Sibéal captured the heart of the nation in 2020.
Sibéal captured the heart of the nation this summer, but many people in Donegal may not be aware of her close ties to the county.
Known mainly by her first name, the talented young singer from the Ráth Chairn Gaeltacht in County Meath, is an offspring of the renowned musical family, Na Casaidigh.
An Irish traditional group made up of six siblings (five brothers and one sister) who grew up in Gaoth Dobhair, Na Casaidigh rose to worldwide fame in the 1980s and went on to perform for US presidents and audiences all over the globe.
Sibéal is the daughter of Odhrán Ó Casaide, a classically-trained violinist and uilleann piper, who was her first music teacher. and, in general, a very big influence on her
“My dad grew up in Gaoth Dobhair when he was younger. His dad was a school inspector, so the family moved around a lot, but they wanted to raise their children with Irish, so they lived in a number of Gaeltacht areas, including Gaoth Dobhair.
“My entire family remembers that time in Gaoth Dobhair very fondly. They eventually moved away, but that is where my dad and his siblings had the most influence from, from their playing to the language.”
Even though the family moved on, Na Casaidigh still hold Gaoth Dobhair and Donegal close to their hearts and visit with the extended clan on a regular basis.
“Whenever we go, my entire extended family goes and they very much still identify with Gaoth Dobhair. That is where they say they grew up and that’s the Irish they would speak and very much have the accent. When they go down there it really comes out,” she laughed.
“Recently we’ve been going once a year and we’ve had a few opportunities to go to Gaoth Dobhair and play music. it’s just the best craic every time we go there.
“One of the things I notice when I visit Gaoth Dobhair is the amount of young people that speak Irish, and the volume of people all together. There is only a handful of people my age in the Ráth Chairn Gaeltacht that I would have the opportunity to speak Irish with.
“It’s a tiny little Gaeltacht of 300 people, so I am always blown away by the magnitude of people speaking Irish in Gaoth Dobhair, and also the beauty of the place.
“It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places in Ireland that I have seen. We always have a great time when we go there, walk the beaches and play music in Teach Hiúdaí Beag.”
Sibéal said the musical influence that Gaoth Dobhair and Donegal had on her father and siblings, has definitely been passed on to her.
She said: “The first teacher I ever had was my dad, so when I was three or four he would teach me the songs that he learned growing up.
“They were definitely influenced by Gaoth Dobhair and Donegal, so there would be a bit of a back and forth in my family, between choosing songs from Connemara, as Ráth Chairn is a Connemara Gaeltacht, or singing a Donegal one.
“When we go to the Oireachtas, or events like that, you do notice there is such a distinct difference in the way that people from various Gaeltacht areas sing. And they’re all gorgeous. I do feel very lucky that I have been exposed to lots of different ways of singing sean-nós.”
Sibéal’s big breakthrough came in 2016 having been asked to record the vocals for a piece renowned Irish composer Patrick Cassidy wrote to accompany Patrick Pearse’s famous 1912 poem Mise Éire used for the score of the documentary, 1916: The Irish Rebellion.
The recording would also lead to a live performance with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at an event commemorating the 1916 centenary, and other noteworthy events.
“I remember getting a call from my cousin who is a member of the orchestra and she was saying they were thinking of doing this and whether I was up for it.
“When I got the formal call I remember thinking, how are you supposed to do this. Are we really going to record this one-by-one on our iPhones. I had no idea that was possible and it was, in fact, very simple to do,” she said.
Sibéal’s performance was lauded as a very special, and poignant moment which paid tribute to those lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“After that I was able to perform it [Mise Éire] for the last Late Late Show of the season and it was a very, very poignant moment as a lot of names of those who had passed away due to Covid-19 were shown while I was singing… the magnitude and sadness of it all, and how different our world was and is now, really did sink in while I was singing.”
“There was no audience and I couldn’t bring anyone with me. I had to do it completely on my own. I think I only saw Ryan [Tubridy] from a distance for a few minutes. It was so different to all the other times I had performed on the Late Late.
“I think it added another dimension to it and was a different performance to every other one I have done before. It was very introspective and reflective, and I did have the space to myself to really think about what I was singing about and the magnitude of the entire situation.”
IRISH WOMEN IN HARMONY
Sibéal was also part of another big Irish musical moment this summer, when she was invited to join a host of female artists, collectively known as Irish Women In Harmony, on a new recording of The Cranberries’ hit, Dreams, for charity.
“I got a DM on Instagram from RuthAnne one day asking me if I wanted to be part of a song that was bringing together as many Irish female artists as possible, and I was actually terrified,” she laughed, “I had no idea how they were going to do it or what song it was going to be, or who was going to do it, but immediately I said yes!”
“It slowly started to grow and grow and then I remember seeing the full list and thinking how incredible it was to see all these amazing women on one song.
“I was definitely blown away seeing Caroline Corr, Moya Brennan (especially Moya Brennan), Imelda May, Una Healy, RuthAnne, and others, artists I have looked up to my whole life.
“It was a big moment, and it was an important moment, because all the money raised went to Safe Ireland and it was important to think about the women who are in those kinds of situations in lockdown, during these times, and need help.”
Sibéal said Irish Women In Harmony are currently working on a Christmas single, which should be released very shortly.
“I am very, very excited about the second single. It’s a great song, and I think it will have another brilliant moment, definitely,” she said.
Sibéal has had a lot of incredible women in her life to look up to. Another one being renowned LA-based Irish conductor and composer, Eimear Noone, the first woman to conduct at the Oscars earlier this year.
The Galway native, and her husband [Emmy-nominated composer and producer] Craig Stuart Garfinkle, have been a big influence on the young singer, and worked with her on another recent project soon to see the light of day.
“I’ve been a huge fan of Eimear for a long time. We first met when I was around 16 and ever since then she has been a huge support to me.
“Eimear and her husband were co-producers on my album and were heavily involved, in general, helping me out, writing the string arrangements. Craig is also just a genius and I’ve been really privileged to have them in my life as mentors and just great people to be around.
“You can tell that they really believe in music and everything that it stands for. They were even great to keep working on this upcoming project during the lockdown, working from home, which was so challenging, as you couldn’t record a big orchestra – You had to see what you could do in other ways. It was very inspiring.”
Being a med student, now in her second year, Sibéal was looking forward to Summer 2020, travelling and doing as much singing as she could during her time off, but given the opportunities that came her way, isn’t dwelling on things.
“I was waiting for summer to go off and sing as much as I could, but we can’t dwell on these things. I do feel like I have been very lucky during this time.
“I’ve had the chance to work with some amazing people, I am grateful and hopeful that we will get back those concert halls and festivals in the near future.”
Continuing with our curated community playlists as part of this series, Sibéal has put together a beautiful collection of songs, reflecting musical influences, love of the Irish language, as well as her varied taste in music, from The Bonny Men, Kacey Musgraves, Lasairfhíona, RuthAnne, The Coronas + more.
The Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny is proudly funded by Donegal County Council and Arts Council Ireland.