Opera singer Gavan returns to his roots

Gavan and Nicola at home in Cahersiveen
Gavan and Nicola at home in Cahersiveen

Kevin Hughes

SOUTH Kerry is no stranger to emigration so when a native returns there's certainly cause for celebration.

Growing up in Cahersiveen, Gavan Ring played with Renard GAA, rowed with Sive RC and played traditional music with the Egan Brothers in the local hostelries. But opera was his first love and with limited opportunities in the area, Gavan moved to Dublin to chisel out a career.

It's there that he met his future wife Nicola who is from Dundalk. Both had been performing in the National Concert Hall and they later became an item when studying at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Following several years in Dublin they moved to the UK, clinching lead roles in operatic festivals which were critically acclaimed - Gavan was recently described in the London Times as being "blessed with a mahogany baritone".

Last month the couple married at an intimate affair in Carton House and after honeymooning in Dubrovnik, their new married life is now based back in Cahersiveen.

In choosing south Kerry they've bucked the trend of rising emigration, a move that's particularly striking considering how career opportunities are, let's be honest, somewhat limited when it comes to opera.

"This type of career can land you in all parts of the world and you're tossed to and fro all the time and while we never had Cahersiveen set in stone, the opportunity arose and we decided why not," Gavan said.

It's a far cry from Dublin and even further removed from the bright lights of London and cosmopolitan Brighton where they had been based since early 2012.

"Both of us were offered a bit of work in the UK and we felt that moving over would help with our profile building, basically getting our names out there," Gavan explains.

"We first started working at The Glyndebourne Festival Opera in East Sussex in the summer of 2012 and then I was fortunate enough to get a place at the National Opera Studio in London for the following year. Nicola was also contracted again to work with Glyndebourne, so it worked out well.

"We've been lucky to work together on several occasions but you have to work hard at networking and make sure your names are always in the shake up," he adds.

The move back to Ireland is particularly striking considering the diminished funding for the arts but, as Gavan explains, there were plenty of reasons why Cahersiveen suited.

"We figured that, after we got married, we wouldn't need to be in the UK to work there and wanted to come home to family, so Kerry was the ideal choice.

"The travelling between here and the UK is incredibly convenient now and with Farranfore up the road and flying into Luton, for instance, we can fly to wherever we need to go. There are flights and connections at Heathrow, Stansted or Luton to wherever you need, so we're both in negotiations with Glyndebourne next summer and I'm going to Leeds soon to work with Opera North. Our home will remain in Cahersiveen though."

There's plenty to occupy the couple back in Cahersiveen too and they have set up a singing academy at their Carhan Lower base which currently has 15 pupils. All musical styles are catered for - from opera and musical theatre, to jazz and traditional.

Indeed, Gavan and Nicola's first introduction to music was through traditional music and they aren't averse to a late night sing-song on a night out.

While the move home was relatively easy for Gavan, for Nicola - known now as Nicola Mulligan Ring - it's been surprisingly smooth too.

"I'm loving it and I'm kind of used to it as I've been coming here for the last couple of years," she says. "The people here are lovely. For example, when we were starting up our singing teaching here people could not be more positive and every business let us put posters up.

"Naturally, both of us being opera singers, a lot of our activities would involve opera but we do have a life completely outside it; for instance we love movies and love going to the theatre," she adds.

Meanwhile, Gavan and Nicola have organised a masterclass with international conductor Bobby Houlihan at Siamsa Tíre on November 27 and finalists of this year's 'Kerry Musician of the Year' will all be performing. Organised in conjunction with Minister Jimmy Deenihan, the event is sponsored by Dan Tim O'Sullivan and Sons.


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