In the 30 years of my
time with Clannad I have stood in the wings of The Late Late
Show on numerous occasions, but I have never felt so sick with
nerves as I did that night. With a tight knot in my stomach and
perspiration on my palms, I listened to Pat Kennys introduction
and prayed that I might be able to say the right things: "Now,
ladies and gentlemen, my next guest is no stranger to The Late
Late Show. She is the girl from Donegal, the one we all know
and love as the voice of Clannad. But tonight shes here to
talk to us about her autobiography and let me tell you, there are
some shocking revelations. Do we actually know the real Máire
Brennan? Lets meet her."
I took my seat to the
audiences welcoming applause, taking a moments comfort
as I made out the silhouette of my husband, Tim, sitting on the
front row. As expected, Pat Kenny honed in on the darker aspects
of my story, particularly the abortion. I knew that this would be
a terribly shocking revelation to some people, especially those
who knew me, but I wanted to get across my message about Gods
forgiveness and to share how my broken life has been healed through
turning to Him.
For the next few days
I felt like I wanted to hide. I found myself on the front pages
of Irelands newspapers.
Numerous times I was
stopped while out shopping when a woman would thank me for my honesty
and tell me how encouraged she was by my story. Stories [from readers]
continued to flood in, making me more and more grateful for the
things God has done in my life and the opportunity I have, through
my story, to help others.
So easily we wrongly
fear the judgment of these people who, perhaps more than most, might
reveal compassion and forgiveness.
I had been trying to ignore the sickly feeling in my stomach,
but now there was no doubt about it. I had to face the fact that
I could be pregnant. Panic-stricken, I had no idea what to do. What
I feared and focused on most was the potential I had to hurt so
many people. What kind of example was I? The eldest of the family,
and here I was, only one year out of school and pregnant through
a night of silliness at a festival.
All day and for the past
few weeks I had persuaded myself that [an abortion] was a necessary
evil. I had made a mistake and it was up to me to deal with it with
minimum fuss. But what I was about to do was
I awoke, back on the
ward with a pounding head and lurching stomach. I was terribly sick
and longed for the numbness of sleep. It was dark and quiet on the
ward, except for the restless stirring of other haunted dreams.
Eventually, I quietly cried myself to sleep.
Id never smoked as a teenager. I knew some of the girls at
school did it, and later in my fathers bar the air used to
be thick with nicotine fumes, but wed grown up in a cigarette-free
household and admired our parents stance against it. Then
again, life on tour was different. We were musicians and thats
what musicians did. It was in Germany that we were also introduced
to cannabis. It seemed quite widely available, though I was shocked
when I was first offered it. The first time I tried it, I hated
it. But it was "cool," so I persevered. Thats the
worst thing about young people with drugs, drink and sex. It becomes
the "thing to do." It was all part of "having a good
time." More and more we found ourselves surrounded by people
who indulged and supplied us, and a joint every now and again helped
us wind down after a show.
The "Theme from Harrys Game" [by Clannad] was touted
around some of the major record companies and RCA (who later became
part of the BMG group) rose to the challenge.
The Harrys Game
film was broadcast over the next three nights and by Wednesday the
sales of the single had rocketed.
Bono tells a story that
he nearly went off the road when he heard it on his car radio. He
had to pull up and listen to it properly. It was so unusual and,
of course, Bono recognized that the singing was in Gaelic. We were
very flattered when U2 later used it to open and close their show
and also in their concert video filmed at Red Rock.
Even with Clannads
success, my confidence had been gradually, and fatally, eroded.
Though I probably didnt
realize it at the time, my self-esteem had plummeted and inside
I was dreadfully lonely. It was easy to drink and smoke a joint.
It helped me forget all that and meant I didnt have to think
too deeply about anything. I should have been excited and on top
of the world with the way my career was going, or thinking about
starting a family of my own, but no, my future didnt get beyond
the next couple of hours in a day.
People had gone crazy
and our music was being played everywhere. When the night of the
British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards came around we
were all in very high spirits.
I cringe now to think
what I must have looked like among all the other guests the
"beautiful people" actors and actresses, models
and general celebrities, all in their designer gear and glitzy hairdos.
Still, when Ronnie Scott made the announcement that Clannad had
won the award for the best soundtrack, I couldnt have cared
less what I looked like. The moment [going on stage to accept the
award] was simply breathtaking.
Champagne flowed and
we chatted and laughed our way through the rest of the evening
to the point where we were getting angry looks and eventually a
telling-off from the table next to us because they couldnt
hear Charlton Heston do his speech. Later we joined the lineup with
Heston, Jane Seymour, Roger Daltry and other stars from the stage
and screen to be presented to Princess Anne. The next morning the
film company sent over bottles of champagne which we sipped over
breakfast in the hotel room as we giggled at our pictures in the
Dope and cocaine were always available through the crowd I now mixed
with. Looking back, its hard to understand why it did not
become more of an addiction. For some reason it didnt get
a grip on me the way it does with so many others. Perhaps it had
something to do with Mammy and Daddy back home on their knees praying,
as they always had, for the protection of their children.
When I announced on the phone to [my future huband] Tim that the
next time I was over in London I wanted to go to his church I think
he was quite horrified. He tried to make an excuse for us not to
go, but I was intrigued and determined. This was a part of his life
that was alien to me and I wanted to understand more of it. I think
he thought it might scare me or emphasize the difference between
us, and he tried to warn me what it might be like.
But in a way he was right.
