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Adelaide Fringe

Songs and Tales of Irish Australia

Adelaide Fringe

After moving to Australia, Irish singer-songwriter Aine Tyrrell did “something crazy”: she bought 1966 converted Bedford bus. Then she set off across the outback with her three children, recording songs in abandoned mines and under the stars.

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“I’d done a lot of research about tiny-house living and I thought it was a really beautiful concept,” says Tyrrell, who will be performing in Adelaide on Sunday in Exile: Songs and Tales of Irish Australia.

“I also didn’t want to end up in the same situation we were in in Ireland, where we had a house and all this stuff … It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

The singer, who released an album and short documentary about her desert journey last year, inherited her love of music from her dad, Irish folk singer Sean Tyrrell, with whom she will be reunited for the Exile concerts.

Aine grew up listening to his music, playing the flute and tin whistle, “stealing his guitars”, and eventually writing her own songs, with the pair touring Australia together a couple of years ago.

She has also played with a number of the other performers in the Exile line-up, which comprises a mix of Irish singers and Australian musicians with Irish origins, including Paul Kelly, Shane Howard, Leah Flanagan, Declan O’Rourke, Pauline Scanlon, John Spillane, Lynnelle Moran and Steve Cooney.

“It’s lovely that we have been able to join forces here again,” Tyrrell says of playing alongside her father, who is based in Ireland.

“I’m really excited that his stories and life’s work will be showcased in such beautiful arts centres in Australia.

“He’s dedicated his life to telling stories about Irish convicts.”

Sean Tyrrell. Photo: Kevin Byrne

Sean Tyrrell. Photo: Kevin Byrne

Exile celebrates the Irish history and influence in Australia, going all the way back to convicts, settlers and early political prisoners. It is described as a “tapestry of stories, imagery and music”, with fresh interpretations of significant songs as well as new works.

Among them are two songs Aine and Sean Tyrrell will sing together which are based on poems written by Irish convict John Boyle O’Reilly that Sean has set to music.

Aine describes her father as a champion of history’s forgotten heroes who has done considerable research into convicts such as O’Reilly, a political dissident and member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood who was transported to Perth for conspiring against the British army and later escaped to the US.

“The stories about John Boyle O’Reilly are incredible,” she says.

“One of the things I absolutely love is that he was aboard the ship the Hougoumont and even though they were prisoners, they put on concerts every Friday night. They had a newspaper on board as well and there are hand-written transcripts of these concerts and who sang what.

“It’s amazing that on these ships coming out here there was this amazing cultural experience.

“Aboard that ship there were masterminds of creativity and politics.”

Aine Tyrrell describes herself as a kind of economic migrant. A solo mum to three children now aged nine, seven and five, she initially came to Australia five years ago to escape the effects of the global financial crisis in Ireland – although the lure of warmer weather and waves were also an attraction for the keen surfer.

A crowdfunding campaign helped make her outback bus recording dream come true, with the CD Queen of Swords released last year.

And while Tyrrell initially thought she might stay in Australia for only a year, she has no plans to leave any time soon. For a start, she still wants to cross the Nullarbor with her family in the bus – “we’ll have to do it at a good time for the weather because we have no air-conditioning”.

And like other Irish migrants before her, she has also found many kindred spirits in this country.

“There’s definitely a humour and a spirit that you can find in Australia that is really similar to Ireland … when I perform there are so many people who come up to me afterwards and say they start crying because they feel a connection.”

Exile: Songs and Tales of Irish Australia will be presented at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, this Sunday, February 21, as part of the Adelaide Fringe program. It is also being performed in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and Tasmania. Click here for a sample of what’s in store at the concert.

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