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Celtic Angel Eimear Crealey would rather make her own way to the top than rely on a show like the X Factor

At just 24, Eimear Crealey has already toured the US and performed with Nathan Carter and Daniel O'Donnell. The Co Armagh singer tells Claire O'Boyle how she's been on stage since childhood

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On song: Eimear Crealey has gained great experience on her US tours

On song: Eimear Crealey has gained great experience on her US tours

Eimear Crealey

Eimear Crealey

Una Healy

Una Healy

On song: Eimear Crealey has gained great experience on her US tours

She's already performed with some of the biggest names in music, but Eimear Crealey is determined to make it to the big time herself. The 24-year-old singer - who was mentored by The Saturdays' Una Healy on The Voice Ireland in 2015 - has appeared on the bill alongside Daniel O'Donnell and Nathan Carter.

And now the Co Armagh musician is all set for the stage with her first ever solo show.

"It's really exciting," says Eimear, who grew up in the small village of Maghery. "I've been all over the place performing with other singers, but this is the first big night by myself."

And where better than close to home with a spectacular night of song at The Armagh Marketplace Theatre where her proud-as-punch family can come along to cheer her on.

"I can't wait to perform with them in the audience," says Eimear. "I tour a lot, and unfortunately they haven't had a chance to come out and see me yet." But with the downsides come major perks because while her family might not have made it to see many of her recent shows, that's because Eimear's been touring on the other side of the world, with legendary Irish ensemble Celtic Angels.

Signed up just months after finishing her MA at London's Royal Academy of Music in 2018, she has been working flat out ever since.

"It's been a crazy time," says Eimear, the oldest of six music-mad kids. "I left home to do my music degree at Manchester when I was 18, and I haven't really moved back since.

"It was after my Masters that I ended up with the Celtic Angels and it's been an amazing experience."

The Celtic Angels are a group set up by Joan Kenny, the wife of iconic Irish singer Tony Kenny, who made his mark in the 1960s and '70s showband years.

"The group, which tours across America, was set up off the back of his legacy," explains Eimear, "with five Irish singers and five dancers. After I finished my Masters there was a call-out for four new girls, and that's how I heard.

"I auditioned and couldn't believe it when I got in - it was incredible. After a year of musical theatre, which is what I did in London, it's brilliant to sing these beautiful Irish songs.

"It's all lovely things like Danny Boy and the Isle of Hope, folk songs. But there are loads of upbeat numbers too and audiences love I'll Tell Me Ma.

"I've made some of my absolute best friends, I've learned on the road stage craft, how to get on with sound checks, and I've done some unbelievable travelling. I think there are only 11 States of America we didn't go to. So that's a lot."

Indeed it is. But the travelling's a challenge, too.

"It's tiring," says Eimear, who went to school at St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon. "But I love being on the road. Everything's completely new for me and I might as well do it all now when I'm young and I don't have big commitments. I'm gaining the most incredible experience so it's helping me hone my craft.

"The car journeys can be huge though. Sometimes we're in the car driving for about 10 hours before a big show that night, but you have to take it all for what it is."

So is it a rock and roll lifestyle, being a musician on the road? "Not quite," laughs Eimear, who is based in London when she's not on tour. "It's a bit glitzy when you're on stage, but that's it. It's hard work.

"We've had a couple of big nights but you can't go mad. We really don't get that many nights off, but on the nights we do have we've gone into the big cities and had a look around. You've got to keep your voice right."

Between tours, ambitious Eimear auditions regularly for parts in the West End, and works as a baby sensory teacher to pay the bills. "I do a lot of gigging in pubs too, to try to get my name out there in London and to make some money," she says. "Because I've been touring so much I haven't had the chance to really establish my name there yet, but you've got to keep working at it.

"Anything that comes up, I'm really happy to give it a go. TV, theatre in London or in Northern Ireland, I'd love it. I just want to keep learning and getting better." Which is why, says Eimear, a quick route to stardom on a show like X Factor doesn't really appeal. "I was on The Voice in Ireland when I was at uni," says Eimear. "It was a great experience and everyone was fantastic, but it was as much a learning experience as anything else.

"Una Healy was brilliant - she's from a really musical family and she's a fantastic singer - and it was a great opportunity to meet some great people, with the likes of Cian Egan from Westlife and Rachel Stevens also working on the show.

"I was travelling back and forth from Manchester and I couldn't really tell anyone until it was on TV. Looking back at the audition now, it's pretty mortifying, but it's what eventually led me to the Celtic Angels so I'm grateful for it, because someone I met there told me about the call-out.

"But for X Factor or any of those shows now, I don't know that it would do me any good. I think it's so big you'd always be linked to it, no matter what stuff you achieved after it and I'm happy plugging away to make my own way."

One of the biggest gigs Eimear was involved in as part of the Celtic Angels was the All Star Irish Cruise in Alaska last year, alongside Daniel O'Donnell and Nathan Carter.

"Nathan is lovely," says Eimear. "He's an absolutely brilliant musician, and so encouraging to everyone else. His show band are incredible, they're really the best in the business. Daniel O'Donnell is just a legend. I'd grown up listening to him from my granny, and watching him sing is amazing, he's just the dream. There's a real buzz around him."

And while her parents, Brendan, an engineer, and health visitor Denise, are big fans of listening to music, they're not, she says, musicians. "I don't know where it came from," says Eimear. "But all us kids are into music. Apparently one of my grannies used to sing, and I've got an auntie in Canada who's a music teacher but that's it. We're all mad about it though.

"There are four girls and two boys, and all us girls used to do musicals in Portadown every summer. As well as singing I play the piano and I got into the academic side of it too, which I really enjoy.

"Having a degree in it has always been my sort of back up that if it doesn't work out in the end I'll have that behind me and the potential to teach, which is an amazing thing to do."

But with another All Star Irish Cruise on the horizon, and Nathan Carter and Daniel O'Donnell back on the line-up alongside the Celtic Angels, she doesn't have much to worry about on that front for the moment.

This time starting in the Mexican Riviera later this month, she's in for another long stint on the road.

"Yes, we're back on the cruise later in February and then it's straight on the tour bus around America for a month, so it's really exciting," she says.

First though, it's back to Northern Ireland for her solo show in Armagh. And if it all goes off without a hitch, does the singer have high hopes that her career as a solo performer could take off?

"Well it's early days but I'd love to take the show somewhere else," she says. "There's such a big Irish market in America it would be a dream to take it there, but you've got to work hard at this stuff, and there's so much more I want to do."

Eimear Crealey: An Evening of Song will be at The Armagh Marketplace Theatre on Saturday February 15, 8pm

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