John Scally interviews Moya Brennan, formerly singer with Clannad, about turning to God after hitting rock-bottom.
Moya Brennan is one of the best-known names in Irish music because of her work as lead singer with Clannad and her smash duet with Bono. Now she has carved out a successful solo career, and has recently released an acclaimed album, Two Horizons. Together with her family and her music, one of the most important things in her life is her Christian faith.
“Growing up in Donegal, the eldest of a family of nine, I always went to Mass with my parents to the wee church in Gweedore. I think it’s really important to have religion embedded in children. If you don’t know about God, Jesus and the Gospels, it’s something you’re going to miss out on in later life when you want to lean on something – because we all reach a stage in our lives when we do need to lean on someone. We all eventually go searching to find meaning in our lives.”
Drawn into a dark world
Like the prodigal son, Moya had problems staying on the straight and narrow. “I started out on the folk scene with Clannad. People think folk is clean, and rock is full of sex and drugs. Let me tell you there is plenty of drink and drugs in folk too! I have to say I got drawn into that dark world. Then, when Clannad went through the roof with Harry’s Game, doing the theme for a major television series on Robin Hood, and my song with Bono in the mid-80s, things got more and more out of control.
“Throughout all those years, I appeared, to the outside eye, a happy, party-loving woman. Yet in all that time I didn’t like myself very much. I drank too much, did drugs, and when I was young had an abortion. That really had a profound affect on me and left me feeling really, really empty on the inside. I had got married, and my marriage broke up. I felt I had failed and my self-image went to pieces. Everything was crumbling. I was losing my voice because I was smoking too much.
“Things came to a head at the peak of my fame as a singer when I had a miscarriage. After that happened, I finally decided the time had come for me to sort out my life once and for all.”
The road home
Again, like the prodigal son, she found her road home.
“From my Catholic childhood I knew where to turn, and I talked to God and asked him to help me. I needed to feed the emptiness that was inside me, but I knew that God was there. When I was small, I had thought of a big angry, powerful God. But at that time I discovered a very different compassionate, forgiving God. I’m convinced that God talks to us every day but we don’t listen. It’s so important that we take in all the things God has done for us, and all he is doing for us, and allow him to be part of our lives. There’s no point in God talking to us if we don’t make space to listen.
“I had condemned myself so much for all the bad things I had done, especially for having the abortion. I was very unhappy on the inside.
“The turning point came in 1987 when I went to my mother’s church, and there I had this great sense that God was forgiving me. It didn’t take away the fact that I had done something bad, but I realised that I had been given a second chance. God was saying to me: ‘I sent you my Son to make things new, to make things better for everyone. So now in your new situation take the chance to make life better.’
“It’s about believing. We have such little faith, and I’m not saying that I have it sorted, no way. I looked at my life, and I said: ‘I’ve messed it up.’ So I tried to control myself. I tried to turn my life around.
“I thought because I had made a mess of my marriage that maybe that was the end of love in my life. I was resigned to living my life in a more pure way. But the Lord has an amazing sense of humour. It is incredible what the Lord presented me with to sort my life out.
“In that year of 1987 I met my husband. He is a middle-class Protestant Christian, and I’m from a very different place and upbringing! We’ve been married happily and lovingly now for 13 years. It took three and a half years before we were able to get married because I hadn’t got a divorce. I was in my mid-30s at the time, and my biological clock was ticking very loudly. Although I knew Tim was the man for me, we were both determined that we were not going to do anything together outside wedlock. We didn’t even know if we could get married, but we were prepared to accept that.
“Year by year I’ve worked on becoming a better person. It’s quite extraordinary what God will do for you if you wait to give him the opportunity.”
Reaching out to drug users
To visit Moya in her home is to recognise immediately that love is all around in her household. She knows that other families are not so lucky, and has resolved to do all she can to help people in one area.
“No one would walk out in front of a moving car. Yet many people seem to delight in taking drugs. As a parent, I really am quite frightened by the fact that the drug problem appears to be so serious. It’s so sad to see talented young people throwing their lives away by taking drugs. I understand that teenagers are very influenced by the behaviour and values of their friends. Belonging to a group is very important to young people. In the world we live in today it can take a lot of guts not to experiment with drugs without losing face. As parents, I think we have to try and teach our children to make the right choices about drugs, and provide them with the skills they need to handle situations in which drugs are offered. That is why I work with a group of teenagers who have had problems in this area.
“Young people are understandably curious about drugs and may be tempted to experiment with them. The sad thing is that they often confuse taking drugs with being an adult, as if it were some kind of rite of passage. They think that if they take drugs they will feel bigger, older, more independent. Older friends may be encouraging them to dabble with drugs. What they fail to realise is that taking drugs is not a short-cut to growing up.”
Moya has also recently taken on a new role with the Christian Blind Mission. Why did she get involved in this charity?
“Like a lot of people, I was always touched by the harrowing ads on the television showing children in the developing world in great distress because of the loss of their sight. Another factor that influenced me was that, apart from my voice, the thing that people compliment me most about is my eyes. So I was very anxious to do anything I could to help. Throughout the developing world, loss of sight is a massive problem for huge numbers of people.
“The problem is compounded by the fact that trachoma is contagious. The stark reality is that once the Christian Blind Mission’s eye doctors in the African dry-lands diagnose trachoma, infection for a whole family cannot be far behind. They can cure trachoma for sure. All it takes is the medical miracle of Tetracycline. The need is enormous and Tetracycline costs money. Not much money when one considers the dramatic transformations it makes – but enough to restrict the work through lack of supplies.”
As she prepares for a trip to the Congo to see the Christian Blind Mission’s work at first hand, Moya makes a plea from the heart.
“These people, mostly subsistence farmers and nomads scratching a bare existence from an arid environment, dread the fierce stabbing pain that afflicts the swollen eyes of their children. They dread the emptiness that follows failing sight and blindness, with nothing ahead but a life of begging and dependency. How can we allow this situation to continue when we have a cure right here in our hands? The Christian Blind Mission has reached the infected families, mostly in very remote villages. They’ve trained their healthcare workers. They’re exhausting what supplies they have. If they are to halt trachoma in its tracks, they need more Tetracycline. They need your help. Just three euro could save an entire family’s sight. If you donate, you will be giving many poor people the gift of sight.”
If you would like to help, contact Christian Blind Mission. M:TEK Building, Knockaconny, Monaghan, Co Monaghan.
This article first appeared in Reality (June, 2004), a publication of the Irish Redemptorists.