Brídín: 'My normal is so much different to everyone else's'

Off the back of her appearance on the Tommy Tiernan Show and her debut EP, the artist otherwise known as Brídín talks about life, music, and death
Brídín: 'My normal is so much different to everyone else's'

DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS: Reared in the twin family businesses of funerals and traditional music, Bríd McGowan traverses two distinct worlds on a daily basis.  

“I find it bizarre how afraid some people are of the concept of death. You know, they just want to push it under the rug. But the one certainty we have in life, is that we will be dying.”

Discussing mortality with anyone is generally a risky business, because the very thought of leaving this mortal coil naturally evokes very different thoughts and emotions in every individual. For some, it’s nearly a taboo subject, a bridge to be crossed gently when one comes to it.

For others, like Sligo woman Bríd McGowan, however, it’s a fact of life - she and her siblings were reared in a family whose funeral-home business was recently featured in RTÉ documentary The Funeral Director, where she now works as an embalmer and funeral director.

As we say hello over Zoom, pictures of lilies adorn the wall behind her, serving as a gentle reminder of the topic as we get into herself and her father David’s recent interview on The Tommy Tiernan Show.

Though better-known for stand-up japes and televised turns, Tiernan parlayed his powerful knack for improvisation into a profound conversation on the subjects of life and death - and it was no mean feat to match wits with a master meanderer.

“Me and my dad (David) were quite nervous going up, because we were afraid that, because he's a comedian, Tommy might make a skit of funerals. But, he went the complete opposite way. He was so, so nice, so calming. In fact, we felt like we were just talking to him.

“We couldn't see cameras, even, it was just so relaxed - we went away kind of hoping we weren't too relaxed (laughs). He was very interested in what we had to say, I suppose. He was just a pure gent."

She finished the show by performing the title track from her debut record, Ocean of Stars, displaying her ability to sit at a harp and engage in the family’s other business - under the moniker of Brídín, McGowan is a fourth-generation traditional musician.

Brídín: "Music always really helped me, growing up. It's just such a lovely thing. And I feel so lucky to have it."
Brídín: "Music always really helped me, growing up. It's just such a lovely thing. And I feel so lucky to have it."

The new EP released back in February of this year, and among her collaborators and guests are Cork fiddler Clare Sands (a seventh-generation musician), and composer Colm Mac Ion Maire.

It’s been a lifetime’s work in music to get this record out there, and McGowan talks about her feelings on the finished product.

“(Producer) Wayne O'Brien mixed it and he produced it for me, we recorded it in my mom's studio at home. Wayne is a friend of mine, and he was awful patient with my perfectionism! But I'm so glad this came out. I'm really happy with the results of it.

“Y'know, it started off with just me on the harp, and Clare, and then I decided I wanted bigger production, then, y'know, a bongo player, and then it really developed. I didn't start off thinking 'okay, I want drums, bass, keyboard’ - it literally grew, as we recorded more and more of it. It's just been amazing to watch it progress, and grow into what it is now.”#

Getting a record out there has presented considerably more challenges in a time where traditional avenues of promotion are effectively out. Touring became live-streaming, radio and press appearances became remote or distanced affairs, and social media has become more of a lifeline than ever.

McGowan has had a go at making the best of the situation, however - and found a wide variety of new friends and collaborators in the process.

“I mean, I've been really lucky this year. I started off by releasing the singles, and they all have, I will admit, really cool music videos. I directed them all myself as well, working with (videographer) Fionn Rogers. I tell him my idea in my head, and he just... he can help me do it. So, we've got a combination there.

“I got to be on Ireland in Music, where I was playing with Denise Chaila, MurLi, GodKnows and Sharon Shannon. I've had Milwaukee Irish Fest, I did a stream for them as well. I've just been very lucky, with who I've met along the way. I suppose just being sound, kind of attracts sound people (laughs)."

McGowan grew up, and lives as an adult, in a very stark dichotomy. On one hand, she bears the solemn responsibility of being part of the grieving process for families and friends, while on the other, she thrives in the liveliness and excitement of music and art.

It must have been a heady creative and cultural cocktail, to be so intimate with the peaks and troughs of existence.

Even now, like, I get a phone call from people who want to pre-arrange their funeral. The first thing they say is, ‘God, this is gonna sound so morbid, but how much is a grave?’ (laughs) And I’m like, ‘my normal is so much different to everyone else’s’.

“There are some times... like, Dad had to drive us to school in the hearse before. Everyone else in school was like, 'what the fuck, what's happening?' We'd just hop out, and my sister would be under the deck of the hearse. We'd just be like, 'oh, Dad, stop embarrassing us'.”

On the other side of that experience, though, lies a profound reverence for her work as an adult, and a keen awareness of the tremendous responsibility she’s been entrusted with by families and loved ones.

“We've always felt like the person who's passed away is the 'celebrity' in the room, as opposed to getting the 'heebie jeebies' from them. I'd be buying makeup for the mortuary, and I go into MAC, or wherever, and I'd ask for products for older skin. I might say what I do, I’m an embalmer, and they'll freak out.

Bríd and Dave McGowan on the Tommy Tiernan Show. She has launched  her debut EP recently and played on the show.
Bríd and Dave McGowan on the Tommy Tiernan Show. She has launched  her debut EP recently and played on the show.

“But we just want to treat the people the best that we can, y’know, we treat everyone like we want to be treated ourselves.”

As a writer of music and lyrics alike, being in the presence of mortality and grief on a daily basis, from that very young age, must be an overawing thing to confront.

McGowan has previously spoken about channeling her feelings and thoughts into her instrument - a cathartic, unburdening process in terms of artistic expression and personal clarity.

“When I have a really tough funeral on my hands, there's a lot I'm bottling up, and I don't let go until after the funeral. Because I feel like if I do, I'd lose focus. So I'm just focusing really hard on getting the funeral right, getting the job done right. Then when it's done, I can let go, and let these emotions out.

When I'm driving home, no one can hear me, it's like that first burst of a wail. It's not just about the sadness of the loss, the family's feeling, it's about the sadness of the person who's passed away as well. 

"'What was their last feeling, what were their last thoughts?’ It wakes you up whatever kind of stress you're feeling, or anxiety or anything else. Like, ‘I'm alive, I have a pulse’.

“It comes through you. It’s my way of dealing with it. But even before I was a funeral director - everyone has crosses to bear, and anxieties. Music always really helped me, growing up. It's just such a lovely thing. And I feel so lucky to have it.”

  • Brídín’s ‘An Ocean of Stars’ EP is available now at

More in this section

Scene & Heard

Music, film art, culture, books and more from Munster and beyond.......curated weekly by the Irish Examiner Arts Editor.

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd