Photo: Amy Frahill Photography

Sara Ryan, Vocalist, songwriter and performer

Name and position: Sara Ryan, Vocalist, songwriter and performer

Age: 23

Lives: Cork city

Family: Myself, my Ma, my Da, and my big brother Dave.

Pets: One little doggie, Charlie - he’s my world!

Favourite thing about Cork: The vibrancy of the music scene, the abundance of gorgeous coffee and food and how friendly everyone is.

Least favourite thing about Cork: All of the one-way streets - when you’re learning how to drive, the one way streets are terrifying!

One thing you’d change about Cork: I’d make it sunny all the time if I could. Cork in the sunshine is just so beautiful.

When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up?

When I was very small I was dead set on being either a princess or an astronaut, but music was always number one. I’ve been singing ever since I could talk. I grew up in Newbridge in Kildare and there were so many activities on in the town all based around music. I had a ball there.

Tell us about your career progression to your role today:

I’m a professional vocalist, songwriter and performer. As I said above, I’ve been singing my whole life. I started to play the guitar at seven years old. I performed in various different musicals, trad groups, vocal groups, choirs, dancing shows, and variety shows for most of my childhood, and when I got to my teens I started gigging with bands. I’ve always been writing songs, as my parents encouraged me at a young age to always write down how I was feeling. I remember discovering that I could combine singing, writing and playing guitar all at the same time and it blew my mind! It was from there that I started songwriting, so by the time I was gigging I had a few songs ready.

I moved to Cork city at 19 to study music in Cork School of Music, and moving to Cork opened up a whole new musical world for me. I spent the evenings going to open mics all across Cork city, and this progressed to getting a few gigs in the city’s bars, some of which I still gig now. In the background I was always writing songs and I always knew I wanted to record them but I wasn’t sure where to start. The music scene in Cork is so open and kind so I soon found my tribe, and I decided to record.

In 2017, I was awarded ‘New Folk Artist of the Year’, with the Irish Folk Music Awards. In that same year my debut single ‘Belle’ received ‘Best New Single’ with Dublin City FM. Throughout the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to share stages with some of the artists who inspired me hugely, such as, Mick Flannery, Luka Bloom, Andy Irvine, Jack Lukeman, Wally Page and Wyvern Lingo.

After years of gigging and writing, I recorded my debut EP ‘Glitter Skies’ with Christian Best in Monique Studios with my band and spent the year touring it in Ireland. In September 2018 I underwent a Fundit campaign to record my debut album, which I recorded in Monique Studios in January, to be released in September 2019. I’ve been releasing singles over the past few years that have received airplay all over national radio, which is amazing - I’ve to pinch myself sometimes! I’m so grateful that people have listened to my music and come to my shows.

In April I released the second single from the album called ‘Rise Up’, a social commentary collaboration with the brilliant and powerful Steo Wall. This summer I’ll be touring Switzerland and Germany, and to coincide with the album launch in September I’ll be doing a national Irish tour with the full band, including a show in Coughlan’s on 11 October.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?

It’s hard to pick the most enjoyable aspect, but I think it would have to be the feeling of performing on stage, which is all about connection. I write songs about things I have experienced within my own life, situations that have been particularly dark and also my most euphoric and beautiful moments. I write about the darkness and light because that’s what I feel is real. I write to connect with others and to connect with myself. It’s the most amazing feeling speaking to someone after a gig that I have done, when they say a particular song really resonated with them. Music is what made me feel as though I wasn’t alone, so I try to be that for listeners also.

What motivates you?

My passion for what I do. Without sounding dramatic, I really do live to sing and write songs. I think to pursue music as a career you kind of have to be obsessed with it, and I would say I am.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

My teens were a really hard part of my life, and a time where I kept a lot in. What I would say is to keep talking to your family and tell them how your feeling and what’s going on. Not everyone is meant to be your friend and you don’t have to be smiling all the time. Try your best to let go.

If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing?

I would have probably pursued something else in the arts. I love working with oil pastels and paint. I also love acting, so I may have done that either.

What is your greatest life or career achievement to-date?

I think recording my debut album. I absolutely adored the whole process of it - it was the most creative, colourful, challenging and beautiful experience. It would either be that or performing at the Doolin Folk Festival in front of 2,000 people, which was fairly deadly. It was in the middle of summer and it was such a gorgeous listening audience. It was a dream come true!

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?

My family. They inspire me in so many ways, spiritually and emotionally. Each of them have so much strength and resilience. They’ve taught me so much and I’m so grateful for that. I’ve had some of the most incredibly strong women as my vocal coaches as well. Lorraine Nolan was my singing teacher in Newbridge growing up. She is an incredible woman, full of strength and so motivated - she was my singing teacher, friend and life coach at times! My vocal coach now, a Cork woman called Trish Roooney, is a ray of sunshine and light. I’m lucky to know her and call her my friend.

What is the life dream now?

To keep performing, recording, writing songs, singing and touring. I would love to be touring all over the world - in America, Canada, Belgium and any country that will have me.

How do you switch off?


Meditation was something I discovered at an early age and when I’m consistent with it, it totally transforms my day and grounds me. I practice yoga and some tai chi, and I adore it. They always help me to centre myself, switch off and check in with how my body is doing. It’s important for me to do this as I’m fairly active and I need that hour or so to come back to the moment. I also love walking the streets of Cork. It’s such a colourful city, there is so much to see. I never get tired of exploring it. My friends and I often go out to West Cork or Clare for drives and this always clears my head. It’s important for me to be near nature as much as I can. I feel that nature is intuitive to what you need. Nature doesn’t need to say anything, it always knows.

What is your favourite Cork memory?

Probably performing in Coughlan’s on 25 April just gone. That was very special. A room full of love.

What is your favourite place in Cork?

I love the top of Patrick’s Hill. The view is stunning, and it’s so still.

Do you have a favourite quote or motto?

‘Feel the fear, and do it anyway.’

When are you at your happiest?

There’s a few! Performing on stage would definitely be the biggest one. It’s the most electrifying and beautiful feeling. Also when I’m in nature, near the sea, a forest or the Curragh of Kildare. I feel content near these places. When I’m singing, writing or with my family and friends too.

Any regrets?

I used to, but I’m slowly learning to see them as chances to grow.

What is your hidden talent?

I wish I could say something deadly and exciting like I can do a backflip or something, but I can’t! I make a savage veggie curry!

What might we be surprised to know about you?

There was a time where I could leg press 250kg fairly easily - once upon a time!

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I’m so happy to have moved to Cork city six years ago. You Cork people are full of light and vibrancy and it’s great to be a part of it.