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Moya Brennan: The Original Celtic Voice

By Hannah Goodwyn Producer Even if you’ve never heard of Moya Brennan or her band, Clannad, you have heard her influence in all kinds of music. In February, Moya, along with her brothers and uncles who make up the Irish band, were recognized for their work in the industry with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Meteor Ireland Music Awards.

“[People] are amazed when I tell them [Celtic music] is only 30 years old,” Moya says. “It didn’t exist over 30 years ago. And it’s nice to think we became part of something historic in the music world in Ireland.”

Moya's family, including her younger sister Enya -- one of Ireland's best known solo artists -- exposed the world to their Irish heritage with a musical style that really wasn’t done on the radio.

“We didn’t intentionally want to go out and become famous and make a lot of money and everything because we very much, when the band was formed, sang traditional Gaelic songs,” Moya says. “And even in Ireland people thought we were mad.”

It all started when Moya’s father decided to open a pub he named Leo’s Tavern in the late ‘60s. It’s wasn’t really to make money, but rather to share his music with the community.

“Him being just a musician bought a place that he could entertain in, because that’s what he wanted to do and make it into a place where families would come,” Moya says. “He found it quite difficult in a way because he never drank nor smoked in his life. He knew he was raising nine children with the environment of that surrounding. But, the concentration really was the music.”

Clannad started sharing their Celtic sound outside “Dad’s pub” during the ‘80s traveling to mainland Europe.  Their success was on an international scale with 17 albums, a GRAMMY award, and Billboard chart hits. In the midst of a vibrant music career, Moya personally struggled with drinking, drugs, and her marriage.

“Outwardly, people would have thought I was a happy-go-lucky person,” Moya says. “But, inwardly I didn’t have any peace. I knew there was something missing in my life basically. At the beginning of 1987, I just was so miserable that I started to pray. And thank God my parents had given me that and brought me to church. I knew about the Lord. I knew about Jesus. When I was in this dark place, I at least knew where to turn to.”

In the early ‘90s, some fans began to notice a spiritual side to Moya as she started her solo career.

“I think people thought I just became a Christian when I did Perfect Time. But, I had been before. I just think the Lord just wanted to make sure I was strong enough and be able to talk about it and really be sure about my walk and my way of life,” Moya says.

In 1999, her solo album, Whisper to the Wild Water, received a GRAMMY nomination in the New Age category.

“I thought that that was really hilarious,” Moya says. “But I think a lot of Christians thought, ‘Oh, I always knew she was New Age!’”

She doesn’t like the label “New Age” because it stamps her with a different set of beliefs. In fact, her parents rooted her in the Christian faith at a young age. And as she began refocusing her life in the late 1980s, she returned to her faith and continues to grow as a committed follower of Jesus Christ to this day.

“When I get up in the morning, I know that no matter what it is that I have to do I know that I’m not alone. And that’s the most amazing thing about being a Christian, about having Jesus in your heart and God in your life. And if you don’t have that, it must be devastating,” Moya says.

Her career now is a ministry of song to Christians and non-Christians alike.  When she carries her Celtic sound to concert halls and venues around Europe, her audience usually is split down the middle – some who have faith in Jesus and some who do not. And she likes it like that.

“I believe that’s where the Lord has me,” Moya says. “I’d like to think that I’m not writing music just for Christians, if you know what I mean. The purpose of doing my music and reaching people is wide in that way.”

When she’s not traveling, Moya joins her friends as a part of the worship team at her church in Dublin, Ireland. Her daughter even leads a worship band for the kids in Sunday school at St. Mark’s, Moya’s home church.  Dad still goes to the tavern, which is run by Moya’s younger brother, Bartley. At 80 years old he still sings to the visitors, including the occasional Japanese tour group. You could even catch Moya joining in when she’s in town.

As she continues to pursue her solo career, Moya is open to touring to share her music and message.  Her latest album, Signature, is out in a few European markets and is set to release in the United States in the fall. She hopes to set up a tour in the U.S. for late next November and December to promote her new CD and share song favorite Christmas songs from her album, An Irish Christmas.


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