Home Lifestyle Entertainment ‘A lovely end to an awful year’

‘A lovely end to an awful year’

Cliona Hagan told David Hennessy what getting engaged meant to her in the midst of a pandemic, why she enjoys being a mentor on TG4’s Glór Tíre and what it was like to sing on the Late Late Toy Show at the age of 12.

Well known Tyrone country singer Cliona Hagan announced her engagement to her boyfriend Simon over the Christmas period.

Sharing the news via social media on Christmas Eve with a photo of her diamond ring with the words, “Forever & Always…”, Cliona was inundated with messages of support from people who were just desperate for some good news.
Cliona told The Irish World: “You know what? It was a lovely end to an awful year.

“I wasn’t expecting it and he proposed at our favourite spot down by Lough Ree in Co Westmeath where he’s from. We would always go for a beautiful walk by the lake and of course, he had a beautiful archway of flowers there and it was beautiful and very romantic how he proposed.

“Even though I would be in the spotlight through singing I’m actually quite quiet inside behind it all. He did it perfectly. I wouldn’t have liked a big show with everyone around so he definitely nailed it on the head with the whole proposal.

“We’re really happy. We’re really enjoying the whole engagement honeymoon phase. We haven’t really decided regarding setting a date yet, obviously due to Covid as we want all our family and friends there so we’ll just leave it until the time’s right.

“But at the moment we’re really just enjoying the whole honeymoon engagement phase. It’s lovely that people can celebrate in our joy as well.”

With contact with others severely limited, Cliona and Simon have had each other during the crisis playing regular Facebook live gigs as Simon is also a musician and even comes from the Sheerin family who are well known in Ireland’s music scene. His brother, Tom Sheerin, was fiddle player and musical director of Nathan Carter’s band for many years while Simon has worked with several bands, including Lisa McHugh’s.

“Simon and I have a really good routine going on. We live in the countryside and we are very lucky in the respect that we get to go for a walk and so grateful to have that fresh air which I think is vital.

“We still try and do as much exercise as we possibly can to start off our day and then we would do a lot of songwriting. We would learn songs. We’ve got a good routine and I think that’s very important too.

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“At the beginning the weather and all was beautiful but we probably weren’t doing as much exercise as we should have been back then but there’s only so much that you can do.

“I’m an awful cook, Simon is a fantastic cook. I like to clean up so we work well together for sure,” she laughs.
Cliona was with Simon when she saw bluegrass singer-songwriter Rhonda Vincent perform. Although Cliona wasn’t familiar with her at the time, she certainly is now having just released a cover of her song, I’ve Forgotten You.

“My fiancé’s brother actually told me about the song. When I heard it, I loved it straightaway and the funny thing was when I was in Nashville a few years back we were in one of the honky tonks near the Grand Ole Opry and myself and my partner were sitting down.

“My partner Simon knows so much about music and especially country music. He was like, ‘Oh my Goodness, oh my goodness’. And I was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ And he was like, ‘There’s Rhonda Vincent’.

“And at the time I didn’t know who Rhonda Vincent was. If it was now and I saw her, I would be completely star struck. It’s actually quite a funny story. That’s how the song came about. It was his brother Tom and I loved it. It’s great.

“It really is a powerful message. Anyone can move on. If you do have a break-up, it’s not the end of the world. Time is a wonderful healer. You can definitely move on and get stronger.

“The single was actually recorded live. I am doing the programme called Glór Tíre at the minute. I’m mentoring a young girl on it and all the songs which I’ve done through Glór Tíre, and there’s quite a few that they don’t show, but everything that I’ve recorded there I’ve made into a live album which is something I’ve always wanted to do.

“I was delighted with how I’ve Forgotten You went down. It’s beautiful. It’s country. It’s bluegrass and a gorgeous song that I enjoy singing.

“The whole live aspect is so authentic. How you hear it is exactly how it will sound so I’m very happy with that. I’ve got an album of all the live songs coming out at the end of this year and I have so many more live tracks to release very, very soon.”

Speaking of live performance, has Cliona missed that element and has it been hard to not know when it will return?

“I definitely do. It’s obviously my passion and what I love to do, to get onstage and sing and it’s hard.

“We’ve been doing the Facebook live every Sunday at 7pm since lockdown first started and it’s been so good for us and the people that have been tuning in have been really enjoying it too. At least we get to perform some kind of music. It’s really hard to beat the live performances for sure.

