‘I have Polish roots and an Irish heart’

New to the Parish: Musician and dancer Dora Gola arrived from Poland in 2008

Dora Gola on the beach at Lahinch, Co Clare. ‘I have Polish roots and an Irish heart,’ she says. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Dora Gola on the beach at Lahinch, Co Clare. ‘I have Polish roots and an Irish heart,’ she says. Photograph: Eamon Ward

 

Dora Gola grew up surrounded by music. While her parents were not musicians, her father always played records or cassettes from his vast collection in the family home. Her tastes were different to her friends – she didn’t follow popular music from the charts – and were more influenced by her parents’ partiality for electronic and new age sounds.

“I remember my dad had a wall full of cassettes and he would pick me up and ask which one I wanted. The music I was exposed to was really versatile – there were so many different styles. Most of the other kids said it was embarrassing. But we didn’t listen to the radio, it was cassettes and vinyls. It was just pure joy and love of music.”

Gola decided from an early age that she wanted to play music for a living. “I always had it in my head that I couldn’t do anything else. There wasn’t a single day that I ever felt music wouldn’t be a good career choice. I was lucky my parents were super supportive.”

Gola had already started developing this musical career when her parents decided to move to Ireland in 2008. Her father had been laid off from work and her mother was suffering from depression when friends suggested they try life in Limerick.

‘Better life’

“My mum went first and loved it – she actually loved the weather and the rain. She already had friends from Poland there and knew we needed a change. The main reason for that change was to give me a better life, although I didn’t realise that at the time.”

Gola was 15 years old when she packed up her belongings and flew to Ireland. “My world basically just fell apart. I was doing lots of singing, I had a boyfriend for two years in Poland. I just couldn’t get myself together.”

Gola’s parents enrolled their daughter in a school just over the Tipperary border in the town of Newport. “I was extremely lucky with the amazing people I met in school. It was the countryside so there were a lot less kids and fewer Polish people, which was what I wanted. I knew if I was around Polish people I wouldn’t be able to soak in the Irish culture. And that was a big thing for me at that time – I wanted to lose the accent. It’s only recently with my music that I’ve stopped trying to hide the Polish in me.”

All these problems layered up and by the time it came to my final performance I decided I didn’t want to sing again

She found her new Irish friends were very supportive of her aspirations to become a musician. “It was actually Polish people who didn’t believe in what I was doing. They told me I wouldn’t make it and warned me I’d never be treated the same as Irish musicians. I do know some amazing Polish people but there was a lot of negativity and that bothered me.”

Los Angeles

After completing her Leaving Cert, Gola took a year’s break before embarking on a degree in voice and dance at the University of Limerick. After completing the first two years, she secured a six-month placement studying dance in Los Angeles. “That time totally changed my life – the people, the place, being exposed to another culture. I fell in love with LA and have been making music with people I met there since.”

Returning to Limerick for the final year of her studies was a shock to the system, she admits. She also suffered an injury while dancing which prevented her from completing the dance portion of her degree. Meanwhile, she discovered some of her classmates treated her differently after she returned from the US. She ended up majoring in music but says the final portion of her studies badly affected her confidence.

“All these problems layered up and by the time it came to my final performance I decided I didn’t want to sing again. So I took a full year of not doing music and just waitressed.”

Eventually, after months of waiting tables, Gola changed her mind about music and secured a place on the Masters course in Performance at University College Cork. She moved to Cork city and started training with vocal coach Gemma Sugrue. Watching Sugrue’s techniques led Gola to discover an interest in vocal coaching and she started informally teaching some friends to sing. A few months after graduation she secured an interview at Cork’s Voiceworks studio and was offered a teaching position.

“It gave me so much joy to teach and be part of someone’s singing journey. I wasn’t interested in making people sound the same – I wanted to be part of their artistic journey.”

Confidence

While Gola quickly settled into teaching, she still struggled to build her own music career. “Even after doing a music degree and a masters I had no idea about how to become an artist. No one prepared me for the actual music industry. I kept comparing myself to other artists and saw all these people on social media doing great things. I didn’t have the confidence for it.”

However, she persevered and ended up recording and producing her debut EP in 2018 with Dave Keary, guitarist with Van Morrison’s band.

In January 2020, after nearly four years in Cork, Gola moved to Lahinch in Co Clare to be with her boyfriend and set up her own voice and dance school. Two months later, just weeks after the school opened its doors, the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Gola spent the long months of lockdown working on her debut album with her friend Darragh (son of Dave Keary) while teaching online and in-person when the restrictions briefly lifted.

“With the pandemic all musicians were in the same boat, so no gigs or performances. That time helped me to grow and brought out all the parts of myself I didn’t know about. I started listening to more Polish music and going back to the music I listened to when I was small. I had no stress and no pressure.

Writing sessions

“We did these 12-hour writing sessions and I started embracing this part of me I didn’t know existed. It was the Polish in me.”

Gola released the first single from the collection, Dark Sands, in April with the full album set to come later this year. She says the 14 months have helped her rediscover her Polish identity. “I have Polish roots and an Irish heart and I’m also very influenced by African music and culture. I’ve never felt so strong and confident about my work. I just follow my instinct and that makes me happy.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish

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