SHE is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s best known and much loved singer songwriters and despite having been in the spotlight for over 40 years, Mary Black is every bit as enthusiastic about singing and performing now as she has ever been.
Chatting to Connect ahead of her INEC gig on April 13th, the Dubliner says she really loves coming to Killarney and has a genuine fondness for her Kerry fans.
“The INEC and Killarney have been part and parcel of my Irish tour for nearly 20 years now and I love it,” she said. “I find the audience in Killarney really enthusiastic, which is great. I can honestly say, I’ve never had a bad night at the INEC. It’s wonderful.”
It’s no secret, however, that Mary’s love of Kerry and its people spans further than the Killarney stage, with the star admitting that despite owning a home in West Kerry, she doesn’t get to stay there nearly as often as she would like.
Mary explained that her grá for The Kingdom goes way back to when her three children – Conor, Danny and Róisin – were very young, when they would visit here on their summer holidays with family friends. The family in question, she explained, were the Knox family, whose son Graham is still best friends and band mates with her son Danny in The Coronas.
“Our family and the Knoxes used to take a week around Ireland every year when our kids were very small, as they were around the same age, and on one particular occasion we travelled to West Kerry and in the Feothanach direction,” Mary told Connect.
“We rented what was then The Round House, overlooking the sea, and used to love relaxing there every evening watching the sunset. We absolutely fell in love with the place and began to rent out the same place for years after that.”
Eventually, Mary and her husband Joe and the same family friends bought a site in the area, where their home away from home now stands almost 20 years on. Mary says she loves spending time here as it offers her a peaceful get away from her hectic schedule and a place where she always receives a céad mile fáilte.
What she very much appreciates here is that she is treated just like everybody else when she’s out and about in West Kerry and Dingle town – something she loves about the Kerry folk.
“From years of visiting and eventually building the house there, we’ve got to know the locals really well and there are so many great people around there,” she said. “I can walk down the street in Dingle and people see me and say ‘How ya Mary’. Some keep going and some might stop and say hello, but it’s lovely,” she said.
Interestingly, the area also brings out the artist inside, she says – more so than anywhere else she visits.
“Whatever it is about the place, I love to paint when I’m in the house in Kerry,” Mary explained. “I wouldn’t be a great painter by any means, but I do love to paint and whatever it is about that place, it just brings that side out of me.”
Having toured the world extensively for decades, Mary has now limited herself to one Irish tour per year, saying that being away can take its toll – something she particularly felt years ago when her children were growing up.
“Being away from the kids when they were small was the toughest part of it all, as four weeks on the road is a long time in a child’s life,” she said, “Saying that, I had great back up from my husband, my mom, and Frances [her equally famous sister] and I don’t regret doing what I did, because I was always a hands on mother when I was home. But it wasn’t easy with a small family that’s for sure. It broke my heart at times.”
She says that being a grandmother to Conor’s children – Bonnie (5) and three year old Fiadh – often makes her see what she missed out on.
“The fact that I’ve taken a step back from touring [overseas] means that I have more time to be a hands-on granny and I love it, it’s fantastic,” she said. “You often hear it said that you don’t always appreciate your own kids when they are small because you’re on the run and juggling everything and I certainly see that now. There are many milestones that I sadly don’t remember from my own kids growing up, but since becoming a grandmother I notice all these things and it’s a wonderful feeling to see everything they do and say. I just love to see their faces coming in the door.”
Now mid way through her ‘Mary Black sings Jimmy Mac tour’ – which sees Mary perform Jimmy McCarthy’s most renowned songs, plus several other favourites – the Dublin singer says she is often amazed that she is still doing what she loves to do all these years on.
“I remember once asking Joe if he thought I’d still be performing when I’m 40,” Mary laughs. “I’m a long way from 40 now and I’m still here, doing what I love, so yea it’s amazing, even though I do know it can’t go on forever.”
Mary says she is fascinated that, decades later, her fans are still out in force at every gig – and says she is particularly shocked by the amount of young women who now follow her.
“I’m amazed that the audience now is as good, if not better, than it was at the beginning and I’m loving the groups of young women who are coming to the show, singing songs and belting out the chorus. It’s brilliant and I could never have dreamt of a career with such longevity.”
Coming from such a musical family herself, it came as little surprise that all three of her children developed her love of music – her son Danny and daughter Róisín probably the most well known.
Danny O’Reilly is of course the front man of super popular Irish band The Coronas, while Róisín – who goes by the stage name, Róisín O – is also blazing a trail as a hugely talented artist.
Their talent and ability is something that Mary noticed – and nurtured – from a very early age, with the proud mum now revelling in their success.
“I remember always encouraging them to write songs and learn instruments and if they wanted to go to lessons or whatever I would always take them and encourage them. Danny was singing before he could walk almost, and because he was under my mother’s wing a lot of the time as an infant I’ve no doubt she was a big influence,” Mary said.
“I still remember the words of a song Danny wrote on the way home from school in first year,” Mary said, before singing the chorus of the song. “For him and Róisín it was part of who they are, in their DNA I guess.”
Oozing with pride of their success, Mary insisted that they worked hard for what they have achieved and went into the music business with their heads very much screwed on – never using their mother’s name to get places.
“They went out there and worked so hard and knew that they would have to be willing to do the work for little or nothing at the beginning. They weren’t blinkered and knew it was going to be tough, so I am extremely proud of them,” she said.
Looking ahead to her Killarney gig on April 13th, Mary said she is confident of another party-like atmosphere that has now become part and parcel of her live shows.
“My gigs are more inclusive, if you like, and I absolutely love the idea of people singing along to the chorus at the top of their voices. I love and encourage that,” Mary said. “A lot of my songs lend themselves to that so it feels like a bit of a party where everyone can join in. The tour has been going really well so far and I’m very happy with it, so I’m really looking forward to coming back to Killarney.”
Tickets for Mary’s Killarney show are currently
available from the INEC box office.