“It’s scary. I was very naive at the start. I thought, ‘It will all be sorted within a few months but here we are, a year later, and still no joy. Hopefully now the vaccine is here we can get back to some sense of normality, please God.”

The Irish World recently featured Mary Hoey, a Glór Tíre contestant being mentored by Cliona’s fiancé’s sister Carmel Sheerin.

Cliona is mentoring 22-year-old Westmeath singer Tilly Dawson-Stanley and says she finds it very rewarding to give the benefit of her experience to a relatively novice performer.

Cliona sings with her protege TIlly.

“I really enjoy it. It’s great. I’ll tell you why. Years ago, 2008 I think, I was on the first season of the All-Ireland Talent Show. I was singing classically back then. I was 17 or 18 or something like that.

“It was great because I was getting feedback from mentors, I was also still learning- I’m still learning today, don’t get me wrong but obviously when you’re younger, you do need a little bit of advice and help. You’re never too old to learn either so for me to be able to come and mentor and actually give the knowledge that I have acquired this past 6, 7 years of being on the scene is great.

“I want people to realise too that when you’re trying to get into a scene sometimes there’s a lot of glamorous stuff on the outside but there is a lot of hard work that goes into it behind the scenes. That’s very important too.

“You have to have that love. You have to have that drive. It’s not just about publicity, it really is about the love of performing, of singing, of what you do and for me I really do believe I have actually gotten this far in such a short space of time is because I’ve really persevered.

“Tilly’s a great singer and I want her to know that sometimes it doesn’t come overnight but when you work for something the gratification is so much better. I also say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.

“I’m still grafting, I’m still working and it’s really for the sheer love of what I do. I think you have to have that love for it to succeed.”

Viewers saw former Glór Tíre contestant and friend of Cliona’s Chantelle Padden audition for The Voice UK on Saturday.

“She is the loveliest girl and my goodness, what a talent. Do you know what? I was texting her not so long ago and saying, ‘The best of luck and anything I can do to help, please don’t be afraid to let me know’.

“She’s so lovely. She is very, very talented and I have no doubt that she is going to go all the way. We’ll definitely be rooting for her anyway.”

Cliona could have had a less glamorous but more stable career in music as she used to teach music to secondary school students in Edinburgh. She had been offered a good job back at home when it was her mother advised her to follow her dream.

Does she enjoy mentoring for how it combines teaching with music? “Definitely, I really enjoyed teaching.

“Music’s not very guaranteed. It’s a huge gamble. You have to be smart about it too so I really wanted to have something concrete behind me so that if singing didn’t work, at least I had my degree behind me.

“Of course teaching music would have been awesome too but my heart always lay with performing. I just wanted to have that security. Life is hard enough. You just have to be intelligent about it too.”

It is clear her heart was always in it as Cliona sang a perfect rendition of Silent Night on The Late Late Toy Show when she was only 12. Of course, she returned back there to be part of a country special in 2019 when Ryan Tubridy surprised her with the old clip.

“It was unbelievable because Ryan had dug out a clip of me singing on the Toy Show and it’s so lovely to have and to actually look back on.

“I’m delighted I got picked to be on the Toy Show way back in the day.

“I remember walking into school on the Monday morning. We were in assembly and when I walked in, everyone was clapping for me. I was so embarrassed but I was so happy. It was definitely lovely.”

Cliona is one of the many country stars who have brightening up what can be dark days for their fans with a simple phone call in times when live gigs and other interaction is impossible. Entitled Reach Out, the initiative was the brainchild of country singer Trudi Lalor and her songwriter husband Billy Morrissey.

Nathan Carter, Daniel and Margo O’Donnell, Mike Denver, Robert Mizzell, Michael English, Mick Flavin, Declan Nerney and Jimmy Buckley are also involved.


“I have to say it is such a wonderful idea, hats off to Trudi Lalor and Billy Morrissey.

“When I first got involved and I started ringing people and surprising them, I didn’t realise that in turn that would give me so much satisfaction and actually really lift my spirits.

“It really is a win-win situation. Something as simple as a phone call is so powerful.

“If this virus has taught us anything it is that simple things in life are so important. You don’t need lavish things to be happy. The Reach Out programme really just shows that, that the small things really can make a difference in someone’s life.

“It’s the least that we can do for our fans that have supported us throughout the years so I’m really happy to be involved in that.”

I’ve Forgotten You is out now.

Cliona and Simon do a concert on her Facebook page every Sunday at 7pm.

For more information, click here.

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