ON THE COVER: THE O’NEILL SIS­TERS

The Kerry si­b­lings who have an au­di­ence with the Pope.

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - EDITOR'S LETTER - Pho­to­graph: DON MacMONAGLE

They’ve blagged their way into a Louis Walsh au­di­tion, hung out with Bruno Mars, recorded with Will.i.am and al­most rep­re­sented Ire­land in the Euro­vi­sion but the O’Neill sis­ters say per­form­ing for the Pon­tiff to­mor­row will be a ca­reer high­light – oh and they’ve a few bones to pick with him if he has time...

Laugh­ing and gig­gling to­gether, the O’Neill sis­ters give the vibe of a trio who have spent a lot of time in each other’s com­pany. They talk ex­cit­edly about their plans for the fu­ture and eas­ily fall back into com­pan­ion­able con­ver­sa­tion about the hi­jinks their rel­a­tives have got up to.

Hav­ing made their name tour­ing the globe per­form­ing clas­si­cal Ir­ish bal­lads, their cre­den­tials as am­bas­sadors for the genre are as im­pec­ca­ble as their per­fectly pitched har­monies and whole­some on­stage chore­og­ra­phy. Guests at sell-out shows which fea­ture their note-per­fect ren­di­tions of clas­sics such as Danny Boy and When Ir­ish Eyes Are Smil­ing have in­cluded roy­alty and the likes of Hil­lary Clin­ton.

To­mor­row, how­ever, they will step up to a new level as they per­form in front of the Pope at one of the big­gest live events in the world. It’s a ➤

mo­ment that their ca­reer seems to have been slowly work­ing its way up to.

But, as with many mil­len­ni­als, their views of the Catholic Church have evolved in such a way that they’re not afraid to question the ethos and ask for change. They are re­fresh­ingly blunt about what they would like to say to Pope Fran­cis if they got the chance – and, de­spite the fact they’d like to in­dulge in some hard ques­tion­ing, they reckon they’d ac­tu­ally get on.

‘Ev­ery­one seems to be think­ing he is the best Pope they’ve had in a long time and I think ev­ery­one has hope for the Pope,’ says Naomi. ‘At least his views are dif­fer­ent. I think if you can open up, you can bring that change ev­ery­one is look­ing for. He’s the guru of the Catholic Church and has the voice that peo­ple will lis­ten to and fol­low I think.’

For her part Fiona, who is a sin­gle mother, sup­ports gay mar­riage and thinks women should be al­lowed to be priests. The 34-year-old also thinks the Pope should apol­o­gise to the vic­tims of cler­i­cal abuse.

The three sis­ters, who are from the vil­lage of Cause­way, north Co Kerry, will per­form two sets at the Phoenix Park in front of an es­ti­mated 600,000 peo­ple. The Solemn Eucharis­tic Cel­e­bra­tion is the con­clu­sion of The World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies.

Fiona, who has an eight-year-old son called Wil­liam, said: ‘When they say the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies, I’m a sin­gle mother with a child and to me that is my fam­ily. Even the three of us are a fam­ily,’ she says of her sis­ters. ‘When I’m at home with mum and dad, that is my fam­ily. For me, there’s not just one def­i­ni­tion of fam­ily as in a mother and a fa­ther and chil­dren.’

Given the Church’s stated views on un­mar­ried moth­ers, does she feel in any way ex­cluded? ‘I don’t care,’ she says. ‘I don’t al­low that to bother me be­cause my mind is stronger than all of that.’

As far as the Pope meet­ing sur­vivors of cler­i­cal abuse, she says: ‘I think it would be nice if he met them.’

Her 30-year-old sis­ter Naomi adds: ‘If the Church is to sur­vive in any shape or form, it needs to move in that di­rec­tion or else it won’t.’ On gay mar­riage, she says: ‘I think love is love and peo­ple should be al­lowed to be free to love who­ever they like.’

Her sis­ter Eve adds: ‘If you’re not harm­ing an­other in­di­vid­ual then what busi­ness is it of any­body?’

