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  • 1999 15 Jun
"We wanted to share Gaelic songs, and we wanted to arrange them in such a way as to create motions and pictures within it, to make it interesting for people who would listen to the Gaelic language and not know what we were singing about. That's how the sort of ethereal sound developed."
--Máire Brennan

For more information on Máire Brennan click here!

by Mike and Paula Parker for the Music Channel at

Lunch with Máire Brennan [pronounced Moy-a] was more than just an opportunity to hobnob with a Grammy award-winning singer/ songwriter/ performer. It was a lesson in church history; in Irish folklore; in the resurgence of Celtic culture; in the ministry of reconciliation.

With the burgeoning popularity of massive stage productions like "Riverdance," Academy Award-winning motion pictures like "Braveheart," and multi-platinum albums by Irish rockers, folk-rockers, and balladeers like U2, Van Morrison, and Mary Black, Celtic is definitely "in." I asked what I thought to be a simple question.


Máire pauses, deep in thought, her fingers steepled over her largely untouched Caesar salad. In the ensuing caesura it becomes clear that an answer that has taken 1500 years to develop, will require more than a few moments to articulate. When at last she speaks, it is in a captivating Irish lilt. She speaks lovingly of her homeland; of its rich history and traditions; of its tragic political and religious conflicts; of its remarkable heritage.

Her eyes sparkle with national pride as she recounts the history and legends of St. Patrick, who first came to Ireland as a slave, escaped to the continent, and later returned to bring Christianity to a heathen nation. By the time Patrick died in 461, Máire insists, virtually all of Ireland had converted to the new religion.

"It wasn't Catholic Christianity at that time," Máire explains. "And that is a very important thing to know about Celtic Christianity. Patrick had been in Ireland before, as a captive, and he had gotten to know the culture of the Irish people. He heard God's voice in the mountains telling him that this was the place he had to come back to and bring the Gospel. They (the Irish) loved nature, and that became for them a part of honoring God. They were pagans and druids, but rather than accusing them of being evil, Patrick brought the Gospel within their culture. He realized they had nothing else to guide them. He knew this was their time of learning about the Gospel. And the parents of that time had no problem with their children becoming Christians. They saw it as a good thing."

Within two centuries of Patrick's death, when the rest of Europe was in the midst of the Dark Ages, Ireland was aglow with the light of learning. Great monasteries were established and Irish Christianity became distinguished by its intense devotion to learning and its missionary zeal. Indeed, at one point, more than 10% of the Irish population was sent out as missionaries to savage, heathen England, as well as to Europe. Irish monastic schools were noted for their extensive libraries, and for their near fanatical study of the trivium and quadrivium, (better known today as the seven liberal arts). And in the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, if a churchman in Western Europe knew Greek, it was assumed that he was Irish.

For all their learning and zeal, Celtic Christianity began a rapid decline in the 800's. Tribal rivalries, Viking invasions, and the decision of English churchmen to align themselves with the church at Rome all contributed to the disintegration of the Irish Church. For generations, Celtic culture was suppressed, ridiculed, and denigrated. And Máire says the Irish people themselves are sometimes bashful about their own heritage.

"We used to sing in our father's pub in front of the local people - our own people, mind you. And when we would sing an English song they'd be clapping, but when we sang a Gaelic song they'd turn their back on us. 'You shouldn't be singing those songs,' they'd say. 'No one wants to hear them'. Gaelic was looked upon as a poor man's language, almost like you were showing your redneck roots."

Máire, however was never bashful about singing in her native Gaelic tongue. Along with her family band, Clannad, with included her twin uncles Noel and Pádrag Duggan, her brothers Pól and Ciarán, and for a time, her younger sister Eithne (better known as {{Enya}}), Máire helped introduce the world to the ethereal sound of Celtic music.

"I don't know how many people are aware that before 1970, my sound, Enya's sound, Clannad's sound, didn't exist," Máire says. "Before then the songs were sung unaccompanied. It was something we developed while growing up. We wanted to share Gaelic songs, and we wanted to arrange them in such a way as to create motions and pictures within it, to make it interesting for people who would listen to the Gaelic language and not know what we were singing about. That's how the sort of ethereal sound developed. Where we came from -- the valleys, the sea, and nature itself had a lot to do with it."

Máire credits Celtic pride with the resurgence of interest in Gaelic culture. "But pride," she says, "is a terrible word to use. If it is used in an ignorant way it creates conflict. There is a certain heritage that is involved, a cultural aspect that people are interested in. The Irish people are suddenly coming to grips with the fact that their culture is rich. And it was great for me when I brought the album ==Perfect Time== out last year, because I was able to talk about Celtic Christianity. There was this huge revival in Celtic culture, but if you look at Irish history, the Christian part of it is so rich. It is the way God used this country down through the years that is important, and people are beginning to realize that."

The melancholy beauty of Clannad's sound began to catch on not only in the United Kingdom, but across the pond as well. Their music, featured in the blockbuster motion pictures "Patriot Games" and "The Last of the Mohicans," found an enthusiastic reception in the United States, Europe, and around the world.

Ironically it was the soothing, otherworldly feel of the music that captured the hearts and emotions of a whole group of people who were increasingly frustrated with technology and modernism. Now, more often than not, Máire finds both Clannad's albums, and her own recent project, ==Perfect Time==, categorized as "New Age," a label she is not comfortable with, but is willing to accept with the missionary grace of St. Patrick.

"My album, ==Perfect Time== and {{John Tesh}}'s ==One World== have both been on the New Age charts for the last six months," she explains. "And Clannad won a Grammy this year in the New Age category. Being a Christian myself, I was not impressed by having my own album in the New Age category. But I looked upon it as the Lord saying to me, 'It doesn't matter what category it is in. It is getting out.' So I don't have a problem with it."

Although Máire maintains a full schedule, recording and singing with Clannad as well as her solo obligations, she still finds time to participate in her church's worship band. She plays the harp, while her husband, Tim, plays the cello.

"In my own church, St. Mark's, most of the songs are American praise songs," she confesses. "But when we play the worship, we try to include an Irishness in it, and it is starting to come through."

Máire and Tim have been married for ten years and have two children, Aisling - 7, and Paul - 5. "I come from a Catholic background in County Donnegal, a very rural country," she says. "Tim comes from a middle class English Protestant background. It was no mistake that God put us together. We learned about each others' ways, rather than looking at our differences."

Máire doesn't claim to be a political activist, but she readily finds acceptance from both Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. "Reconciliation is becoming a real thing over there," she says. "And it is so wonderful, because it really is God's way, you know. And it is very much in my heart. It is what the people want as well."

For more information on Máire Brennan click here!