Classic collective

Singer Caitriona O’Leary

By David Hennessy

St John’s Smith Square in London will be the venue this Friday June 14 for a performance by the acclaimed Irish ensemble, Dúlra, featuring the ethereal voice of the Irish singer, Caitriona O’Leary.  Dúlra creates a compelling new sound for traditional Irish music and incorporates influences from early music, world music and contemporary classical.

The concert celebrates the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and is sponsored by Culture Ireland. Caitriona has toured globally, playing Royal Albert Hall and Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes as well as extensive tours of Australia and some time in New York where she was a member of Banshee, a collective of Irish women artists whose offbeat performances became a fixture on the downtown scene.

“I am really looking forward to the concert. It’s going to be amazing,” the singer tells The Irish World. Dúlra’s sound is innovative and unique. Caitriona describes it, saying: “Well, I’d say first of all it’s traditional Irish music. My background and taste is for early music but also mixed with contemporary, classical. It’s an unamplified gig, it’s unplugged with elegant and sublime songs and seannós right beside reels and jigs: Upbeat stuff as well. There’s fiddle, uileann pipes and cello and then also two percussionists bodhran and frame drums as well so there’ll be plenty of energy coming from the band and also, as a special guest appearance, my friend Clara Sanabras will be performing a set with us. I just adore singing with her, we get on so well together and it’s a lot of fun, it’s really interesting to work with her.”

Caitriona established Dúlra in 1998: “It was when I was in New York that I started it up. I wanted to play some Irish music so I had to find some people to play with me. We’ve been going since then.

Adrian Hart, Eamon Galldubh, Lioba Petries, Frank Torpey and Andrea Piccioni complete the line-up. While the line-up has changed over the years, Caitriona says: “It’s the same ethos and it’s just developed. It develops depending on who’s playing as well and the kind of music I’ve been listening to recently so it has grown since the beginning. From the start it was probably more about marrying traditional Irish music with the sounds and the philosophies of early music but I’ve come over the years to incorporate more world rhythms and world sounds as well as the contemporary and classical. One important thing is that everybody in the band is a very good improviser so whether it’s early music style improvising or trad style or whatever global type funk we’ve got going on or contemporary classical, they’re always phenomenal improvisers as well so we get some good jams going.”

Caitriona also works with the collective, eX and this year will see new albums from both her collectives: “We (Dúlra)’ve got a new album that we’ve already recorded called Sleepsongs. It will be out later this year, I hope. That will complete the trilogy that I started in 2000. I’ve just finished writing the sleeve notes for an eX CD that’s coming out called Possessed.”

Caitriona has played Royal Albert Hall with medieval group, Sequencia, toured with versatile and captivating performer Clara Sanabras, Galician bagpipe player Carlos Nunez and with Harvey Brough’s Requiem in Blue while a recent performance with Nóirín Ní Riain, one of her heroes, is also a highlight: “Really diverse types of gigs have been highlights. Just a couple of months ago I sang with Nóirín Ní Riain in  a tiny little place in Limerick and that was right up there with the others because she’s one of my heroes.”

So what is next for Caitriona? Well, in addition to her forthcoming album releases and some European gigs over the summer, she is working on two performance projects: “I’m doing at the end of the year in Ireland, well starting here anyway, a new project of mine called The Wexford Carols. We’ll be performing that in December in Ireland. It’s a collection of carols from Kilmore, Wexford. Some of them are from the early 17th century, some are a bit later, but they’ve been learned orally and passed down through the generations and they’re such beautiful songs, amazing poetry and beautiful tunes as well. Some of the music has been lost over the years, I’ve reconstructed some of the carols and over the summer, I’m going to be doing some more research on them and hopefully finding more of the tunes.  That’s with Dúlra and several special guests as well including Nóirín Ní Riain. That will be a special event indeed. Once we’ve performed the project in Ireland, I hope to expand and tour with that.

“There’s another project I have been working on called Drum Songs, just myself and several percussionists: That’s a very fiery, interesting project too, marrying seannós with all kinds of traditional world rhythms. We’ve performed it once but as soon as I have time, I’ll be trying to take that on the road.”

Caitriona and Dúlra can be seen at St John’s Smith Square on Friday June 14 from 7.30pm. To get tickets or for more information, call 020 7222 1061or go to:

For more information about Caitriona or Dúlra, go to:


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