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root salad f18 Nell Ní Chróinín

A notable young singer from the Cork Gaeltacht, Tim Chipping is entranced by her voice.

accompanied or am I gonna get people to accompany me? I need to sit down and hash something out.”

I think I just heard someone drop their pint at the thought of musicians on Nell’s CD.

“Singing with accompaniment is not something that I’m opposed to. But some people say, ‘Oh you’re a sean-nós singer, you can’t.’ But sometimes it just happens at a ses- sion, I’ll be singing and somebody might pick up a guitar. I don’t mind it at all.”

Given the competition wins and the expectation of recordings, I wonder if that doesn’t separate Nell from the singers she grew up around.

“You know, I was just having this con- versation. Up in Inishowen they have a singing festival every year and the term ‘tra- ditional singer’ doesn’t exist up there. You’re just a singer.”

think everybody can sing a song that their parents knew or has something to do with where they’re from. And when you’re in the pub and you’ve had a few pints, if somebody starts singing it just keeps going all night. You have to have a bit of a party piece ready and they normally have something to do with your family or your locality or…”


Animals? “Animals or whatever, yeah.” One of Nell’s crowd pleasers is An Lacha

he first time I heard the singing of Nell Ní Chróinín was in 2011 in the Bedford Hotel, Sidmouth. It was around 2am when someone called on her to give us a song. Nell began and my jaw hit the floor like a cartoon wolf. With just a smattering of YouTube clips and a couple of return visits to England, her voice has become one of my favourite sounds in the world. Not that I can say such a thing to Nell.


“For years I didn’t used to be able to take a compliment,” she tells me, back at Sidmouth in 2015. “But then my mother one day was like, ‘Will you take the effing com- pliment when you get one!’ It’s nice obvious- ly when people react the way they do.”

My reaction isn’t unusual. Everyone who hears Nell sing is somewhat spell- bound. Would that not convince her she’s exceptional?

“I wouldn’t really take any notice of it.

I don’t think I’m any better than other peo- ple. I know people will say ‘Oh god that was great’, but I wouldn’t say I’m out of the ordinary. There are plenty of better singers than me.”

Where are these better singers? I want to go to there.

“Where I’m from there’s a really strong singing tradition. Like in Múscraí – it’s the Gaeltacht area of Cork – an Irish-speaking area. It’s made up of four villages and every- one can sing. When I was younger we used to go to sessions on a Sunday and there’d always be people singing so I never thought it was anything out of the ordinary.”

“They set up the Aisling Gheal sean-nós singing scheme in honour of a great singer from the locality, Diarmuidín Maidhcí Ó Súilleabháin who sadly died in a car crash. That’s how I started learning songs properly. It was great.”

This modesty belies the fact that last

year, aged 24, Nell became the youngest winner of the Corn Uí Riada cup, bringing the singing trophy home to Cork for the first time since the early 1950s. After win- ning she joked to the Irish Examiner that she might now “enter the Eurovision”, but also hinted an album was on the cards.

“Well the album is something I have been meaning to do for a while but I’ve just been putting it off! Is it gonna be all un -

Bhacach about a duck kicked by a donkey. Even if you don’t understand the words you get a good idea from a certain repeated phrase. “Oh yeah. Quack quack!”

“I got all my songs from Máire Ní

Chéileachair. She was my singing teacher when I was growing up. And I listened to a lot of other good singers: Nioclás Tóibín, Frank Harte, Bess Cronin, Diarmuidín Ó Suil- leabháin. I do sing some in English because at home we’re quite close to the Kerry bor- der, so going back in the years people would have come in with English songs.”

I’m still struggling to accept that Nell

doesn’t have a concept of how extraordi- nary she sounds to others.

“I don’t like to overthink when I’m singing because if I do it won’t come out the way that it should. I kind of sing through my heart, like.”

Given that she believes she’s no better than anyone else, why then does she think people book her for English folk festivals?

“They’re stuck for people to be asking, I’d say! But sure I’m delighted. Any old excuse for a nice trip away.”


Photo: Noel Hoyne

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