Marching to her own beat

Emerging country singer Aishling Rafferty told David Hennessy about sharing the stage with Robert Mizzell, how her career started with the Cowboys and Heroes singing competition, her passion for charity and why singing at a nursing home gives her the ‘buzz of being onstage’.

Having already shared the stage with Robert Mizzell and with her recent videos going down a storm with an international audience, emerging Tipperary singer singer Aishling Rafferty is proving herself to very much be a country star of the very near future.

Although she only turns 19 this month, the singer from Knockshegowna in Tipperary has already announced herself on the scene with tracks like Home to Donegal, Except for Mondays, New Moon Over my Shoulder and her latest offering, God’s Plan. 

2020 was shaping up to be a big year for Aishling. It was just in January that her debut album My Journey was released. It was also supposed to be the year she sat her Leaving Cert. However, she hasn’t let the crisis stop her.

Aishling told The Irish World she still can’t believe the great things that have happened for her career: “To be honest, I can’t really believe it. I have to pinch myself to think of all the views I’m getting or the likes and shares on Facebook. I’m an 18-year-old girl from Tipperary and I’m getting attention from England, Australia, New Zealand, everywhere. 

“I’m absolutely thrilled. I’m loving every second of it. I just can’t wait for my journey to stay going and see where it brings me.” 

Aishling’s big break came last year when she made the final 12 out of the vast number of entries for the singing competition, Cowboys and Heroes.  

“That’s where it all started for me. That’s where everything really kicked off. It was a great platform for me, the best decision I ever made. 

“I came home from school one day and I said to Daddy, ‘Have you got your phone there? Take a video of me singing this song, I want to hear what I sound like’. Of course, I didn’t tell him what it was for. Then a few weeks later, I got a phone call saying that I was actually going to be singing at Cowboys and Heroes. He said, ‘What did you do with the video I took?’ I said, ‘I sent it onto them’. And he couldn’t believe it but we were both absolutely thrilled. I really loved Cowboys and Heroes, that’s where everything kickstarted for me.”

Aishling is managed by her father John Rafferty who was playing music in Aishling’s very first memory. 

“I’ve been surrounded by music all my life. My first memory is of me and my brothers and sisters sitting around the fire and my dad playing the guitar. How Much is that Doggie in the Window? was the song so it’s a very funny memory for me to have. We always had music.

“Country was always the one that we had in our house and for some reason, I always found myself coming back to country music. I think that’s because country music really tells a story and it’s very personal. I feel like everyone can relate to it and connect. There’s something relatable in every song for somebody.

“There’s such a young crowd as well with lots of young people in Ireland jiving and young singers coming along. Every day you can discover a new country music singer. 

“There’s all sorts of ages. If you walked into a dance hall now to see Jimmy Buckley or Robert Mizzell, you would see 15, 16-year-olds all the way up to 80. They’re all dancing and everybody’s mixing. It’s great to see the young people and older people mixing as well. Sometimes older people might have a bad perception of younger people but when you go to these dances you really see how much they mix when you see people dancing together.”

Speaking of the Irish-based American country singer Robert Mizzell, what was it like for Aishling to be onstage with him? “Absolutely brilliant. Robert is a very good friend of mine and he’s been very good to me as well with my musical career. He was the first country star that I ever sang with so I owe a lot to him as well. That was one of the best moments of my life so far and there were more plans for Robert and myself but coronavirus kind of put a spanner in the works. We’re definitely going to get together again in the future.”

Aishling has also done admirable work for charity as she travelled to Romania two years ago to do voluntary work.

“I went to Romania to build houses for under-privileged people and we were also working in an orphanage. It was absolutely brilliant to get an insight into how other peoples’ lives are everyday, how fortunate some people can be and how unfortunate other people can be. It really, really opened my eyes and I would absolutely love to go back there again some time in the future.”

This is far from her only charitable endeavour as proceeds from her album went to the Irish Hospice Foundation. Also last year, she received the Garda National Youth Award in recognition of her contribution to the community, including the raising of €3,500 for the Irish Cancer Society, caring for her elderly neighbours, and volunteering in Lourdes as an assistant for the sick and elderly.

“I feel like if you can help someone, it’s going to come back to you and if you can spare your time for somebody else, it’s always going to come back to you in a good way. I feel if anyone can help anyone, even just put a smile on someone’s face, that’s great,” she says. 

“I go to nursing homes most Fridays to sing songs for them for maybe an hour or two. They absolutely just love it and I love it as well. It gives me the buzz of being onstage. It’s so good for me, it gives me a break and it’s so good for your mental health. I just go down to see how happy it makes them. They look forward to it every Friday and so do I. We have a great party in there.

“They absolutely love it and they do be up dancing and swinging each other around the dance floor and just to see a smile on their faces and to know that you can make them happy for an hour, it’s very good and it gives me a very good sense of happiness as well to know that I’m after making their day a small bit better.”

Although some of them may have dementia or other issues, Aishling sees the nursing home residents come to life when they hear the music they know. 

“When I sing all the old songs, they all sing along with me. They know every single word and it really brings them back to their youth. They do be always telling me about when they used to go dancing back in the dance halls in their days. Sometimes I do be listening to them and I think, ‘Jesus, I’d have loved to have been around that time’. The stories they tell me- some of them I couldn’t repeat- It sounds like they had brilliant craic. Telling me about Big Tom and Susan McCann and the whole lot of them so it really brings them back.” 

Aishling was giving her time to good causes right up to lockdown being declared, taking part in Wish You Were Here, a fundraiser for suicide bereavement service Living Links in March just before live music was taken off the agenda altogether.

Aishling can’t wait to return to live performances: “I had so many plans for after my Leaving Cert. I had so many gigs. I had so much to look forward to. It’s all gone now, it’s all been postponed so it can all go ahead next year. I suppose that gives me more to look forward to and it gives me more time to learn as well and record new songs and get more videos for everybody as well.”

God’s Plan is out now. 

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