Ballyvaughan grandmother, Mary Keane, has become Ireland’s most unlikely electro-pop star. Over the past week, a song featuring the 90-year-old has been played across virtually every radio station in the country. Andrew Hamilton speaks to electronic musician Daithí, about growing up in the west and making music with his grandmother.
It’s a song about young love, about honesty and passion – emotion that would find a home in any throbbing teenage heart. Yet it’s a song centred around the words and experience of a 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in a thatched cottage in Ballyvaughan. The song ‘Mary Keane’s Introduction’ is just that, a small introductory window into the energy and personality of Mary Keane. The song was put together by Clare/Galway electronic musician Daithí, using a snippet of an interview conducted by Mary two years ago, when she was 88 years old. Although it has only been available for a matter of days, the song has already struck a chord amongst Irish music lovers of every age.
“The original recording was made a few years ago. Someone was doing interviews all around Ireland, they wanted to make a full show with an interview with one person from every county and this person came across my Grandmother. I hadn’t heard the interview for a long time, because the show itself never got made,” said Daithí.
“My mother showed the interview to me about a year ago and I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. I had never heard somebody talk the way she was talking. There was an amazing honesty in how she was speaking, it was a real heart felt interview. You just don’t hear people talking like that in interviews, people get too nervous, but she didn’t seem to be nervous at all, about anything.
“It was a long interview so I selected the pieces which really hit home for me and were special. These bits were when she was talking about the love that she had for somebody and the idea of her talking about being a young person at that age. The record that I will be releasing in February is all about growing up in the West of Ireland and getting an older perspective on it is really important for me. It sets up the whole record very well so that’s why it will be the introductory track for the record. It [Mary Keane’s voice] seemed to suit a song that was full of feeling. I had a few chords in my mind and when I put that together [with the interview] you could hear this depth of emotion coming across.”
According to Daithí, his grandmother has taken her new found fame in her stride. Despite being played on a number of national stations, she knows she hasn’t made it until the song is played on Clare Fm.
“She seems, as she gets older, to get more and more energetic in the way she talks and the way she feels about things. The word ‘character’ doesn’t even do her justice, she has really come into her own in the past few years. She is amazing,” continues Daithí, who full name, Daithí Ó Drónaí, betrays his connection to the rich musical tradition around North Clare and Bellharbour.
“Up in North Clare there is an amazing support structure for older people. She started going to the Stella Maris Centre [in Lisdoonvarna] a few years ago and that really gave her a new lease of life. It’s a real social thing for her and I think helps bring out the best in her.
“For me it was interesting to work with her. I didn’t record her myself, so I was able to separate myself a bit more from it. When I was making the track I had to be removed from it and think about someone who wouldn’t know her would react to it. Once I finished the track I started sending it around and a lot of people my age loved it, and were amazed at the feeling in her voice. But then when I showed it to my family, I think they were maybe a bit too close to it. They were like, ‘ya, that’s our grandmother, that’s what she should like’. I think maybe we don’t see how special something is sometimes because we are so close to it. Having that bit of separation was a really good thing for her.
“She really liked it. But she was more interested in the interview and how that was conducted and things like that. She found that really interesting. It’s funny, the song has already got a lot of attention and my mother went to wake her (Mary Keane) up the morning after it was released and it had been played on Ryan Tubridy, and he was talking a lot about it.
My mother showed the interview to me about a year ago and I couldn’t believe it when I heard it.
“My mother said it was on RTÉ and Ryan Tubridy was talking about it. All my gran asked was, ‘was it played on Clare Fm yet?’ Forget RTE, she hasn’t made it until she is played on Clare Fm.”
The song is the debut track from Daithí’s upcoming EP, Tribe, which will be released in February of next year. Tribe was written last year and focusses on growing up in the West of Ireland.
“I recorded an album two years ago which was a real pop album so when I went back into writing again I decided I wanted to work on something a bit more personal and take a bit more influence and inspiration from around where I am. It felt like a really good time to use this inspiration and explore what it like to live in Galway and Clare for so long,” continued Daithí.
“I think, as you get older, you start to appreciate where you are a little more. I feel really close to this record, I went out to beaches in Clare and in Galway and recorded sounds there and then mixed those sounds with electronic music. So, when I think about these tracks, I think about the journey in making them and the songs have way more weight in my head.”
Daithí will play Roisin Dubh in Galway on Friday, November 20.