Medic combines challenges of Covid with second career as folk singer

Ciara O’Neill’s new EP is made up of songs written during the pandemic.

Jonathan McCambridge
Tuesday 28 December 2021 10:00
Folk singer Ciara O’Neill is set to release her new EP in January (Liam McBurney/PA)
Folk singer Ciara O’Neill is set to release her new EP in January (Liam McBurney/PA)

A Portadown healthcare worker has told how she has combined being on the front line during the Covid pandemic with her second career as a successful singer-songwriter.

By day, Ciara O’Neill works in full PPE gear as a radiographer in a Belfast hospital.

In the evening, she picks up her guitar to write songs or perform gigs across Northern Ireland and beyond.

I have been singing my whole life, I was always singing in choirs at school and I was classically trained at a young age

Ciara O'Neill

Folk singer Ms O’Neill is set to release her new EP La Lune, made up of songs written during the pandemic, at the Out to Lunch Festival in January, backed by the Arts Council NI.

She said she has always had dual loves of music and science.

“I have been singing my whole life, I was always singing in choirs at school and I was classically trained at a young age.

“But I went into a very different career in healthcare, my degree was very science-based and I really missed music.

“Alongside my career in healthcare I started learning guitar and writing my own songs. In 2016 I released my first album and my second in 2018.”

Following this, Ciara took a career break which included a trip to Nashville to work alongside Grammy-winning artists at the world-famous Bluebird Cafe.

More recently, the Covid pandemic has had a devastating impact on the Northern Ireland music scene.

She said: “The pandemic has absolutely decimated the music scene. Arts have suffered so much. For me, not being able to play live for a couple of years has been a huge impact.

Ciara O’Neill in PPE gear at work in a Belfast hospital (Ciara O’Neill/PA)

“Music, for me, is a stress release and I love performing. Not being able to do that has really impacted me.

“I kept on playing throughout, if even it was just in the house. I am always writing songs.”

The pandemic had an equally significant impact on her work as a medic.

She said: “It has been a difficult time for everybody in healthcare.

“At the very start, things were changing on a daily basis and none of us knew what Covid was, none of us knew how it would affect us.

“It was frightening because I didn’t know what to expect or what would happen.

“As time has gone on, we have all just worked together in the hospital. You see the resilience of people coming through this.”

Ms O’Neill added: “We are wearing PPE all day, so we are wearing masks constantly and that can have an impact on how you communicate with patients.

“For me that has been a huge thing, especially when you have an elderly patient who may have difficulty hearing and that has been a challenge.

“We have to go through quite extensive checklists for MRI and that is difficult to communicate with patients when wearing masks.

Belfast folk singer Ciara O’Neill. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday December 13 2021. See PA story ULSTER MEDIC. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

“We just try our best to make people feel as safe as they can when they come into hospital.”

Ms O’Neill said her organisational skills allow her to balance her lives as a healthcare worker and a musician.

“I do like the balance. It can be hard working a full day and then playing a gig in the evenings, that is tiring and stressful but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I manage myself so releasing music involves so much work, a huge amount of time.

“Often in my work break I am working on it on my phone and I am always doing music in the evenings.”

Her new single La Lune, from the EP of the same name, has been a recent hit on BBC Radio Ulster and RTE Radio 1.

She said: “People seem to have really connected with it, which is so nice. It is a song with some life advice.”

– Ciara O’Neill will be performing at the Sunflower Bar in Belfast as part of the Out to Lunch Festival on January 22 at 8pm.

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