Áine Tyrrell is an accomplished Irish musician and songwriter who,
through her music, campaigns for the
rights of women and indigenous people.
She is also a wonderful mother to three
beautiful children. Áine has performed
on stages all over the world to great
acclaim. She captivates audiences with
her deeply touching lyrics and striking
music that cut to the heart of the matter
and awakens our humanity.
Born and raised in Ireland, Áine has
made Australia her home for the past six
years. But her story isn’t like most
stories of modern-day Irish people
settling into a new lifestyle in
Australian coastal suburbs. No, Áine’s
story is one of heart-breaking struggle and her mammoth efforts to
protect herself and her children from the torment of domestic violence.
It was a great a privilege to have a conversation with a woman who is
a true warrior. Not only has she overcome the challenges of leaving
the motherland and adjusting to life in a far-away land, but she has
faced the immense difficulties of life on the road, living in a vintage
bus that gets tired and cranky sometimes!
When we spoke, Áine had only recently returned from Ireland. While
a trip back to Ireland during the harsh conditions brought about by
COVID would be a dream come true for those longing to get back there,
it was sadly a trip that Áine wished had been for happier reasons. When
Áine found out that her father’s recent illness was terminal and he
wasn’t going to make it, she had to pull out all the stops to try and get
back to see him.
‘It was an exceptionally difficult time for me to be travelling back,
especially after spending so long dreaming about going back to see my
dad and everyone and not being able to because of COVID. But I was
really lucky in the help that I got from The Irish Support Agency in
New South Wales. It was complicated. In the end the government only
approved an exemption for me, and I had to leave my three kids behind
to be cared for by friends.’
As if the sad and untimely passing of her father, Seán Tyrrell, a
renowned Irish singer and musician, wasn’t enough, Áine then
succumbed to COVID while in Ireland which sent her into isolation. ‘I
ended up with Long COVID and wasn’t allowed to travel back home
to Australia because of scarring on my lungs. It’s only now, after being
back a while, that I feel I’m able to start grieving my father’s passing.
It was such a huge effort to get to Ireland in the first place, then I had
just 24 hours with Dad before he passed. A day after the funeral, one
by one, my whole family started to test positive for COVID and we
were all isolating from each other. It was chaos on top of chaos. The
rules were changing all the time back in Australia, and I was begging
to be left back in again. I had never been separated from my kids for so
long. So, I was relieved to get back to see them in time for Christmas,
after having been away for five weeks.’
Áine was very close to her father. They often performed together over
the years. It came as a huge shock to her when he fell ill with cancer,
nobody expected it to take him so quickly. ‘Dad was 76 when he died
but very young at heart. Sure, only just before COVID hit he had toured
America on his own!’
Seán Tyrrell came from a Galwegian family and grew up in the heart
of the city. Áine was born in a hospital in Galway but grew up in the
Burren, in between Kinvara and Ballyvaughan. Thanks to having an
Irish-American Mum, Áine got to spend some of her childhood in
Boston where she still has lots of family. But like me, Áine’s heart lies
in the west of Ireland and from the age of 17 until she moved to
Australia, Ireland has been her home. ‘We did get to travel to different
parts of America with Dad too though when he went on tour.’
When Áine was finally reunited with her kids after the painful trip to
Ireland, she got straight into making their Christmas a happy one, all
the while thinking that they would at some point have to grieve together
for the loss of their grandfather and her Dad. ‘To be honest, I kept
thinking ‘what the hell just happened?’ Where’s my Dad? It felt so
wrong to be thrown into the whole Australian Christmas party buzz that
was happening in Byron Bay which is ‘party central’ anyway. I was
still feeling quite angry about the inhumanity of the policies that were
put in place that prevented my kids from seeing their grandfather before
he passed.’
That anger was also fed by the fact that, like so many artists worldwide,
Áine had lost her job because of COVID.
Prior to making music her career, Áine had trained to be a primary
school teacher – following in the footsteps of both her mother and
father who were teachers themselves. ‘I’d always loved kids. I babysat
from a young age. I also loved learning. I just thought it was such a
vibe, so I became a special needs assistant in Ireland. When I got to
Australia, I did my teacher training in Melbourne.’
Prior to leaving Ireland, Áine’s studies had taken her to UCD where
she did a degree in English and Spanish. We talked about the wonderful
musicality of the Spanish language and how we’re lucky in Ireland to
have our own native language that allows us to appreciate other
languages. Áine is delighted that her kids are learning some Bundjalong
through their school in NSW and Áine herself works with Bundjalong
people and gets to pick up some of their beautiful language. ‘It reminds
me a lot of Irish, how the relationship to the landscape is built into the
language. It’s like a lot of native indigenous languages that have that
element to them, which are fully immersed in landscape. So many
different words that connect back to nature and their surroundings, and
I love that, it’s so beautiful.’
