It has been a busy few months for Daniel O’Donnell. Hot on the heels of a new recording – Back Home Again – the native of Kincasslagh, Donegal is currently taking the stage in dozens of cities across North America and Europe. Recently, he spoke with Celtic Life International about his agenda, Irish culture, and more.
You have a lot on the go these days.
Aye, indeed I do. And I love it. In fact, I love it now more than ever.
Why is that?
It sounds a bit funny saying it, but perhaps the younger me took a lot of things for granted. It is not that I haven’t worked hard, or stopped to count my blessings along the way – I have. It is just that these days I have a broader and better perspective on everything, and a greater appreciation for my life. Maybe that is the greatest benefit of being older.
Do you find touring harder now?
No, I don’t find life on the road to be that difficult at all. After so many years of doing this, I have found a very comfortable routine for myself. There are moments when I am tired, for sure, but thankfully they are few and far between. I suppose the hardest part is being away from my wife and family for extended periods. I do speak with them daily, which is thankfully much easier today than in was just a few short years ago, but there is really no substitute for being there in person.
What are the rewards?
There are so many things that I am grateful for; undoubtedly, doing what I love, and loving what I do is first and foremost for me. And I simply love entertaining people, knowing that the music has moved them in some way – sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a tear. It may sound like a bit of a cliché, but walking off the stage at the end of a show, having just done my job to my very best of ability, is really all the reward I need or want at this point in my life.
Your audience has grown with you over the years.
Yes they have, and I am very fortunate that way. As you can imagine, the majority of people in the audience each night are older folks. Many of them have seen me perform on previous tours, so it is not unusual for me to see familiar faces prior to, or after the show, or even from the stage. It is quite heartwarming and inspiring actually; I love to talk with people, and to listen to them share their stories about their heritage, their travels to Ireland, and how much the music has meant to them over the years.
What is it that keeps them coming back?
The music – it has always been, and it will always be, about the music. There is obviously something special about the songs I record and perform that resonates with audiences. Perhaps it is nostalgia – a longing not just for Ireland, but for the simpler times of years past – that touches the hearts of listeners. The thing about the songs I perform, and particularly the traditional Irish tunes, is that they are quite emotive; the lyrics and melodies are rarely neutral – they are either joyfully upbeat, even funny, or they are somber ballads. There is very little middle ground, and I can see that from the stage each night; eyes will be wide with laughter, or wet with tears.
What about younger audiences?
On the whole, there are very few young people at my concerts. They are there, but most of them are children that have accompanied their parents or grandparents. Still, they seem to really enjoy themselves and are often the most enthusiastic ones in the hall. It is lovely to connect with them after a performance, and to know that in some way the show has brought these families a little closer, and that the kids have a greater sense of their history and heritage.
Is enough being done to preserve and promote that history and heritage among younger people?
On the whole, yes. Let me preface my reply by saying that young people today have both the best and the worst of the world at their fingertips. What I mean by that is that, given the tremendous technology now available to them, the opportunity for learning about the world is one hundred times what it was when I was a youngster – perhaps even a thousand times greater. As we have seen, that has both its advantages and disadvantages, and there is certainly a lot of disturbing stuff out there that we are being bombarded with on a daily basis. That said, the chance for young people to explore and learn about Irish customs, history, heritage and the like has never been greater. What used to take months, and even years, to research, now only takes a few seconds. There has never been better or easier access to our music, our literature, our art, and so forth. On top of that, the success of big-scale productions like Riverdance, Celtic Thunder and Celtic Woman over the last two decades has renewed an interest in Irish culture around the world, and not just with ex-pats, but with audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
Are there ways to improve that?
First off, credit must be given where it is due; the Irish government, and in particular our tourism industry folks, have done an exceptional job carrying the message of who we are and what we have to offer to markets across the globe. There is always room for improvement, however, and perhaps a stronger investment in our arts sector would help. People in North America and elsewhere can make a difference by attending Irish and Celtic festivals, concerts, and so forth. Support for Irish Studies programs in the universities is another great way to preserve our heritage, as is the development of websites and mobile apps to promote the learning of the Gaelic language. Ultimately, however, I believe it is the responsibility of individual families to carry on their own unique traditions and customs within the household. Our past is akin to the roots of a tree, firmly planted in the rich terrain of history. Young people will have a better sense of who they are and where they are going when they understand where they come from.
And you are a part of that?
I like to think that I play my part in that process, yes. The Irish have a great history of storytelling, and much of our culture is based in our poetry, literature, film, and music. The songs I sing each night tell tales of our past – of who we were, what we have endured, and who we have become. I feel both honoured and humbled to be a part of that tradition.
How long do you intend to keep going?
Ha – as long as they will have me! All joking aside, I have no intention of retiring anytime soon; there are still places for me to see, people to meet, and songs to sing. In truth, I’ve never felt better, healthier or younger, and I am still very passionate about my profession, so there is no reason for me to stop or even slow down. They will have to cart me off the stage at some point, I suppose, but with any luck it won’t be for some time.