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The story behind “Donegal”

donegal cd coverI wrote Donegal in May 2013. I’d just been to the Belfast Singing Circle and spent a few very pleasant hours in the Garrick bar listening to and singing traditional songs from Ireland and farther afield. On the way home in the car I got to thinking about this great body of music and about whether tradition can be added to. I wondered if I could write something that could stand up in the canon of Irish songs.

Over the years I’ve learned many Irish traditional songs, to compete in the Feis, Scór or Fleadh, or just because I liked the song. Many of these were love songs to a county or townland, written from the point of view of an exile, many were about a girl left behind by “Johnny, lovely Johnny”, and in quite a few someone died at the end. Almost all had at least one more verse than it was comfortable to listen to. While I wasn’t sure about lovely Johnny, I started to think I could do something with the idea of place.

Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal

Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal

My mother is from County Donegal but moved to Omagh when she got married. An exile by all of 20 miles, my mother maintains a strong sense of connection with her home county and has told me many times that no where is more beautiful to her than the landscape where she was raised. Growing up myself, I spent many weekends and holidays at my grandparents’ farm, enjoying all the excitement of bringing in the hay, drinking water you’d just carried up from the well and digging and eating fresh spuds. As I started to write “Donegal” I drew on those memories, and the stories my mum had told me of her own childhood, to try to weave a story which would remain personal to me and my family, but also resonate with others.

On top of Muckish mountain, Co. Donegal

The beautiful cover for the single, designed by Niall Nugent, features a photograph I took in 2012 on a family walk round the Atlantic Drive in Co. Donegal with many of my Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. We’d walked the 12km round the stunning coastline and then had a barbecue. Donegal has been host to many such idyllic family days out over the years.

The original “Donegal” was a verse and a half longer than the single version. In true Irish style, I had made it slightly longer than was radio friendly! You can listen to a live demo of the original, extended version at

Kilclooney Dolmen, Co. Donegal

Kilclooney Dolmen, Co. Donegal

The first time I played “Donegal” for my mother, she cried, and so did I. That was all I needed to feel that the song had been a success. However, it was great to learn from the lovely feedback of audiences, both live and online, that “Donegal” connects with many people. When I came to choose my debut single, it seemed the obvious choice, for while it was not the first song I wrote, in many ways “Donegal” was where I started.

    To find out more about the county and things to do when you visit Donegal check out:  
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