It would be difficult to have a conversation with Áine without touching
on the extremely brave and courageous move that she made when she
faced up to the fact that what she was experiencing in her home was
domestic violence. ‘I don’t how I lied to myself, tricked myself for so
many years. I remember when I realised it was over … and it was time
to step into ‘Mumma Bear Protect-the-Kids’ mode. I was very
conscious of not wanting to be the victim of a story but wanting to
rewrite my own story, and not wanting this (DV) to be a part of it. I
wanted this so much for my kids as well. We were living in the suburbs
outside Melbourne – I don’t think there were many single parents there.
We were a kind of an anomaly. I knew that if we stayed, we would
become saturated in that story of being ‘victims of domestic abuse’ and
it would define us. I felt that we wouldn’t get to write our own story.
So, I told my friend, Sarah, that I wanted to buy a bus and take off.’
It was serendipitous that Sarah happened to know a friend who had a
1966 bus. ‘When she told me that it had Tassie oak floors, I thought
that’s got to be the bus! When I rang the guy who was selling it, he tried
to put me off saying ‘you don’t want this 9-tonne bus, it’s got no power
steering. You just want a simple Toyota Coaster. I said, ‘no, I want
your bus’. I thought that’s the bus from the story that I need to write!
To answer your question, I don’t know what drove me – whether it was
ancestors or spirit, but something woke up inside me and said ‘if you
sit here, you’re going to be the victim of this story and you’ll let this
story happen to you. Plus, I was in fear. We were living in a house
where we didn’t feel safe. The police and the court systems were
archaic at the time… they’re much better now. Although they’re still
not designed to protect, more to ensure the perpetrators have a fair trial,
sentencing etc which I understand but it leaves carers and kids
vulnerable. The drawn-out processes meant that I never felt safe, and
we were constantly being re-traumatised. So, I thought, if I have a bus,
and I don’t feel safe, I can just drive. And that’s what I did. It really
made me feel like I was the author of the story, protecting my kids…
not waiting for anyone to do it for me.’

Since that decision, it’s
been one big adventure for
Áine and her kids. They’ve
travelled extensively along
the east coast of Australia,
while initially keeping a
base in Victoria, with Áine
playing at festivals in
between home-schooling
her kids. She was way
ahead of the curve when
COVID forced many of us

to home-school for a period and says the kids came on leaps and bounds
in their learning. At 4, 6 and 8 years of age when they set out, Áine said
they learnt so much from being on the road.
‘As a teacher I know that a lot of the school day is taken up with herding
sheep and the actual teaching time isn’t that much. So, if you can
concentrate for a good couple of hours on the reading and the maths in
the morning, then the kids have time to work on their projects for the
rest of the time. When they have gone back to school for periods, their
teachers asked me what I’d done because they’d all gone up in their
reading levels etc. But they’ve also learnt great communication skills –
they can literally have a conversation with anyone now.’
I was keen to find out if there were things that Áine thought she could
never live without before taking to the road that she now lives without.
‘You definitely learn to adapt. I soon discovered that I didn’t need
anywhere near the amount of stuff I used to have. I left things in storage
at a friend’s that I ended up giving away as I learnt to live without it. In
exchange for the things that I left behind, I learnt new skills. This bus
has a history of breaking down and I’ve often found myself at the side
of the road trying to figure out how to fix things. It’s all part of the
adventure. I’ve had to learn a lot about bush mechanics. My kids
too…they got involved in the running of the bus. It’s a simple life. We
have water tanks that we carry with us so we are all very aware of how
much water we can use. The same with electricity. It’s solar powered
so we have to be conscious of how much power we are using. If it’s
raining or really cloudy, we have to conserve more power. You know,
it makes you so much more connected to land and country too. We’re
very much at the whim of the elements. We’ve learnt to live differently.
When you’re tucked away in a house, you’re not so much in tune with
what Mother Nature is doing. It’s a very connected way of being.’
Our discussion delved into Irish heritage and what that means to Áine.
‘I immediately think of the spiritual side of things, our ancestors, but I
also think of the living landscape such as ancient sites that connect us.
We’re so lucky in Ireland to have so many amazing places such as
monuments and castles that have been preserved. It makes me feel for
the indigenous people here in Australia who have lost so many of their
sacred sites. I have also been very lucky that my father passed on his
love of and curiosity for heritage and culture to us. It has been a lived
experience for us. Now, with the way technology can be applied, we
have much more access to resources that will help us all to stay
connected with our culture and heritage. Since COVID, I’ve seen a
huge surge in the younger people taking an active interest in who we
are, and how our culture matters, particularly back in Ireland. I think
something has clicked. There’s been a resurgence in the Irish language
among younger generations too which is just brilliant. I also see
TikTokkers and Instagrammers presenting Irish culture in new ways.