The sis­ters are not cur­rently sched­uled to spend time with the Pon­tiff but Fiona says that if she has a chance to talk to him for any length of time, she will ‘tell him the whole thing needs to be re­vamped’. A grand de­mand in­deed – but the sis­ters are at pain to em­pha­sise they are not against the Pope or the Church in any way.

In fact, Fiona says: ‘I think if we were stuck in an el­e­va­tor with the Pope for a few hours, I think we would see eye-to-eye. He’s a man of great spir­i­tu­al­ity and we are re­ally spir­i­tual, so I think we would get on.’

One of the rea­sons they may just get the chance to do that is their mother Marie, a for­mer singer with the Cor­co­ran Sis­ters, who used to tour with 1970s leg­ends Planxty. She heard for­mer Saw Doc­tors drum­mer Johnny Don­nelly talk­ing on the ra­dio about the Phoenix Park Mass, for which he de­signed the stage.

Marie wrote to him and the sis­ters were very quickly in­vited to at­tend af­ter he checked out their web­site and lis­tened to their mu­sic, which is a mix of cov­ers and their own com­po­si­tions. Their mother’s sup­port for their ca­reer – which in­cludes al­low­ing them to quit school to chase record deals in LA – is in con­trast to her own ex­pe­ri­ence.

While Marie had suc­cess tour­ing with The Cor­co­ran Sis­ters, it ended abruptly when her own mother Cather­ine Di­neen, an Ir­ish nurse in World War Two Lon­don, told her there was no fu­ture for her in the mu­sic busi­ness.

Al­though she sub­se­quently be­came a nurse at Bon Se­cours Hos­pi­tal Tralee, Marie vowed to never make the same mis­take and never stood in the way when it came to her three daugh­ters’ singing am­bi­tions.

They started from a very early age and for as long as any of them can re­mem­ber they were singing and per­form­ing. Naomi, for ex­am­ple, started ap­pear­ing in dra­mas pro­duced and hosted by the Na­tional Folk The­atre, Si­amsa Tíre in Tralee, when she was just three.

It wasn’t un­til 2000 when Naomi was just 12 and Eve 10 that Fiona – who was aged just 16 at the time – de­cided to form the sis­ters into a group. The cat­a­lyst was a se­ries of au­di­tions Louis Walsh had or­gan­ised that year to find an­other boy­band to ri­val Westlife and Boy­zone.

Naomi re­calls: ‘I said one day, wouldn’t it be so funny if one of us dressed up as a boy and went in an au­di­tioned for him?’ Fiona duly obliged, man­aged to get past se­cu­rity and mo­ments be­fore she per­formed a ren­di­tion of Mariah Carey’s My All on stage, she re­vealed she was a 16-year-old girl. ‘I got a great re­ac­tion,’ Fiona re­calls. ‘The whole room erupted.’

The sis­ters formed a group that even­ing, later putting on their own con­certs with equip­ment they bought from the €1,500 first prize in a tal­ent show. ‘We would put on our own shows and peo­ple would come,’ Eve says. ‘Naomi would do ➤

“I THINK LOVE IS LOVE AND PEO­PLE SHOULD BE FREE TO LOVE WHO­EVER THEY LIKE”

“I USED TO GET CALLED ON THE PHONE AND ASKED WHY DIDN’T I JUST KILL MY­SELF”

this Elvis trib­ute, she would im­per­son­ate Elvis in her own style and peo­ple loved it. And Fiona was do­ing James Brown.

‘We played all over Kerry and we were get­ting paid for it. We thought this was great, let’s keep this go­ing.’

Their first se­ri­ous at­tempt to break into the mu­sic busi­ness came two years later in 2002 when they au­di­tioned for the in­au­gu­ral You’re A Star au­di­tions on RTÉ to find Ire­land’s en­try for the fol­low­ing year’s Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test.

They did well with their ren­di­tion of You Raise Me Up, which was at the time a mi­nor UK hit for Ir­ish group Se­cret Gar­den. But to go fur­ther in the con­test, they had to pro­duce pass­ports and prove they were over 18.

Fiona, who was the only one over 18, re­calls: ‘We had to tell them Eve was 12 and Naomi was 14. They were very dis­ap­pointed.’

