Donal Dineen’s Sunken Treasure: Sister Irene O’Connor – ‘Fire of God’s Love’

Sister Irene had as much passion for music as for prayer, and her work is full of mystery and magic

Haunting songs of faith and devotion: Sister Irene O’Connor

Haunting songs of faith and devotion: Sister Irene O’Connor

 

We are so bombarded with music from certain directions which all sounds pretty much the same that it is more surprising than ever when something truly unique turns up and reminds us that making music is an urge that pays no attention to barriers of any sort.

It’s a sad fact of media operations that the music we hear on the radio in particular is so narrowly focused on classic hits or the vacuous pop of the day.

All that repetition just dulls the senses and diminishes our taste for better things.

So when something truly original and brilliant turns up it feels like a blessing. In the case of Sister Irene O Connor’s haunting songs of faith and devotion it’s bonus time. Blessings within a blessing.

Sunken Treasures on Spotify

Music as uncommonly charming as this more often than not tends to have an unusual backstory where the pendulum swung just the right way at exactly the right time.

In Sister Irene’s case, it was a chance meeting with Sister Marimil Lobregat in South East Asia in the 1960s. The two were on their way to different missions and only spent a short time together but it was enough to establish a strong bond over a shared devotion to music. God was not their only love.

Reunited

They went their separate ways without any plans to meet in the future but fate intervened and the two were reunited at Sydney’s Point Piper convent in 1976.

Sister Irene had been recording her songs in Singapore throughout the previous decade with limited means and no great degree of success. In Sister Marimil she found the perfect partner to make real the musical dreams and aspirations that were still very much alive in her.

Sister Marimil was working as a recording technician in Homebush at the Catholic Audio Visual Centre. She had upskilled in the intervening decade and was as fond of messing around with the controls of the echo chamber as perusing her prayer book.

Together they built a makeshift studio and on a series of Sunday afternoons cocooned themselves from the world at large and went about their extraordinary journeys into sound.

I love both what they did and the way they went about it. The subject matter is secondary to the soulful sound of her uplifting voice. The eerie and downright strange sound of the recordings add mystery and magic to the mix. The calmness it exudes is a balm for weary travellers and troubled souls.

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