Singer songwriter Kate O'Callaghan tells Donegal Woman how her music only came to the fore when she moved to the northwest.
Kate picked up the guitar for the first time when she moved from Dublin to Donegal in 2005, and has since thrived in song. From her musical beginnings with the Inishowen Gospel Choir, she has gone on two write two albums and establish herself as a wonderful addition to Donegal’s music scene.
Kate often performs with her husband, Carndonagh native Seamus Devenny, who will be joining her onstage at this year’s Swell Festival on Arranmore Island. This is Kate’s fourth year at the music festival, where she is looking forward to another warm response.
“It’s a fantastic festival run by a small but very dedicated team who have been absolutely determined to make it a success. It’s always great craic out on the island for the weekend, it transports you into a different time and place and it’s a great opportunity to just let the hair down and have a bit of fun.
“The atmosphere is very chilled, everyone’s out there to just enjoy themselves and soak up the music. I’ve always had a lovely warm response when I’ve played there. I usually have a Sunday slot and it’s such a gorgeous day at the festival. Everyone is in a great mood and all relaxed, if a little wind swept, after a couple of days on an island.”
Life in Donegal has had a huge influence on Kate’s development as a singer songwriter, she says.
“So many people play music here, you’re surrounded by it. You can’t help but be inspired by all the creating that’s around us. It’s fantastic to connect.
“It’s such a hive for music and creativity and being surrounded by such an array of talented people has been incredibly inspiring. The desire to explore what shapes us and makes us who we are is expressing itself more and more in my writing and I suppose this is what motivated me to start researching about my great grand aunt.”
Kate most recently released a concept album based on the story of her great grand aunt, Catherine Rooney (nee Byrne), who fought in the GPO during the week of the Rising in 1916.
“She was 19 years old when she fought in the 1916 Rising and her witness statement report, (found online at the Bureau of Military History) details her personal story and experiences of the time. It was incredible to read about her life and what she did and a lovely opportunity to reconnect with my family and discover more about my past.
“I’m intrigued by the notion that small behaviours can have such huge effects with time, like ripples in water. It was definitely the highlight of my career so far, to record and perform The Girl With The Beret in Donegal, with a host of wonderful Donegal musicians, celebrating the life of a young girl who lived in Dublin 100 years ago.”
Strong women in history are explored in Kate’s lyrics, as her great grand aunt and Political activist Anna Parnell (sister of Charles Stewart Parnell) have become characters in her songs.
“My songwriting inspiration is quite diverse I guess. I have written songs on many different topics from unconditional love and having children to the migratory flight path of a butterfly. I like to write extrospectively a lot of the time and have found myself delving into the world of women in Irish history,” she said.
Kate has been all-consumed with music in recent years. Writing, recording, gigging and touring takes up most of her time while she rears her two teenage sons and is studying horticulture.
Kate, who holds a PhD in Biology, has cultivated a path for her music to grow here in Donegal and she is planning to record again next year. She is also hoping to tour again after completing her studies.
You can catch Kate and her band on stage at the Arranmore Swell Festival on Sunday July 23rd, 2017.
Watch: Kate plays Stone By Stone at The Acoustic Yard Festival in Westport.
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