Even his warnings had not prepared me for what I discovered the
Sunday morning we walked into his church. I was amazed at how casual
it seemed. Everyone was really friendly, laughing, chatting, hugging
each other, and the vicar had a hard time getting everyones
attention to start the service. When the music started I didnt
know what was going to happen. There was a proper band playing and
in minutes people were singing, dancing and throwing their arms
in the air. While the music was upbeat they danced and clapped,
then the worship leader brought the music down. There followed about
20 minutes of gentle songs that seemed to stir peoples emotions
I looked around. Some
were crying, others just stood with their eyes closed and their
hands held up towards the ceiling. Over to my right I watched one
of these women start to shake, then before my eyes she collapsed
backwards and lay on the floor. It made me jump and I was amazed
that the people around just left her lying there. There was also
a strange muttering coming from some people, like a different language.
I didnt understand it. It was very strange to me, quite mad
in fact, but I was interested in what was going on and what was
being said, especially when the vicar gave his message. He spoke
with power and passion about the love of God, how Jesus died to
take on our burdens, to wipe away our sins, to be our personal Savior.
It was a new language for me, but I found myself quite gripped by
what he was saying.
I came out of the church
with many questions. I had never heard people talk about Jesus in
such a close and loving way, and as Christmas approached I was beginning
to look at the nativity story that I knew so well in a new light.
I suppose I was seeking a deeper meaning to my life and through
the faith of my childhood and my meeting Tim I was beginning to
During Christmas that
year my family witnessed a smile on my face and lightness in my
spirit that they had not seen for years. There were still many clouds
overshadowing me, but as I lived each day I found myself looking
ahead with anticipation and hope, perhaps for the first time in
my adult life.
I had a lot to learn.
I had no doubt in the existence of God, but what I had to grasp
hold of was the fact that He heard my prayers and cared enough to
pull me through. I knew that handing myself over to His mercy was
my only hope. When you get that desperate, the rules and trappings
of any kind of religion disappear. There was no dramatic experience
or great spiritual awakening, but I was beginning to understand
that the God who had watched over me since my birth was carrying
Somewhere in the middle
of all this was Clannad. Our success was beyond anything we could
have hoped for. But it wasnt necessarily bringing happiness.
The love [Tim and I] shared was special and the more we explored
our faith together, the more we wanted our relationship to develop
on solid ground. This is where we both recognized that we were living
a lie. We wanted to live as Christians, but there was the issue
of our sexual relationship. We knew it didnt sit right with
the spiritual walk we wanted to pursue. Though our backgrounds were
different, we were both raised to respect the sanctity of sex within
marriage. It was something we had both rejected in the heat of our
passion, but now it seemed to have become an issue. We turned to
the Bible to seek justification for our behavior, but it didnt
come. Gods Word was clear. We knew we couldnt go on
the way we were. It was as if we were living two separate lives.
We were a couple, now going to church regularly and seeking [Gods]
blessing on our lives. But we were also caught up in our sexuality.
We decided to be celibate.
At our first Easter together,
Tim had offered to buy me an Easter egg. Id asked if he would
get me a Bible instead. He had been thrilled and inside wrote some
words I have always cherished: "To dear Máire
Never forget how much God loves you. May He always give you strength
and encouragement and may you always be able to show His love in
My Bible had become a
treasured companion, along with my grandmothers prayer book.
I had taken it on tour with me, quietly and shyly seeking my way
on my bunk in the bus while the others played cards or watched videos.
All through the tour I made sure that I went to church regularly.
The others never took much notice. Sunday morning was usually the
time to catch up on sleep and they rarely missed me. One of my visits
took me to a large cathedral church in Christchurch. The worship
was wonderful and it was a great service, but it is neither the
music nor the teaching that lingers in my memory. Something happened
that day; I came out of the cathedral feeling more alive than ever.
laugh at me," I said, "but I think God has spoken to me."
I went on to tell him what was going on in my head. It was hard
to explain. There had been no audible voice and it wasnt even
anything the preacher said, but somehow I felt God was telling me
that I would be used to help break through some of the barriers
of prejudice in the Northern Ireland situation.
One of the most amazing
things about life is that you never know whats around the
next corner. In many ways my life was complete, happy and fulfilled.
I had a wonderful family [having married Tim], I had my career with
Clannad and I was enjoying church life at St. Marks. One day
my dear friend, Ann Trainor, who leads one of the worship teams
at the church, invited me to sing a Gaelic Psalm for the morning
service. Gradually I found myself becoming a regular member of the
worship team. When Ann discovered that Tim played the cello when
he was younger, she eventually coaxed him into the team as well.
Coming from Ireland,
and seeing the misery caused by such factions, I am ashamed that
such obvious bigotry still exists among those who profess to love
and serve the Lord. Is there any wonder that the outside world looks
at the church with a certain disdain? The impression so often is
of a body of people who wallow in self-reflection and are bound
by guilt and rules. Yet, the reality of Christianity is that Jesus
Christ, the man from Nazareth, blew away the rules and regulations
and replaced them with love a love that does not condemn
and judge, but breaks down barriers and unites people.
Thankfully this is the
heart of some people I have met around the world. Toward the end
of 1999 I found myself performing at a Presbyterian church in the
Loyalist stronghold of East Belfast. I had to double-check that
the pastor knew what he had set up. There I was, with my band, our
traditional Irish instruments and Gaelic songs in a place that traditionally
has had no tolerance for the things of Irish culture. And yet that
night the church was alive and electric with joy as I performed
in concert. It is in areas such as this where the seeds of unity
are beginning to flourish. As the politicians struggle to bring
peace to Ireland, the people of God from all backgrounds,
denominations, classes and walks of life are seeing their
prayers answered, and I cannot help but remember the conviction
I had all those years ago in Christchurch. Once again, He is working
out His perfect time in my life and I am honored and privileged
beyond words to be able to play a small part in uniting Gods
people in my music.