Singer and instrumentalist, Muirgen O’Mahony was wondering if it was time to pick a new path after going nearly two years without performing because of the pandemic.
Then she landed what she thought was a longshot audition for Celtic Woman last year and everything changed.
The County Cork, Ireland native joined the Grammy Award-winning group, known for bringing traditional Irish songs to the world stage. On Saturday, the band is slated to perform at Proctors as part of its “Postcards from Ireland” tour, which kicked off earlier this year.
O’Mahony, who is a fluent Irish speaker, studied as a classical soprano at the Cork School of Music and went on to study musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
The Gazette recently caught up with O’Mahony about the band’s new album and what it’s been like to tour after so long at home.
Q: What inspired you to get into music?
A: I always was a music-orientated child. I was initially primarily an instrumentalist growing up, so I actually didn’t really start singing until I was about 16. I had played the classical flute and violin and different things before that, but I always knew that I wanted to go down the music route. I don’t think I ever had a clear-cut idea of me as a performer, but from about 16 onwards, I started to get involved in musical theater and amateur dramatics and just really fell in love with singing and being on stage.
When I made the decision to go into music for a college degree, I studied music in Cork. The only kind of music degree that was available there was a classical course. I had [to make] the decision of either doing the classical flute or classical singing, and I decided to go with singing. While I suppose classical singing was something I’d never really seen myself going into, I am so grateful for the training that I had there. It was a great [base] for me as well and for someone who kind of had no experience really with singing prior to that, I think it was just a great start. Then from there, I went on to do a master’s in musical theater in London. That’s really where I found my feet in terms of singing, and where I wanted to see myself with a career in music. There was never really a clear-cut plan. It was a lot of grace [from] tutors along the way, a lot of support from my family, and I suppose, experimenting with different avenues of the industry. I’d say yes to a lot of things. It led me to where I am and I’m so grateful that it did because although some experiences might not have been particularly relevant, I do think that they all add to my journey along the way.
Q: When did you first get to join Celtic Woman?
A: I actually joined Celtic Woman June 2021. You can imagine it was just an absolute whirlwind because I hadn’t really performed in about two years, because of the pandemic, which was just crushing. I really found myself at a crossroads, not knowing if there was a place for me in this industry anymore, just financially and emotionally.
When this opportunity came up, not only was it kind of a longtime dream of mine but it came at a time when I almost was about to close the door on that vocation. It sounds so cliche, but it has just been a dream come true. Until we started the tour, I don’t think I fully had been internalizing my place in the group, and just now being able to be on stage and get to share [those] really special moments with people on stage and also with the audience, it’s unlike anything that I’ve experienced, but it pulls the whole project together and finally makes me feel like I am part of this group.
Q: When you first joined, were you working on the latest album, [“Postcards from Ireland”]? When did you jump into that process?
A: When I even talk about it now, how quick the turnaround was was, it’s funny to think about. I auditioned in the end of May last year and found out maybe two weeks later that I had gotten the job. Then about three weeks later, we were in the studio recording “Postcards from Ireland.” It was insane. Three or four weeks after that we were filming the [TV] special around Ireland.
I had never even set foot in a recording studio, so to go from not really knowing where your career is heading to then being in a recording studio recording an album . . . I wasn’t sure I knew what was happening.
Q: Did you feel like you had to play catch up?
A: I feel like in those situations, and I think that’s what I mean about the opportunities that I have had along the way that may not play a huge amount of relevance in my career now, but I think what [they] did give me is that sense of working on your feet and being able to adapt quickly to new situations. You might find yourself in a situation where you’re sitting with an orchestra, and you have no rehearsal time with them. So you have literally the show to it right and I have had those kinds of experiences in the past. So that really did play to my strength, and really helped me along the way.
It was still absolutely terrifying and I gave myself a bit of credit. I felt like, given the lack of experience I have in a recording studio, I was really happy with how it went and just, I suppose, quite proud of myself. But to be honest with you, we had such an incredible team around us. Our sound engineer, our musical director, the girls, everyone was just so supportive, and . . . to be given kind of artistic license on songs that I’ve grown up listening to and to now be doing a completely new version of it was just an absolute honor. I’d already surpassed my expectations by just setting foot in the door.
