Belfast Telegraph

Relatively Speaking: Karen and Lorna McLaughlin

Karen and Lorna McLaughlin are two-thirds of the Co Donegal band The Henry Girls, along with younger sister Joleen. The trio are renowned for their fusion of folk, Americana, bluegrass and blues, which they will be bringing to the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's this month

By Una Brankin

Name: Karen McLaughlin Age: 38

Occupation: Member of The Henry Girls

Relationship: Sister of Lorna

I'm just over two years older than Lorna and I remember her loving singing and standing up performing as a child. She was very comical and cute and we always had a good laugh together. I remember at Butlins when I was about 10 she had lost her front teeth and all these boys were hanging around. There was a slide and a tunnel, which she was in, and these boys came running out of it – she'd scared them away with her gappy mouth!

We're definitely alike in some ways but Lorna is more tolerant than me. She's deeper. Some things, like people being late, will drive me mad, but she has more patience. She's maybe more open. I'd be more honest in letting people know when I'm annoyed. She's more diplomatic.

We argue a bit, usually whenever one of us is stressed. We tend to take things out on each other but look out for each other at the same time. She'll tell me I'm taking on too much. I've three kids and I'm also the mum in the band sometimes.

I don't know Joleen as well as Lorna – she's 10 years younger and a lot quieter than us. Lorna and I grew up together and when she went to Queen's University in Belfast to study music and I went to Cork to do the same, we'd visit each other at weekends. We ended up with the same friends, who were three sets of sisters!

We have similar tastes and will swap clothes, although I'm more into dresses and boots than she is. She likes runners. We'll tell each other if something looks terrible. I look like our mum; I've a longer face. She has a rounder face like dad but we both have thick, dark, wavy hair.

Lorna tends to be a little bit more bossy. She's very driven and good at managing and organising us. I'm a bit of a devil's advocate – I'll say 'No, we can't afford to do that', whereas she'll say 'Let's just try it.' As teenagers I had my older sister Claire to follow, while Lorna learned from me. At a certain age you don't want your little sister hanging about and I'd try to get rid of her.

We did get into lots of trouble together too. We jumped on to the back of one of dad's trailers once when it was taking off – he had a haulage business – and ended up miles down the road. I jumped off when it slowed down a bit and scraped my leg but Lorna was afraid and ended up on down the road past granny's crying 'Help!' My aunt was outside and heard this wee voice going past but she got off at the next junction and was walking back when my aunt caught up with her, and she pretended she was just out for a stroll!

We got into big trouble for that, and for a party we had when mum and dad were away. We sneaked out to discos too and had to walk back in the middle of the night, that sort of thing. Now Lorna's the one who gets cross if I have one glass of wine too many!


Name: Lorna McLaughlin Age: 36

Occupation: Member of The Henry Girls

Relationship: Sister of Karen

All of us sisters played outside a lot as children – there are six of us all together, aged from 29 to 40. I don't remember ever fighting with Karen as we always got on really well, although we go into the odd scrap together.

I remember at primary school Karen and her friend telling me that Michael J Fox, who was a big star then in Teen Wolf and Back To The Future, was coming to Malin and wanted to see us cheerleading. Of course I believed them – I still believed in Santa at that stage – and I was upset when I realised they were playing a trick on me.

We always sang and danced together as kids. As we got older we got into the same type of music. I liked Maria McKee and we both love Sinead O'Connor – she had the right to respond as she did to Miley Cyrus, by the way.

Although we agree on most things and have the same sense of humour – we're both into the TV show 30 Rock – Karen and I are different in a lot of ways.

There are a few things she does that drive me mad, like biting her nails. She'll kill me for saying that!

Her kids are exactly the same – it must be genetic!"

Worldwide acclaim for girl band

The Henry Girls have been playing music together since childhood and decided to go professional in 2010. Since then they have become one of the most talked about folk/roots acts to come out of Ireland, captivating audiences worldwide and earning rapturous encores and standing ovations.

Named after their grandfather, they have worked with Clannad's Maire Brennan and appeared as guest backing vocalists on Mary Black's 2011 album Stories from the Steeples.

They will be playing as part of the Belfast Festival Music Club, which will see a host of artists performing in an intimate setting at Belfast's Elmwood Hall, including Portuguese Fado singer Carminho, New York band Hem and guitarist Eric Bibb.


The Henry Girls will be performing at the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's on Friday, October 25, in support of Dervish. For details, visit

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