In recent years the luck of the Irish has been in short supply at Eurovision. Even so, we can’t forget Ireland’s golden years in the 1990s. Ireland remains the only country to have won Eurovision three times in a row, and four times in a period of five years (1992, 1993, 1994, 1996). Eimear Quinn, Ireland’s last winner from ’96, was like an earthquake. She came quickly, shook us to our core, and left the other contestants floored in her wake. Her interpretation of “The Voice” remains one of the most brilliant moments ever seen in the contest. And yet most of us don’t know much about her. Let’s clear that up!
Eimear grew up in multi-cultural Dublin in a home surrounded by classical music. Her parents—both talented singers—enrolled her in the church choir at the age of four. She started vocal lessons at the age of ten, and began playing the piano at 14. But this girl from the Emerald Isle wasn’t limited by music alone. At university she studied Environmental Resource Management. After learning the ins and outs of water sanitation, Eimear decided to study music full-time at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
In 1995 she signed up for Anúna, Ireland’s national choir. The previous year at Eurovision, Riverdance had performed during the interval act. It transformed the traditional Irish quickstep into an international sensation. When the group embarked on an international tour in ’95, they took several members of Anúna with them as vocalists. Eimear was invited to fill some of the choir’s new openings, and she soon became a principle soloist. She performed with them for a year-and-a-half in cities all over Europe and recorded two albums with the group.
Around Christmas 1995, one of Ireland’s most recognized composers Brendan Graham attended the Anúna Christmas concert. Eimear performed his song “Winter Fire and Snow.” She remembers it as a critical moment in her career. “Brendan was in the audience and was quite taken with my interpretation of his song,” she later said in an interview with CelticCafe.com. “It transpired that he had an entry in the Irish national song contest but hadn’t yet found a soloist to perform it, so he asked me if I would like to do it! I was a bit nervous at first about trying something so different, but soon got into the swing of it and the rest you know.”
Eimear performs her winning song “The Voice” at Eurovision 1996:
She still has plenty to say about that night. Here’s another extract from that interview.
The experience of singing in the Eurovision was character building to say the least! It was wonderful, and scary, and terrifying, and challenging, and glamorous, and hectic, and thrilling, all at the same time. In the auditorium there was an audience of 8,000 and at home, on the other side of the TV cameras, there was an audience of 200 million. The experience was massively intense and something which I will value all my life. I am very grateful to Brendan for choosing me.
Eimear’s victory at Eurovision transformed her from Celtic darling to European superstar. She admits to feeling intimidated by the industry and all the recording offers, but released her debut album “Wind, Fire & Snow” a few months after Eurovision anyway. The album featured just four tracks, each of which built on Celtic influences.
To mark the the 10th anniversary of Eimear’s Eurovision win, she released the album ‘Gatherings’ in 2006. It included the most beloved music she had recorded over the previous decade. This was Eimear’s third solo disc and followed ‘Winter Fire and Snow’ and ‘Through The Lens of a Tear’— a project co-composed with Pól Brennan about the Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult.
Eimear sings “Through the Lens of a Tear”:
The honors have kept coming. In December of 2006, Eimear was honored to appear at ‘Ireland’s Finest in Concert’—a gala celebration of the 25th anniversary of the National Concert Hall. In 2007, Eimear was chosen by the National University of Ireland to promote the study of music at NUI Maynooth in a nation-wide campaign. Later that year she worked with the award winning film-maker Philip King to complete a critically acclaimed documentary on the subject of her music and collaboration with Belfast-born composer, Neil Martin for RTÉ ONE Television. Her latest album, released in December 2007, is ‘O Holy Night’—a collection of carols, ancient chants and new compositions from Eimear, who also produced and arranged the album.
She’s kept Eurovision close to her heart. Eimear participated in the big “Congratulations” event in 2005, singing a piece of her winning entry, and was also the spokesperson for Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest 2006.
Eimear is married and has two daughters Marlene born in April 2012 and Joelene born in October 2009. She lives in County Monaghan.