Women of Ireland: Music

Kerry Dexter's picture

In the spring of the year,  it is a time to think about Ireland, as celebrations of Saint Bridgid’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day appear on the calendar. It is also a time when the contributions of women to present day events and to history are marked. With those things in mind, here’s music for you to explore.

Some twenty years back, singer Mary Black, who comes from Dublin, was involved in discussions about including her music on a compilation album. She suggested a project focusing on women musicians, and so the idea for A Woman's Heart came to be. With its two follow up albums, A Woman's Heart/ 2 and A Woman’s Heart A Decade On, it has become a best selling album across the world.

That first album had the music of Black and five other Irish women, including Sharon Shannon and Frances Black. The second album expanded the reach to other Irish women, and the third recording in the trilogy, A Woman’s Heart a Decade On, included. among others, music from the fiery fiddle player Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh and her band Altan along with Irish American singer and songwriter Cathie Ryan. “I think people might come to the album because they know my work, or Maura O’Connell’s work, or one of the others, and then they’d get to hear all these others they might not know, and that’d be a great thing,” Black says.

The tile track was written by Eleanor McAvoy, who also appears on the recordings. Here are Mary Black, Frances Black, and Scottish singer
Karen Matheson singing A Woman’s Heart.




Across the ocean in North America, the band Cherish the Ladies had formed in the late 1980s, after what was meant to be a one off gig of Irish women musicians organized by Mick Moloney and Joanie Madden. In 1994 they released their first recording, The Back Door. Twenty seven years and counting after that first gig, the band is still going strong, bringing Irish song, dance, and tunes across the world.




Cherish the Ladies has been part of the lives of a number of women who now have flourishing careers on their own, among them Heidi Talbot.
Talbot has a gift for creating fresh takes on traditional music, and in her latest album, Angels Without Wings, her own songwriting also comes
to the fore.




Cathie Ryan, the original lead singer with Cherish, is a top songwriter as well as a master of interpreting tradition and sourcing contemporary
song. Her latest recording, Through Wind and Rain, is a fine showcase for her interest in American folk music alongside Irish tradition and history.


Cathie Ryan - in Women of Ireland: Music

Photo: Cathie Ryan


Cara Dillon comes from Dungiven in Northern Ireland. Her albums most often include music that references the North along with contemporary
takes on traditional ideas and songs.




Shannon Heaton, an Irish American like Ryan, is most often found singing and playing  flutes and whistles as part of a duo with her husband Matt. She’d had a dream of creating an instrumental album, though, and she’s done just that with the recording called The Blue Dress, in which her own compositions stand well along with music from Irish tradition.




Enjoy this taste of the music made by the women of the Emerald Isle. May their songs and tunes encourage you to explore further into the music of Ireland.



Kerry Dexter is Music Editor for Wandering Educators. You may reach Kerry at music at wanderingeducators dot com

You may find more of Kerry’s work at  her site Music Road, and at  Journey to Scotland, Perceptive Travel, Ireland and the Americas, National Geographic Traveler, and other places online and in print.




Enjoy this taste of the music made by the women of the Emerald Isle.

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