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Sharon Shannon: A brilliant and inclusive career in the Trad world

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

“Oh I took a stroll on the old long walk of a day-i-ay-i-aaay….”

This is perhaps one of the most popular songs in Irish pubs and at St. Patrick's Day parties. Played and known around the world, it became a soundtrack for the movie "Ps. I Love You" and almost an anthem for those who want to visit Ireland. “Galway Girl” was composed by American country and folk musician Steve Earle while visiting Galway City, meeting and collaborating with local trad musicians. One of these local musicians was named Sharon Shannon- master of the box accordion, famous for mixing and playing a variety of musical genres and for her friendly presence on stage. By the way, that famous riff in “Galway Girl” was recorded by her!

Born in northern County Clare, Sharon started her life in music as a child. She had renowned teachers in the west of Ireland and began her career playing with Frank Custy and being part of Disirt Tola, a young band from Clare.

But it was from 91' onwards that Sharon Shannon got notorious all over the world. It this year she released her first solo project “Sharon Shannon”, being the best-selling album of traditional Irish music in history. From then onwards, Sharon became a true public figure on the emerald island and a reference in trad music not only in Europe, but also in the Americas and Asia.

So you can have a slightly idea of how important she is here in Ireland - remember those popular magazines that are usually near the supermarket checkout? Once, as I was putting my groceries on the conveyor belt and I came across one of those magazine covers full of random advertisements in which, to my amazement, Sharon Shannon was the cover girl beside her accordion. I never imagined seeing a trad artist on the cover of a popular magazine!

After the success of her first solo album, Sharon started to collaborate with musicians from all over the world. Just to name a few here - The Waterboys, Michael McGoldrick, Donal Lunny, Carlos Nuñez, Frankie Gavin, Sinead O'Connor, Imelda May… and many others. In addition to currently having 21 recorded albums in total.

The fact that Sharon Shannon has not just become stagnant in the language and repertoire of traditional music is what makes her sound so vibrant. She's not afraid of mixing different styles, rhythms, instrumentations and genres on her albums. Electric guitars, double bass, congas, synthesizers are mixed with flutes, fiddles, bodhráns and bouzoukis, as well as country, rock, cajun and reggae influences are part of her sound. And that's what makes her an important figure in both traditional and contemporary music. The video below is a great example.

Being a female instrumentalist, I have to say that I feel inspired by Sharon Shannon and I have her as a great representative. I had the pleasure of watching her show here in Galway City and she has a purity and simplicity that blends with her genius. She doesn't need to be a character on stage or she doesn't seem to want to prove anything to anyone. She just seems to enjoy playing her accordion very genuinely and enjoying all the musicians and audience around her. Achieving this "success", which is a delicate word, this honesty with her music and being renowned around the world as a player is something that unfortunately, in the female world, still happens very little. And Sharon Shannon is a great proof that it's possible!

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