Women We Love: Eleanor McEvoy, Singer/Songwriter

Eleanor McEvoy is one of Ireland’s most well known singer songwriters. She composed the song “Only A Woman’s Heart”, the title track of A Woman’s Heart, the best-selling Irish album in Irish history. She is also the Chairman of the Irish Music Rights Organisation- the first woman to be elected.

Upon finishing school she attended Trinity College, Dublin where she studied music by day and worked in pit orchestras and music clubs by night. McEvoy graduated from Trinity with an Honors Degree in music, and spent four months busking in New York City. In 1988, she was accepted into the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra where she spent four years before leaving to concentrate on songwriting.

She built up a following in clubs in Dublin with her three piece band, Jim Tate on bass, Noel Eccles on drums, and latterly Bill Shanley on guitar. During a solo date in July 1992, she performed a little-known, self-penned song, “Only a Woman’s Heart”. Mary Black, of whose band McEvoy was a member, was in the audience and invited her to add the track to an album of Irish female artists. The album was subsequently titled A Woman’s Heart and the track was released as the lead single.

A few days before A Woman’s Heart was released, Tom Zutaut A & R from Geffen Records, who had previously signed Guns & Roses, Mötley Crüe, and Edie Brickell, offered McEvoy a worldwide recording deal after watching her perform at The Baggot Inn in Dublin.

The album A Woman’s Heart went on to sell over three-quarters of a million copies in Ireland alone and was (and remains) the biggest selling Irish album of all time. Eleanor signed to Geffen and toured all over the states with The Fugees, Fiona Apple and many more as well as garnering a US Billboard Top 10 charted single ‘Precious Little’. She was then invited to contribute to a number of movie and TV soundtracks. When Eleanor came back to Irish soil after extensive touring, she was awarded Best New Artist, Best New Performer, and Best Songwriter Awards by the Irish entertainment and music industries. Forward 25 years since the release of A Woman’s Heart and Eleanor has released 14 albums and still remains one of Ireland’s most beloved and respected artists.

We chatted to Eleanor about her career, her most recent position as Chairman of IMRO, and how she balances her busy schedule.

How did your journey in music as a career start?

At the age of 4, I was part of a band with my older sister and brother. We entered the Irish language competition ‘Slogadh’ and we performed a Slade song “Mama We’re All CrazyNow” translated into Irish. Yes, really.

Is being on stage and in the public eye something you always saw yourself doing, or if you hadn’t pursued music as a career what do you think you would have done?

Well, I actually always saw myself working in music, but more behind the scenes, writing, producing, arranging and that kind of thing. Outside of music, I haven’t a clue what I would have done, but I enjoy languages, so perhaps that would have been part of my life.

You have recently become the first female Chairman of the Irish Music Rights Organisation, how did this role come about?

I’ve been on the board of IMRO for some time. Every three years or so, the current members of the board elect a chairman. This time around, they elected me. I consider it a huge honour, as I’m very proud of the work that IMRO does. This is a particularly important time to be involved because the most important copyright directive in decades is currently coming before Europe, so it really is a crucial time.

How do you split your time between IMRO and your creative music & compositional work?

It’s fairly full on, I haven’t had a holiday in a few years! But in truth one complements the other. You couldn’t work 14 hours a day every day on either, but you can easily do 3 hours work on one, then swtich into creative mode and do a few hours work and then switch back. The two are so completely different.

What’s your morning routine? Are you an early bird or a night owl?

I’m very much a night owl. I get my best ideas after dark. I’d love to tell you that I start my day with yoga and meditation, but the reality is that my morning routine is dragging myself out of bed and getting to the first coffee of the day, after that my brain and body kick into action.

Where are your favourite places to eat and drink in Dublin?

I love Green 19 and Neon on Camden St. for a casual dinner, I love the restaurant in the National Gallery for coffee, the Library Bar in the Exchequer Hotel for a drink and the newly refurbished restaurant in the National Concert Hall is great to go to before a concert too.

Your greatest food pleasure?

Burdock’s fish and chips on Werburgh St is hard to beat for a guilty treat.

If you could tell your 16 year-old self anything what would it be?

“it’ll all be ok!”


Your most recent album, The Thomas Moore Project, is now critically acclaimed, but where did the idea for The Thomas Moore Project come about?

I always loved the songs, but I disliked the way the songs were presented and portrayed. I wanted to arrange and sing the songs the way I arrange and sing my own material. So I just recorded the songs the way you would a song in the 21st century, so there’s drum loops, Flugalhorn, Fender Rhodes, chilled out electric guitar accompanying the text from the 1800/1900s. It was a challenge, but the result is that the two elements work exceptionally well together.

As a female entertainer, what challenges did you face getting your career off the ground? And what challenges do you still face?

Well, there was always a reluctance to believe that I was the one writing the songs. I find in the music industry there are things that are “acceptable” roles for woman to play. It’s ok to be a singer, but writing, arranging, musical director, producer are roles that some people have difficulty accepting you are capable of or even really good at! I have been very lucky with the musicians I work with but outside of that circle I still encounter it more often than you would think.


You have a beautiful teenage daughter. ‘Mom guilt’ is a phenomenon many women with high powered jobs have been vocal about. How have you experienced this? What are your views on this?

I still feel perpetually guilty. As a woman you try to live your life pretending you don’t have a job when you’re trying to be a mother and then pretending you don’t have kids when you’re trying to work.  

I also feel guilty for all the traveling, handing over at airports, service stations, hotels, train stations, bus depots all over the world to try make it all work, but so far she seems to have flourished! She is a fantastic young woman and I am so proud of her. (She can also pack a suitcase in 6 minutes flat)

Of all the shows, events and concerts you’ve worked on or played which has been the most memorable experience and why?

Playing for 60,000 people including Bill & Hillary Clinton when they were over in Dublin was very moving because of the role they were playing in the peace process. At a time when the negotiations were very fragile they brought with them great hope and it was extraordinary to be a part of that.

What has been your proudest career moment to date?

I’m most proud of the messages and letters I get from people about my song “Sophie”. So many sufferers of anorexia and their families write to me to say that the song played a huge role in their recovery. I’ve always been a huge believer in the healing power of music, and I feel very honoured that one of my songs has fulfilled this role for so many people affected by this awful disease.


What advice would you offer someone looking to start out in a career within the music & entertainment industry?

I would tell them to go into it for the right reasons. Go into it only because you love it. Stay true to the music, and keep your overheads low.

What women in Ireland, as well as Irish women abroad, do you most admire?

I admire our former President Mary McAleese enormously, also Sonia O’Sullivan, Marie Collins, Vicky Phelan, Orla Tinsley, too many amazing singers and musicians to mention and outside of Ireland I love love love JK Rowling.

What are your top three everyday essentials to get you through?

My iPhone, my lip balm and my bike.

What are you favourite ways to keep fit and stay healthy?

Walking and cycling.

Can you share any plans you have in the pipeline?

I’m making a feature length film documentary about the life and works of Thomas Moore. Watch this space!

Eleanor is currently on Tour, check her website for all news and gig info.