Kate Bush: Eight Irish connections - from her Dungarvan mother to an appearance on the Late Late Show 

As Stranger Things revives interest in Kate Bush, we look at her Co Waterford family, and other links to Ireland that included a memorable chat to Gay Byrne in 1978 
Kate Bush: Eight Irish connections - from her Dungarvan mother to an appearance on the Late Late Show 

Kate Bush has numerous family and musical connections to Ireland.

When Netflix released the trailer to the final two episodes of Stranger Things season four, the Kate Bush factor was front and centre. As we returned to Hawkins, Indiana, the spooky Fairlight riff of Bush’s 1985 goth-pop anthem Running Up That Hill chimed conspicuously. Series and song were joined at the hip.

It has been this way ever since Running Up That Hill featured in a key sequence as Stranger Things returned from a pandemic-forced absence. With evil sorcerer Vecna having marked moody teenager Max for death, she was able to stay connected to the land of the living via her favourite song…which is, of course, Running Up That Hill.

The transcendental powers of Kate Bush at full flight will have long been familiar to music fans of a certain age. But not, it would seem, to Gen Zers. Sadie Sink, the actress who plays Max, confessed to having never previously heard of the most successful British solo female artist until Adele.

But having discovered Bush, Sink’s fellow teens and 20-somethings have fallen hard for her. TikTok is brimming with Bush tributes. And the charts have turned into a victory lap for Bush, who has soared back to number one in Ireland and the UK and who has just notched up her first US top ten hit (America having previously resisted her off-beat charms).

In Stranger Things season four, when Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) comes under the influence of the demon, it takes a Kate Bush song to bring her back. 
In Stranger Things season four, when Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) comes under the influence of the demon, it takes a Kate Bush song to bring her back. 

“It’s really wonderful,” Bush (63) told the BBC last week. “This is a whole new audience. In a lot of cases, they’d never heard of me. The thought of all the young people hearing the song for the first time… It’s very special….It’s just extraordinary. It’s such a great series. I thought the track would get some attention. I never imagined it would be anything like this. It’s quite shocking, really. The whole world’s gone mad.” 

But if this is the story of the whole world falling back in love with Bush and Running Up That Hill, it is a tale with a core Irish component. 

Bush’s mother, Hannah Daly, grew up in a farm outside Dungarvan and was from a deeply musical family. 

And Bush, though very clear that she was an English artist, was proud of her Irish heritage – and attentive to how is shaped her as person and musician. Here we explore eight ways in which Bush and Ireland intersected.

1: Kate lights up the Late Late Show

Ireland had never seen anything quite like Kate Bush when she appeared on the Late Late in 1978 performing her first single Wuthering Heights (watching back it is not entirely clear if she is singing live or lip-synching). After the song she was interviewed by Gay Byrne. He pressed her as to her Irish roots – but she said she would prefer not to reveal her mother’s maiden name, owing to increased attention that her fame was bringing the family. This remains her only ever performance in Ireland.

2: Kate sings in an Irish accent

Squeezed between fan-favourite Lionheart and the more experimental, The Dreaming, Bush’s third album, Never for Ever from 1980, has slipped between the tracks slightly (it is chiefly remembered for the track Babooshka). But, from an Irish perspective, it is noteworthy for third single, Army Dreamers, in which Bush enunciates in an Irish accent.

“She sang that in a kind of Irish brogue,” says Michael Byrne, a Dublin graphics designer and Kate Bush expert who has designed and authored a lavish new coffee table book tracing Bush’s career, Finding Kate (available from findingkatebook.com).

“Army Dreamers was all about the futility of death and war, people losing their sons in pointless wars,” he continues. “She was asked, because she took the Irish accent, was it a reference to Northern Ireland. And she said, ‘I don’t want to say it directly is…” 

3: She works with traditional musicians

 Bush grew up in a house filled with Irish music. And as she pushed herself creatively on 1982’s The Dreaming, she looked back across the Irish Sea. Night of the Swallow features future Riverdance composer Bill Whelan on bagpipes, Liam O’Flynn on uilleann pipes, Planxty’s Dónal Lunny on bouzouki and The Chieftain’s Seán Keane on fiddle. It was released as a single in Ireland.

