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Gradam Ceoil TG4

Lillis Ó Laoire – Singer of the Year


Sean nós singer Lillis O’Laoire is from Gort a’ Choirce, Co. Donegal and now lives in Galway, where he lectures in Irish, folklore and Celtic civilisation at NUI Galway.

O’Laoire was raised in a bilingual family and spoke both Irish and English at home. He learned traditional songs in school, but his interest in singing truly began during his time at NUI Galway, where he studied Irish and took classes with celticist Breandán Ó Madagáin. Ó Madagáin taught Irish poetry and texts in relation to music, and O’Laoire became interested in this connection through him. He started publicly singing in competitions at NUI Galway, organised by the Irish language society at the time and in 1986, began competing at the fleadh ceoil. In 1991 and again in 1994, he won the prestigious Corn Uí Riada singing competition at the Oireachtas na Gaeilge.

O’Laoire’s style of sean nós singing is of the Donegal tradition, which is where he learned most of the songs in his repertoire. He collected music from local singers such as Aodh O Duibheannaigh and Shéamais Ó Dúgáin and his first and only album Bláth Gach Géag dá dTig (1992) is a recorded collection of sean nós songs from Donegal. The Galway style of singing has also had an influence on O’Laoire. After coming joint second in the 1987 Oireachtas with Carna singer Dara Bán Mac Donnchadha, the two worked on a documentary together called Dara Bán (1999) which showcased the songs and singing style of West Galway.

O’Laoire’s academic career saw him travel to UCLA in the US on a Fulbright scholarship in 1996, after which he taught in University of Limerick and Loyola Marymount University in California where he was a visiting Professor in Modern Languages and English. In 2007, he joined NUI Galway as a lecturer in Irish, folklore and Celtic civilisation in the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and was Head of the school from 2010 to 2014.

He has published four books and many journal articles, book chapters, conference publications and articles, and his research interests include Gaelic song traditions and history, Irish folklore, and the music of Connemara singer Joe Heaney. His 2011 book Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song Man, co-authored with ethnomusicologist Sean Williams explored the life of the Galway singer and his work. O’Laoire was the Project Leader on the Joe Heaney archive, a digitised collection of Heaney’s music, hosted on a website,, a project which O’Laoire initiated. His other books include the 2005 On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island, Ireland, an ethnographic study of song acquisition and performance in Tory Island.

O’Laoire now also gives lessons in sean nós singing in Galway and performed last August in France at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, one of the largest festivals of Celtic tradition and arts. He has also supervised seven Ph.D students to completion and recently took part in the judging panel of the 2019 Corn Uí Riada.

Lillis is fortunate in possessing one of the finest singing voices amongst the younger sean-nós singers in the country, making this recording a pleasure to listen to – The Irish Times

There is no better exponent of the intricate melodies and ornamentation of the sean-nós style than Lillis Ó Laoire – Irish America Magazine