Their at­tempts to make it did not go un­no­ticed by some of Naomi and Eve’s class­mates, who started pok­ing fun at the am­bi­tious teenagers. This turned into bul­ly­ing and an al­most con­stant stream of threats from a num­ber of girls.

Eve re­calls: ‘I used to get called on the phone and asked why didn’t I just kill my­self. There were also a lot of threats. Thank god we grew up at a time when mo­bile phones were not as preva­lent as they are now.’

When the prom­ise of a record deal in the US emerged in 2005, the sis­ters didn’t hes­i­tate to quit school and head State­side, un­der the watch­ful eye of their mother. Their idea was to cap­i­talise on the in­ter­est in clas­si­cal Ir­ish songs that flowed with the suc­cess of acts such as Enya, Clan­nad and River­dance.

Sadly noth­ing came of the deal, but the sis­ters stuck it out – al­though it wouldn’t be the last time they would be let down by the in­dus­try. ‘There was a lot of this sort of thing,’ Naomi says. ‘We would go to la­bels and they would say can you do a few more songs.’

In the years that fol­lowed, the sis­ters moved back and forth across the At­lantic in search of big breaks. At one point they moved from New York to LA when MTV promised to head­line them in a new show pro­mot­ing Amer­ica’s Next New Pop Group. But by the time they had moved, MTV chiefs de­cided to change the for­mat of t he show and they were no longer what they said they wanted.

Still, life in LA was among ‘the best years’ of their lives. Neigh­bours in­cluded Guns ’n’ Roses gui­tarist Slash and the list of peo­ple they spent time with in­clude Bruno Mars be­fore he rose to fame in 2010. They also got to record with Black Eyed Peas star Will.i.am. The ex­pe­ri­ence gave them a taste of the life their grand­fa­ther Jimmy Cor­co­ran, him­self an im­mi­grant from Ire­land, led when he was in Hol­ly­wood. Stars he be­came friends with in­cluded Roy Rogers, who gifted him one of his trea­sured sad­dles, and Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe. He tiled the kitchen of her last home for her in Brent­wood just weeks be­fore she died in 1962.

Ever since, he re­mains con­vinced she did not kill her­self. Ac­cord­ing to the sis­ters, al­though she wept in his arms a few times, she was happy and mak­ing plans with her life. In the vast cat­a­logue

of stories he brought back from Hol­ly­wood to Cause­way, there is also an anec­dote about him de­liv­er­ing steaks to Howard Hughes. ‘He was a bit of a fixer,’ Naomi says. ‘Peo­ple loved him. He got on with ev­ery­one.’

And he wasn’t the only sto­ry­teller in the wider O’Neill-Cor­co­ran fam­ily. Mau­rice Walsh, the Ir­ish nov­el­ist best known for writ­ing The Quiet Man be­fore it was turned into the John Wayne and Mau­reen O’Hara film, was a cousin.

An­other cousin is de­signer Ker­ry­man Don O’Neill, whose clients in­clude Oprah Win­frey, Tay­lor Swift and Amy Poehler. The sis­ters will be wear­ing Theia Cou­ture gowns he spe­cially de­signed for them to­mor­row.

They won’t be paid for their Pa­pal Mass per­for­mances, but that doesn’t mat­ter to the sis­ters – they see it as yet an­other step­ping stone to be­com­ing bet­ter known for do­ing what they love. A re­cent en­dorse­ment of that is the suc­cess of their ren­di­tion of the clas­sic song Red Is The Rose. When it went up on the Leg­endary Vo­cals Face­book page ear­lier this year, it be­came a vi­ral sen­sa­tion al­most overnight.

To date, the video has been viewed more than 6.3 mil­lion times and shared al­most 14,000 times.

They prob­a­bly didn’t make any money out of that ei­ther. ‘This is CV stuff,’ says Fiona, ever the prag­ma­tist. ‘We don’t care. We’re go­ing to sing for the Pope.’

And she adds with a laugh: ‘Our whole life is CV stuff.’

VISIT theoneill­sis­ters.com

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