Kate Bush with her Co Waterford mother, Hannah Daly, and her brothers Paddy and John (right) at their home in East Wickham, London, in 1978. (Picture: Chris Moorhouse/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Kate Bush with her Co Waterford mother, Hannah Daly, and her brothers Paddy and John (right) at their home in East Wickham, London, in 1978. (Picture: Chris Moorhouse/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

4: A holiday in Ireland

After the Dreaming, while Bush was thinking towards her next project, she and her then-partner Del Palmer (also her musical collaborator) holidayed in Ireland. For Bush, it was a deeply spiritual journey and an opportunity to reconnect with her family. “We went to look them up and they seemed to come out of the woodwork there were so many,” Palmer told the Irish Examiner. “This is cousin Mick, this is cousin Johnny…’There were thousands of them. It was amazing. They were so friendly. They kind of swamped us.” 

“The Daly household were from a farming background. They were big into their music,” says Michael Byrne. “There were sessions [in their house]. People would come from the locality to dance and play music. That was in her mother’s blood – and she obviously passed some of that down to Kate. Kate is half Irish. She doesn’t overplay it – she never claimed to be Irish. But she has huge influences in her music coming from Ireland.”

5: Recruiting more Irish greats

The Dreaming was a critical and commercial disappointment. For the first time in her career, Bush felt slightly becalmed. And so, for her next album, The Hounds of Love, she resolved to do something special. Part of that journey led her back to Ireland and to sessions at Dublin’s Windmill Lane.

“We were recording in Windmill Lane. Dónal Lunny was involved, John Sheahan [The Dubliners], Paddy Glackin [The Bothy Band]. Kate wanted to get back to her roots,” Del Palmer told the Examiner. “On one occasion they had done a piece for Hounds Of Love called The Jig of Life. They were all around her and played the piece and she was reduced to jelly. It just blew her away, she got so emotional. Irish music is for her and her family a very intense relationship.”

6: The Jig of Life

The Jig of Life is a centrepiece of Hounds Of Love. It represents the climax of The Ninth Wave, a conceptual piece about a woman drowning after a shipwreck. And its magical uncanniness comes from the sounds of the traditional players with whom Bush convened at Windmill Lane.

“She gave me a big hug and said, ‘oh, you’re playing so emotionally,” John Sheahan told me in 2020. “She was fastidious about getting things right. I remember playing the [tin] whistle. She was saying ‘this is absolutely beautiful but when you get to this note can you just slide up’. She was a real perfectionist.”

Kate Bush's mother hailed from near Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kate Bush's mother hailed from near Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

7: Bush and Joyce

An artist who defied convention and pushed at the boundaries of his milieu, it was no surprise James Joyce would deeply impact on Bush. So much she planned to quote directly from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses for the title track from her 1989 album, The Sensual World. 

However, before the record was released, it was pointed out to her that she would require approval from the Joyce estate – which was denied. However, that permission was eventually forthcoming and she re-recorded the piece, using Bloom’s words, for the retitled Flower of the Mountain from the Director’s Cut, her 2011 revisiting of The Sensual World.

8: Mná na hÉireann

Bush jumped at the chance to sing the traditional air for Dónal Lunny’s 1996 anthology Common Ground – Voices of Modern Irish Music. And she was determined to do justice to the Irish language.

“She was very excited with the idea of singing the Irish in a way that Irish speakers would understand, and of conveying the meaning of the song through the sounds of the words,” Lunny said. “I helped as much as I could. She had Seán Ó Sé’s recording of Mná na hÉireann as reference. She was as faithful to the pronunciations as she could possibly be.”

More in this section

Scene & Heard
Newsletter

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

Sign up