Q: What was the filming process like for the TV special after that?
A: That was one of the most incredible experiences I think I’ve ever had. There are places around Ireland that I’ve never been to, and to get to see them . . . First of all, we were filming over two weeks, which filming outdoors in Ireland is such a risk, because it’s 90% [chance of] rain all of the time. It was blazing sunshine for two weeks, which we could not [believe]. It was honestly like there was someone looking down on us.
There were times when we would turn up to a shoot at like 6 a.m. and it would be lashing rain all morning and the minute we’d pull up to the shoot, it would just stop raining. It was actually surreal, the whole experience and to get to see parts of Ireland that I’d never seen before in this incredible sunshine and to get to pair it with this epic music was, again, something that I feel like I’ve only ever seen on TV. I’ve never actually lived through myself.
I had only met the girls a couple of weeks prior to that. We had a lunch together. That was my only time meeting them. So then to have two consecutive weeks where we got to bond and have this magical experience together I think really set us up in a beautiful way for this tour because we are all just like sisters, immediately. It’s cliche, but we love the bones of each other. The ‘Postcards for Ireland’ special was just kind of like a snippet of what was to come. I think the final product kind of speaks for itself. It’s just it really just shows Ireland in the most kind of magical way. It was the best experience we could have hoped for.
Q: When did you officially kick off this tour?
A: We kicked off the tour on the 24th of February. And it’s just been an absolute joy. It’s been a whirlwind and as I say, there are some days that I’m not entirely sure where I am. But each time we step out on that stage, the response from the audiences has been overwhelming and I’d never had an experience where you step out on stage and people are already delighted to see you. My experience is with musical theater and it’s just a different environment where you earn the respect of the audience, but Celtic Woman is such a long-standing group that I’m riding the coattails of these incredible women who’ve gone before me even and the fans just absolutely adore the music. It’s so beautiful to be able to enjoy that connection with them as well. My favorite thing about the tour has been the reaction from the audiences so far.
Q: What was it like that very first time that you performed live in front of an audience with Celtic Woman?
A: I really thought that I was going to be inconsolable with nerves, but to be honest with you, I was just so grateful to be there and just excited as well.
There were definitely first night nerves; because I get quite bad nerves and quite bad stagefright as well, I thought that I would experience that in that first show. But it didn’t come and I don’t know if it’s just after the pandemic or what that has given [me] a new perspective on it, I was just able to enjoy it. For the first time in nearly two years, I felt like myself again, which I didn’t realize was the case until we were actually on that stage.
Q: What have become your favorite songs to perform live?
A: For me, one of my solos is ‘Dúlaman’ which was performed most recently by Máiréad Carlin. It’s the most epic song. It’s really theatrical in the way we staged this. From the costuming to the dancers, the lighting, and the arrangement of the music is just so epic. And I just step into a different character at that point, which is a lovely change from some of the slightly more concert-like classical stuff we have throughout the show.
Q: Are there any other songs from the ‘Postcards from Ireland’ album that you just really had a blast recording?
A: I think for me, the most epic one probably was ‘Dawning of the Day’ [and] to get to perform it at Ballintoy Harbour. We would be in hair and makeup from like 2 in the morning to try and catch the sunrise and that particular morning was just this fireball of a sunrise and it was over the most serene still water. The song lends itself to that epic feeling of a new beginning and that for me was just a beautiful morning . . . I mentioned about the rain stopping as we pulled up to some of the locations when we filmed “Mise Éire” in The Burren, we were again in hair and makeup at 2 a.m. and it was pouring rain. We were like “Why are we up at this hour? We’re not gonna be able to shoot.” I’m not joking when I say 6 a.m., we arrive and I was about to set foot off the bus and it just stopped raining.
The Burren has this like galactic stone landscape and because it was so wet from the rainfall, and then this really bright sun just came out as the sun was rising, it just reflected off all of the rocks.
We were just incredibly lucky with the kind of happenstance of the weather and the fact that because of COVID at the time, there were so few tourists. So a lot of these areas would usually be thronged with people, but because it wasn’t really a possibility at the time, they were just completely empty. So we were so lucky in that regard as well.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
MORE INFO: proctors.org