Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Relatively Speaking: We chat to sisters Eimear and Erin

We ask personalities about the special family relationships in their lives

Sister act: Eimear (left) and Erin McGeown with Clandeboye director Barry Douglas
Sister act: Eimear (left) and Erin McGeown with Clandeboye director Barry Douglas

Craigavon-born flautist Eimear McGeown is once again bringing her musical magic to the Clandeboye Festival, which takes place at the Clandeboye Estate near Bangor next week. Last year the traditional and classically-trained musician performed at the festival with her older sister Erin, a traditional fiddle player, who lives in Port Laoise.

Name: Eimear McGeown

Age: 31

Occupation: Musician

Relationship to Erin: Sister

Our granddad on my mum's side was an Irish fiddle player and my dad's dad played the piano accordion so there was music in our family. Although our parents didn't play they were very musical and they encouraged and supported me and Erin and our brother from a young age.

Erin is classically trained on the violin but has a passion for Irish music and is well known as a traditional fiddle player. She is a primary school teacher but spends the summer performing quite a bit with different groups and keeps herself busy. She is a passionate teacher and I really admire her.

We shared the same bedroom growing up and have always been close and although I've lived in London for 12 years I think we have got closer.

Our brother Daire (28) also plays the Irish banjo but he is the high-flier in the family, as he is an assistant director with City Group in London.

My sister and I played a lot of Irish music sessions together growing up and in our mid-teens; mum and dad trusted us to go to Co Clare every year to the Willie Clancy Festival where we played Irish music sessions all week. All three of us would enter the different competitions and the fleadhs together as a trio.

Clandeboye has played such a big part in kickstarting my career. Just after I finished music college, festival founder Barry Douglas invited me to perform at Clandeboye in 2006 and from there, with Barry's support, it has given me a lot of confidence and self-belief and opened a lot of new doors for me.

In the last two years in particular, things have got really busy for me and I think Clandeboye has played a large part in helping open up better opportunities for me. It was lovely to have Erin join us for a few sessions at the festival last year too. I would love to have performed with her again this year but unfortunately she wasn't able to do it."

Name: Erin McGeown

Age: 33

Occupation: Primary school teacher and musician

Relationship to Eimear: Sister

I always wanted to be a school teacher and I have been teaching music since the age of 14, mostly classical students at our home.

I teach in my local primary school and also teach fiddle and banjo in the local comhaltas, which promotes traditional Irish music around the world. My parents set up the first comhaltas branch in Craigavon and I taught there too.

Eimear and I competed in the fleadhs together every summer at provincial, county and All-Ireland level. We would also practice together and we had to 'book' our own room in the house. She used to always go for the kitchen because there was best sound there. When you are teenagers sharing the same room you will always have something to argue about but as we have got more mature I think we've got closer.

It was great to play with Eimear at Clandeboye last year, it's a lovely festival.

She composed a piece she called The Mushroom Tree, taking inspiration from a tree at the venue. When she told the owner of the estate about it he said that he had planned to cut the tree down but it's been saved after being the inspiration for that piece of music.

Last year when she was performing in the church, the lights went out and everyone went quiet. I had my son Darragh with me and he was only four months old. I think because it was so dark and quiet it unsettled him and he started to cry and my mum had to take him out to the car park!

I get over to London to see Eimear when I can and we have played together in sessions there.

She is so passionate about music and it's brilliant she is enjoying such success. It's great too that she is not pigeon-holed and can stand up on stage in a classical gown and then play somewhere like Glastonbury.

Eimear is so disciplined and I don't know if I would be able to be my own boss like she is, but it's great what she is achieving!"

Festival a class act ...

  • Now in its 12th year, the Clandeboye Festival of Music runs from August 18-23 with an exciting programme of chamber music, opera and special events, including a fashion show and an art exhibition
  • Among the line-up of performers are festival founder Barry Douglas, cellist Andres Diaz, violist Paul Neubauer, violinist Elina Vahala and horn-player Richard Watkins
  • Eimear will be appearing at the Clandeboye Festival on Tuesday, August 19 in a lunchtime recital and later the same evening playing for the Fashion Show and in Five Fables Live on Saturday, August 23
  • She also features on Barry Douglas's new album of arrangements of Irish tunes called Celtic Reflections, which is out next month

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