Why Enya's ready to come out of the shadows
The secretive singer is 50 next week and her manager tells John Meagher that she is set for her first concerts since the '80s
You have to be seriously wealthy to afford an address here, especially if the home that takes your fancy is an eye-catching castle built in 1840. It is here that Enya -- Ireland's highest selling musical export after U2 with 75 million albums shifted to date -- has lived for 14 years.
Originally known as Victoria Castle, Enya renamed it Manderley after the house in the Daphne Du Maurier novel, Rebecca, which was memorably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. That the Manderley in the book burns down at the story's end does not seem to have bothered Enya. She is said to adore the castle and the three acres of manicured gardens she has created there.
Yet, unlike her high-profile neighbours -- Bono and the Edge -- she is practically never seen in the neighbourhood. Stop any of the steady stream of walkers on Victoria Road -- many with dogs in tow -- and they say they have never seen Enya in all the years they've walked by her castle. Nor have they ever seen the grounds. "I've lived in Dalkey for 17 years and I've never set eyes on her," one of them says. "The gate is never, ever open."
The high walls, locked gate and visible CCTV cameras serve a purpose -- Enya has had trouble with stalkers before, not least in 2005 when one of them gained access to her home.
She reportedly had a "safe room" installed in the castle after the incident.
"You'd see Bono and his wife a lot," another says, "but Enya is a bit of a mystery all right. That said, I'm not sure I'd recognise her if I passed her on the street."
The waiter in a café in Dalkey village reckons she's been in a few times. "I think it was Enya. This woman was wearing a tracksuit and walking shoes and had dark hair. She certainly looked liked Enya, didn't say much and paid with cash.
"Oh, and don't mention the name of this place, please. We'd like her to come back."
Enya -- born Eithne Ní Bhraonáin in Gweedore, Donegal -- turns 50 on Tuesday but don't expect her to indulge in photo opportunities. In an age in which most celebrities seem happy to share the minutiae of their lives, the singer guards her privacy to such an extent that she is routinely described as Ireland's best-known recluse.
It's a word that makes her manager, co-writer and producer Nicky Ryan bristle. "Enya is not reclusive," he says. "She is private -- and there's a difference. She doesn't hide herself away, she gets out and about but isn't interested in being in the spotlight. She's always been a very private person."
Her sense of privacy is exacerbated by the fact that she doesn't engage in the usual promotional activities in Ireland. She almost never grants interviews here and her television appearances are few and far between.
Yet, in her biggest markets -- Japan and Korea among them -- she is quite happy to do television appearances and meet journalists. There isn't the same prurient interest in her private life there, Nicky Ryan contends. "I know it's a cliché, but there's so much begrudgery in this country toward anyone who's successful. People are always looking for the negative angle."
Ireland's music scene is incestuous -- everyone knows everyone else. Yet, very few have either met Enya or know anyone who's met her. "The reclusiveness has certainly added to the Enya brand," one of them, who works for a well-known promoter, says. "I've worked in this game for 20 years and could tell you absolutely nothing about her. From what I hear, she lives in her own world and only a handful of people have access to it."
Another industry insider, who has met Enya on a couple of occasions, was struck by her warmth. "She was nothing like what I'd perceived her to be. She was very funny and chatty and talked about parties she held at her home during the Eurovision. She seemed really down to earth -- with no airs and graces at all. I liked her a lot."
"There's nothing aloof about Enya whatsoever," Nicky Ryan adds. "It's a myth."
The Dubliner is pivotal to the Enya success story. As manager of Clannad, it was he who encouraged the then school leaver to join the family group in 1979. And it was he who encouraged her to leave the band and go solo in 1982 and join himself and partner Roma Ryan in a new project.
"It was acrimonious at the time," Nicky says. "Pól Brennan said to Enya 'Stay with Clannad and become a star or go with the Ryans and be a nobody'."
He insists relations between Enya and her family are good, any tensions have been patched up and Enya visits Donegal regularly. Yet, he acknowledges that he and Roma are still likely to be regarded as "black sheep" by some of the Brennans.
As most fans will know, Enya's singular multi-layered sound was devised by Nicky while her lyrics, delivered in numerous languages including the imaginary "Loxian", are written by Roma.
Now, the trio are in the early stages of working on an eighth, as-yet-untitled, album. "Work is going well," Nicky says. "We completely refurbished our studio [at a cost of €2m, he estimates] and it's a much more conducive space to make music. We have lots of light now and proper air conditioning.
"That means there aren't that many arguments -- and yes, when you work with the same people for a long period of time, there are arguments. Both Enya and I are perfectionists even if I have been guilty of over-doing the music on occasion. I take all the blame for that."
Nicky has ambitious plans for this album -- including work with an orchestra and full choir in the fabled Abbey Road studios. "Enya is up for it," he says. "We worked there when making the music for The Lord of the Rings. Our studio just isn't big enough to accommodate a choir and orchestra."
And, in news that's likely to excite her fans, Nicky says the time is finally right to go on tour. There has only been one Enya concert -- and that was in Dublin's National Stadium long before she became an international star with the 1988 album, Watermark.
"We have considered touring before, but we didn't make the time. Working with musicians in Abbey Road is with a view to bringing people on the road. There would be a classical feel to the performances with Enya playing beautiful venues in front of an orchestra. Just think how amazing 'Orinoco Flow' would sound when played live."
One plan that he hopes will come to fruition is an Enya concert in New York's Metropolitan Theatre that will be broadcast live and in high definition to 1,000 cinemas globally. "There will be the possibility of a live album too," he says.
A softly spoken figure, Nicky Ryan is at pains to point out that his reputation for being dictatorial is unfounded. "Of course I will make suggestions and offer advice, but if Enya doesn't like them, they don't happen.
"I am protective of Enya -- that much is true. I suppose it stems from the fact that she believed in Roma and me all those years ago. So when people criticise the music, it can sting me, but it's water off a duck's back for Enya. She is not bothered by what the critics say -- especially those who are nasty for the sake of being nasty."
He talks fondly about Enya -- and discusses the love she feels for her home and garden which she transformed at enormous cost -- but he refuses to discuss her private life. He will not confirm or deny whether she is in a relationship and feels it is nobody's business but hers what restaurants and shops she visits.
"She's just a normal person -- like you or me, and she has normal interests. Take my word for it."