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Thesis 1

Thesis Title: How Can I Keep From Singing?: Enya and the Female Myth of Ireland
Degree Type: MA
Degree Specialism: Ethnomusicology
Supervisor(s): Aileen Dillane
Thesis Status: Accepted
Date Submitted / Accepted: June 2003
Institution Submitting / Submitted To: University of Limerick
No. of Volumes (no. of pages): One
Thesis Location / Link: University of Limerick
Persons / Composers: Enya
Genres / Musical Instruments: Irish Popular Music
Related Places: Ireland
Time Frame: 1991
Key Issues / Concepts: Ethnomusicology, Irish Popular Music, Semiotics, Irish Studies, Celticism, Gender Studies
Abstract: In the following work I shall trace one particular strand of cultural narrative: the personification of Enya as a modern archetype of ‘female’ Ireland. Within twenty years, Enya has become irrevocably intertwined into the grand narratives of popular culture that make up the last decades of the twentieth century. Her music has many cultural significations; Celticism, romance, fantasy, spirituality and femininity.

The common denominator in Enya’s translucent embodiment of this myth is her seemingly unconscious femininity and her self-distanciation from the media and her followers. The unwillingness of Eithne Ní Bhraonáin and her co-creators Nicky and Roma Ryan to discuss their work in turn assists the reading of Enya as a text rather than as an object of ethnographic enquiry. Thus, I shall deploy the semiotic models of Roland Barthes, in dialogue with other academic discourses such as Jean-Jacques Nattiez and Thomas Turino, to examine Enya’s engagement with the signification of female Ireland. I shall discuss the cultural narratives (through their relative authorities) that make up this myth, i.e. Celticism (Malcolm Chapman) and feminist musicology (Susan McClary).

The thesis is divided into interlocking chapters, which are chiefly built upon an examination of the song How Can I Keep From Singing. Through the introduction I shall lay the background for my current work, whereas the following chapter shall include individual discussions of Enya and the cultural narratives that connect music and women in Ireland. I shall discuss the beginning of the narrative of Ireland’s femininity through Celticism and the works of the Celtic Twilight in Ireland, especially in the work of Thomas Moore that in turn helped form this submissive, seductive illusion of Ireland.

Chapter two analyses the significations contained in the music of How Can I Keep From Singing, while chapter three looks at how the music signifiers interrelate with the significations in the lyrics. Chapter four shall culminate the semiotic performance by analysing the visual imagery in the accompanying music video. Throughout this work I will draw into perspective how Enya consciously interacts with this narrative and how her music perpetuates and reinvigorates the myth of Ireland and Irish womanhood for Western popular culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

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