Enya, a Donegal Star?

Draíocht an Dúlra

Ask anyone from Ireland to name a famous Donegal singer and you will be almost guaranteed that they will reply 'Daniel O' Donnell'. Yet it is another Donegal singer who can be truly regarded as a worldwide superstar. Ethereal, mythical, magical melodies, composed in a studio somewhere in Dublin have made Eithne Ní Bhraonáin a global phenomenon, selling 70 million albums worldwide, winning four Grammy Awards and earning an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for her contribution to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. This is all true; however after initial success in Ireland with Watermark and Shepherd Moons, her albums barely chart here at all now. Why is this the case? Is it a lack of publicity? Is Ireland to small a market for Warner Bros. to concentrate on? Do we Irish begrudge anyone who is successful, especially if they managed to do it on their own without our help?

Enya tends to get a lot of bad press here in her native country, people often make fun of her and her music. I believe that the main reason for this is that she is different. Enya's music is very different to other success stories like U2, The Corrs, The Cranberries. As a personality she is hugely private, she avoids the limelight, and will not be seen mingling with other celebrities at the usual bashes and parties. Enya furrowed her own musical path from the beginning and certain circles within the Irish music industry did not like this. The Irish have never really got the idea of this hugely successful artist living in a castle who we know so little about. The mystery surrounding Enya, the enigma that is Enya is something that draws fans to her and her music all over the world but in Ireland this 'enigma' is thought on to be odd, even strange.

Take a trip north to the rugged landscape of west Donegal, the parish of Gaoth Dobhair, lying at the foot of Mount Errigal on the wild Atlantic coast and the story is much the same. We still do not know a lot about our famous daughter, we do not understand much about her hugely successful musical career. Donegal is an obvious influence on Enya's work, but although she will mention her upbringing and the importance of Donegal to her music, she does not dwell too long on this aspect. She talks little of her family and to people in Gaoth Dobhair, a very closely knit community, this is thought to be a little strange. Celebrations of the family's achievements, anniversary celebrations in Leo's Tavern will see members of Clannad taking to the stage but Enya's continual absence always raises questions locally.

The Brennan's are a very well respected family in this area, a very down to earth family with no airs or graces. Enya is primarily seen as one of the Brennan family, a daughter of Leo and Baba and the people of the parish, in particular in the locality of Dobhar are extremely proud of her amazing success story. It is sometimes hard to believe that a young girl from this area, brought up just like everyone else, attending school in the local Scoil Phádraig could become such a phenomenon.

Enya returns home to visit her Mum and Dad a lot. When at home she will spend her time with her family behind closed doors, and most of the time people don't necessarily know or need to know that she is at home. Close neighbours of course will come to visit. I have heard in interviews where Enya has said that when she is in Gaoth Dobhair that she can be 'Eithne' just as she was when growing up. I understand this. She can sing with the local choir in church, eat out in local restaurants or visit Leo's tavern with family for the evening and people will leave her alone. An initial hello or well done will be passed on but generally people understand that the important people in her life are her family and they will leave her be. The people of Gaoth Dobhair are well aware of the various stalking incidents Enya has had to live with throughout the years and are protective of her as a result. We are guarded when strangers ask questions, we do not like to give too much away. We salute her success and her ability to achieve such levels of success without ever attracting huge media attention and we like it like this. We will not tell stories and I believe this loyalty is a reflection on what we think of Enya and her family.

Oíche le Cór Mhuire in July 2005, when Enya along with her four sisters took to the altar of the local church to sing hymns with their Mum's choir was to me a musical highlight in her career. Enya was in attendance, singing with the sisters that she loves so dearly, in front of friends, family, and neighbours. The ten minute standing ovation that followed summed up how special the occasion was. We hear about acrimonious splits in the tabloids, extreme rivalry and jealousy among her siblings but anyone who witnesses Enya with her family in their Dad's pub will see a family having a chat, enjoying each others company and sharing jokes.

Gaoth Dobhair is important to Enya and Enya is important to Gaoth Dobhair. When I listen to Watermark I hear and picture the Donegal landscape in the melodies. Walking in the mountains of the area and listening to Enya's debut album, everything feels right. It just fits! Watermark, to me is inspired very much by Enya's childhood, her parents and grandparents. The mountains, hills, lakes and beaches of Gaoth Dobhair are a perfect backdrop to the album's soundtrack. Watermark is twenty years old now and I believe it will be an important part of our heritage in the years to come.

Twenty years on we raise a glass in celebration, to toast the continued success of our Donegal Star.


Draíocht an Dúlra, a member of the Unity and Marble Halls fan forums, resides in Gaoth Dobhair, County Donegal. Draoicht will occasionally post that Enya visited home for Christmas, but out of respect for Enya's privacy and the privacy of her family, will say little more than that. I thank Draoicht for writing this viewpoint on Donegal's star for Book of Days.