3 November 2009
2 hours and 2 minutes
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Susan McKeown (b. Dublin, Ireland, 1967) is a well known Irish folk singer who came to New York in 1990 to study music at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She has produced many albums and collaborated with a number of talented artists to put a new spin on traditional Irish music.
Excerpt No. 1
Ireland as InspirationDisc 2, Track 3, 21:50–25:04
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
LA: Before the interview, we were talking about the artistic inspiration you get just from geography. Does it make difference whether you are in Ireland or away from Ireland? How does that influence your thinking or creating?
SM: Well it is a very different environment. On a practical level, the way life is when I am in Ireland, because I am hardly ever alone in Ireland, because I go there with my daughter for a couple of months, we are staying with other people and I never have time alone to write. So it is usually a time of gathering experiences. So on a practical level, out of necessity, that’s the way it is. So I accept that that it is a time to gather these experiences, and jot notes here and there, collect fragments and scraps of things, and then when I am back in New York and she’s at school, that’s the time when I have time on my own during the day to formulate those. So there’s that first of all and in Ireland we are often traveling and doing things, doing activities because it is centered around what her life is going to be there. Once she is happy then I can be happy and relax. So we are often with people and doing things, and it is a very exciting lovely community oriented thing. But physically I do feel a huge connection geographic… no, I don’t know what the word is, geo-tech… some kind of physical landscape connection –
LA: To Ireland?
SM: To Ireland. One of my best friends is married with two children and they live on a small stretch of land between Knocknarea, County Sligo, which is reputedly is the mountain where Queen Maeve(1) is buried, between there and the sea. And we stay there a lot, and I just feel very sheltered in the shadow of the mountain and right open to the Atlantic. So I do feel a huge draw. It is a very inspirational place though I don’t necessarily get the opportunity to have a lot of output. When I come back I think about that a lot, and the huge physical draw, draw I feel to the physical landscape. Something that Fionnula Flanagan, the Irish actress whom I greatly admire, said that I read about a couple of years ago, resounded with me as identifying completely with, was that Ireland is the well. And she said whenever she is in Europe, she tries to go back through Ireland or go to a place through Ireland, which is the same with me when I have European work. I’ll always stop in Ireland on the way or on the way back, to drink from the well and then carry on, until the next trip. That’s how it feels. Ireland is where you rest, when you restore. Relax. I’m always more relaxed in Ireland.
Excerpt No. 2
The Irish Female VoiceDisc 1, Track 5, 44:29–46:00
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
SM: And I was brought up with a father that often said, “Oh, it’s a man’s world.” In later years, I saw how he would have supported women in terms of choice and other issues like that. He was quite open minded in many ways. But he grew up in a household, where, one, children were seen and not heard and the woman was completely oppressed. I mean, his mother must have been miserable, but that was the way life was for women. But he also chose a woman who had her own career, and so much so that she kept her name along with his when she got married, which was very unusual for the time, so she was know as Jeannie McKeown Ryan because she had already established herself as Jeannie McKeown and she wanted people to know who she was. So she went the middle ground, keeping her name and adding his. And my work, if you call it work, my journey, when it comes to song, to me, often has to do with emotional expression and sometimes it is a reaction to the way I was brought up, to not just my father, but society at the time. I felt it was my role to react to that in the work that I do, in talking about things as I see them, in the songs that I write myself. Or in traditional songs that I come across that have to do with women and their work, that’s what’s very interesting to me. Or women and how they love, how they feel in relationships or how they feel they are treated. I can’t remember the other thing I was going to say, but you are getting the gist.
- Madeleine Witenberg (MW)
- Linda Dowling Almeida (LA)
- Maeve was the warrior Queen of Connacht, an Irish province, in Celtic mythology.