more aware of the Irish language and it made me very sad that I had misunderstood the beauty and the point of it when being taught it at school.
“I think it’s a shame languages are mostly taught with so little love at school. Languages are about songs, poems, stories, communicating. I sometimes feel robbed by the education system and how it does such a good job of ripping the heart and soul out of things that are full of a beauty that can really enrich us.”
From a musical viewpoint, she said, it’s been so humbling and rewarding singing in Irish.
“It feels very grounding and the wonderful freedom of ornamenting each note as lavishly as you want - for a vocalist, it’s kind of like Rococo crossed with Aubrey Beardsley – minus any of the notions. I’m still working on it and taking great inspiration from brilliant sean nós singers as I go,” she said.
Liv is also working on her second album, which will include original Irish compositions.
“I find the natural melancholy of the language makes sense to my songwriting style as well as my singing so I’ve started writing some Irish language lyrics for my next album.”
She’s still working on how to share the album in the best way possible because so much energy, love and time has gone into it.
“It’s hard to know how to best release music today. Recording music is so expensive, and then it’s released out into the ether where the streaming services make it mostly impossible for independents to even nearly break even. So I’m still figuring out the best way to release this that will honour the work and get into as many precious ears as possible,” she said.
Paris feels like home to Liv – for now.
“Who knows if she’ll stay that way? Home is where the heart is and Paris is a moveable feast.”