The shape I'm in - Liam Ó Maonlaí

MUSICIAN Liam Ó Maonlaí follows his own rhythms and in his own time. Anything else is an unwelcome distraction.
The shape I'm in -  Liam Ó Maonlaí

As a child who enjoyed improvising on the piano he didn’t take kindly to music lessons, which he attended for 10 years.

“I went to a lady down the road for piano — between ’72 and ’82. It was very much focussed on exams. I didn’t love it because I was very hungry for what I was doing myself and I just had lovely experiences on my own on the piano, deep experiences that stay with me to this day — a kind of an ether,” says the long-term member of Hothouse Flowers.

And though he got his exams each time, he found the experience “not very inspiring”, adding, “a lot of those tunes are designed just to be difficult — they are not written for beauty.”

He is also critical of our education system with its strong academic focus. “It’s like a flawed system — it would almost slow down your process of learning,” he says.

“We are all mathematical creatures but the language of mathematics has become something that puts people completely off their natural understanding of measurement. To walk, to turn a corner, to drive a car, it all requires very sophisticated mathematics. We all possess this ability but the schooling system dumbs us down, in my opinion,” says the father of two, Cian, 21, and Pema, 11.

He doesn’t follow any philosophers or one philosophy but is drawn to sound of silence. “You’re tuned into the infinite when you put language away. And you’re tuned into every single living thing. Every single living thing speaks silence.

“In the culture of the aboriginal people and of many parts of the world, the concept of speech is often an insult to the greatness of spirituality.”

Aged 52, he has determinedly followed his own compass. “I’ve chosen a path of freedom — I chose to be my own boss… My resource comes from within. I’m very lucky.”

- Hothouse Flowers Trio — acoustic show with Liam Ó Maonlaí, Fiachna Ó Braonáin and Peter O’Toole, Ballymaloe Grainstore, Sunday, August 12, 8pm.

What shape are you in?

Healthy and strong. I don’t obsess about anything. I am aware of my own body. I have a chi kung practise which is a type of tai chi — I’m not disciplined about it but at times I use it. Also, I was working with Michael Keegan-Dolan, a great theatre maker, and he has a very strong yoga discipline that I followed for two months and through two years — between 2011 and 2014. In a way, it just reflected my own strength.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

Raw veg. I love potatoes — they never fail to satisfy me.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

Strong drinks.

What would keep you awake at night?


How do you relax?

Breath and being aware of every cell in my body. When I feel the need to centre, I just check in on how I’m feeling. I suppose it is a meditative thing . We probably do it more than we realise. Sometimes when somebody upsets you — you feel it in your chest or your belly. It’s really physical. You can go well let’s forget about what that person said or let’s forget about what that worry is and let’s just make that chest and stomach feel better — just by observing what it feels like and letting it dissolve or disappear. That works for me.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

All of my families and extended families. Those I love.

What’s your favourite smell?

Certain wild flowers. Roses. Wild foxes — when you go for a walk, you get their musky smell. It’s a smell that hits you — it’s lovely. I like the smell of a horse as well.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

I might shave.

When is the last time you cried?

Yesterday. It’s usually something to do with people I love. Whether it’s the presence of them or the absence of them. It something I’m always grateful when it comes. I realise I might have needed it.

What traits do you least like in others?


What traits do you least like about yourself?

Addiction to screens of any size. I have an iPhone and I look at it way too much, and I look at the television way too much. I don’t beat myself up about it.

What would cheer up your day?

Good company.

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