There is definitely a renewed sense of excitement about what it means
to be Irish among the younger generations. I would say we’re on a
trajectory upwards where more and more people are taking an interest
in the stories of Ireland, of our folklore and legends. Even in Australia,
among 2nd/3rd generation Irish there’s more interest now in knowing
who they are because of the whitewashed history that was taught in
schools. These people with Irish heritage have lost a huge piece of their
puzzle because they’ve been lumped in with the first settlers. We were
not the same as the English who came here. We did not have the same
experience. In fact, I did a tour here in Australia a few years back with
my dad, and Declan O’Rourke, Shane Howard and Paul Kelly. It was
called Exile and covered the songs of Irish Australia. It was an
incredible collaboration, but I remember when Shane Howard was
trying to get funding for it, the Australian government didn’t recognise
Irish culture as being any different to that of first settlers and therefore
the tour didn’t qualify for funding. It was funded by the Irish
government instead’
Back to the present day, I was curious to know if Áine realised what an
amazing role model she is to her kids, and if she believed their shared
experiences had taught her kids resilience, something that is, in my
view, critical to being able to deal with what life throws us. I asked her
if she had any message for parents who might be wondering how they
can instil a sense of resilience in their own kids.
‘As parents we just want to get it right. We try to plan everything for
this little human being before they’re even born! The old ways of
education, even the old ways of working, were born out of the industrial
revolution. Things need to change now. COVID has shown us that.
The kids we are raising today are different. They are exposed to
different things now and their brains are operating at a much more
creative level. They are looking at all our systems and wondering why
they even need to do things this way. It is a fact that kids can carve out
a life for themselves in so many different ways to the ones we were
brought up by. Let’s face it, if you didn’t get a good Leaving Cert in
Ireland, you weren’t going to go too far. Whereas nowadays, that
mould doesn’t work anymore yet we are still trying to fit the kids into
it. The kids know though. They know that there are other options,
there are other ways. We need to think outside the box and be aware
that kids are different today. We can be more creative in how we
prepare them. We don’t actually know what the future looks like for
Looking forward, Áine would love to divide her time between Ireland
and Australia, doing what she loves – performing her music. For now,
though, she is focused on making a life here in Australia while making
a living. Áine has always drawn her inspiration and solace from nature,
particularly the ocean. ‘I know when I have a song coming as I feel
this growing rumble inside which I have to stop and listen to. I like to
think it’s coming from my ancestors, from my connection to culture
and my connection to something that’s bigger than myself. I don’t
always know why a song comes through me, but I stay open to
whatever that is. To recharge myself so that I am open, I go to nature.
Throughout my entire life, I have needed to be near the sea. The ocean
was the only place to be when I needed healing after the pain of
everything that happened. It gave me so much. I loved being around
trees when I was back in Ireland, especially the one in Coole Park*.
The rainforest here where I live is just stunning. But I also love people’s
stories. Everyone has a way that they tell their story, whether it’s
through a song or writing. It gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of
purpose but also it gives us a sense of service in the world. I just try to
surround myself with stories. I get so much inspiration when people
get to the truth of themselves, when they allow themselves to be
vulnerable. Now I am planning on recording my third album – I have
some songs that are ready, but I am also sitting and waiting for the
purpose of a song and the album to reveal itself to me. I know now that
I can trust the process. If I’m in the right place, it shows up.’
Before COVID sabotaged our freedom, Áine had a number of
performances lined up for us in WA including Nannup festival but
sadly none of that came to pass. We wait with bated breath now for
things to settle down and for Áine to be able to bring the energetic joy
of her music to these parts. She told me that she can’t wait. And neither
can we.
If you are going to be on the east coast of Australia in the coming
months, there will be opportunities to see Áine live throughout March,
April and May. Follow this link for more information
*Coole Park is a nature reserve in Co.Galway where the autograph tree
is located. It is a copper beech tree that dates back to the late 1800s and
is engraved with initials of many of the leading Irish literary figures of
the 20th century including George Bernard Shaw, John Millington
Synge, Seán O’Casey and our beloved, W B Yeats who lived close by
to the park. In 1929 he published a poem called Coole Park which
describes the park as a symbol for the revival of Irish literature:
‘Here traveller, scholar, poet, take your stand
When all these rooms and passages are gone
When nettles wave upon a shapeless mound’
And saplings root among the broken stone.’
At the time of going to press, we learnt that many of the sentimental
items that Áine had kept in storage were in fact destroyed in the
recent flooding in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. Áine told us
that she has been bolstered by the huge support that she found in her
community and has been inspired by how everyone has pulled
together to face the adversity as one. Just another example of the
calamities that Áine Tyrrell has learnt to deal with, and from what we
have seen, she has done it with dignity and a sense of compassion and
humour. For this reason, Áine is a woman to be admired greatly.

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