To coincide with the RTÉ TV broadcast of highlights of the iconic A Woman's Heart being performed by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra alongside a host of associated artists, writers also contribute to the celebration.
Here, from a series of short articles especially written for RTÉ Arts and Culture is author Catherine Dunne.
'Already immersed in writing my own first novel, I was captivated by their gift of the colourful, tangled tapestry of a woman's emotional life. It’s all there: the joy of love, the pain of loss, the yearning for hearth and home…’
I remember the audio version, rather than the CD.
I remember that something happened the shiny ribbon of tape, trapped inside its plastic case. It made a break for freedom. Maybe because I’d caused it to malfunction by playing it so many times.
Watch: Eleanor McEvoy performs A Woman's Heart on The Late Late Show
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Whatever the reason, I can see myself inserting the point of my pen into one of those hard little wheels on the surface of the cassette. I twirled it around and around so that the escaping river of sound would rewind, back into its transparent home.
It did. And so I played it all over again. Obsessively.
That must have been around the mid 1990s – although when I started writing this piece, my (faulty) memory had placed A Woman's Heart much earlier. There are reasons for that. It was music that made me feel young again; it made me sing out loud in the kitchen. It put me in the mood for dancing, dancing as though no-one was watching. (They weren’t.)
As well as the music, I loved the range of stories being told by these songs.
I was only 40 in 1994, but the decade hadn’t started well for me. A Woman’s Heart (1992) was a wonderful counterpoint to loss: a songburst of optimism, a clear and lovely reminder that things weren’t, maybe, quite so bad after all.
Listen to Documentary On One: Our Woman's Hearts
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And I wasn’t alone in feeling that. Everyone I knew back then had a copy of A Woman’s Heart. Sometimes more than one: a cassette for the car, a CD for home. Every one of us knew the words to all the songs.
750,000 of us in Ireland, lighting up our kitchens and living rooms with music. One million of us worldwide. It was as though a decade of optimism was in full swing.
And maybe the impact of this collection was as profound as it was because we’d just emerged, battle-hardened, exhausted, from the tunnel of the dismal 1980s. We’d been told to 'tighten our belts’, while others were clearly loosening theirs. And, on top of everything, we’d had that referendum in 1983 – a potent reminder that Ireland was not a good place to be a woman.
So, when the album was released, there was an audience more than ready to listen. My heart is so low, seemed to be the voice of a generation. The title track, with its unforgettable melody and the soaring voices of Mary Black and Eleanor McEvoy left no heart untouched.
Even now, the songs feel as fresh as ever: they haven’t aged, something I find comforting.
There were other things we found comforting back then, almost three decades ago. The songs spoke to us of a growing sense of independence and self-reliance, even through a ‘wall of tears’. Summerfly reminded us we could still turn towards the light, no matter our mistakes and regrets.
And there was also the infectious energy of Sharon Shannon’s Blackbird and Coridinio – the sheer delight of making music, just for the joy of it.
As well as the music, I loved the range of stories being told by these songs. Already immersed in writing my own first novel, I was captivated by their gift of the colourful, tangled tapestry of a woman’s emotional life. It’s all there: the joy of love, the pain of loss, the yearning for hearth and home.
Today, Maura O’Connell’s Living in These Troubled Times has, perhaps, an even greater resonance:
‘No one seems to have the answer/To living in these troubled times’
No, indeed: but these too shall pass. And we’ll sing again.
Catherine Dunne is the author of numerous best-selling novels,
A Woman's Heart with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is on RTÉ One, 10.35pm, Saturday 18 April.
Compiled by Clíodhna Ní Anluain