‘I love singing with De Dannan!’

A rising star – Bernadine Casserly follows in illustrious footsteps

Bernadine Casserly is a woman on the way up in the Irish music world. The young Frenchpark native is a former ‘Roscommon’s Got Talent’ winner and is well-known as a wedding singer all over the West of Ireland. However, her career has moved up several notches since Christmas of 2014 after she got a call to join the world-renowned Irish band De Dannan as their lead vocalist.
Bernadine’s predecessors as lead vocalist with De Dannan include Dolores Keane, Mary Black, Maura O’Connell and Eleanor Shanley. Now she is gigging with De Dannan around the country and internationally. She still sings at weddings and continues to work at the local crèche in Frenchpark. Bernadine is an incredibly busy woman but she made time recently to chat to Seamus Duke…

Bernadine Casserly (28) is very relaxed and laid-back and a brilliant interviewee – a young woman who is friendly and outgoing and extremely grounded.

When I met her at her home in Frenchpark last weekend she explained how she comes from a musical household – although she didn’t start singing until she was well into her teenage years.

“I was never a singer at all growing up. I played the fiddle for years and years. My grandfather taught me my first few pieces on the fiddle. I was about eight or nine when I started.”

Lessons followed, and they in turn were followed by Bernadine attending the odd music session. She didn’t take part however, preferring to play her music at home. A “little band” was formed in the Casserly household!

“I played the fiddle and tin whistle and my sister Denise did the singing. I never sang, but everyone in the family played music so that was where the interest in music came from.”

In fact Bernadine, who has a truly magical voice, never really started singing until she was about 16. “I was in school in St Nathy’s in Ballaghaderreen. We had a Carol Service every year. One day I went into school with no homework done and I was in trouble! There was solo practice going on so instead of getting into more trouble I went to the solo practice. I ended up singing solo with the choir – and that’s where it started. So it was by accident really!”

Bernadine began to take singing seriously when she was told that she had a talent for it.

“I was singing in choirs and in the Church and then I started doing vocal training down in Sligo.” After a couple of years Bernadine was now working in Frenchpark, but her singing talent came to the fore again when she won a major talent show which was held in Roscommon town eight years ago.

‘Roscommon’s Got Talent’ was run over a number of weeks and generated huge interest locally. “It was a huge thing. For eleven weeks I never left this house except to go and compete. I used to come home from work at lunchtime and practice. It was practice, practice, practice. It was a huge learning experience for me because it got me used to performing in front of people. That was the first time that I got up on stage and started performing on a formal basis.”

Having completing her education, Bernadine began working with Frenchpark & District Childcare, where she still works. “The music kind of took a back seat but gradually I went back to it.” This talented singer was never going to go without performing too long and soon her voice was in demand at weddings. “People started contacting me to sing at weddings. It was word of mouth mostly. I never really promoted myself or anything like that. A friend of my sister was getting married and she asked me to sing – and it took off from there.”

Bernadine explains that there is a protocol involved in singing at a wedding. “I have a set-list of songs so I guide the couples who come to me. There is certain criteria that you have to follow for Church music but if the couple want certain pieces I will learn them for the day. I am doing a lot of weddings now, mostly around the West of Ireland.”

So, with Bernadine singing away at weddings and making a name for herself, a huge new break arrived prior to Christmas 2014. “In December I got a text from Frankie Gavin. My sister works in the Galway Clinic and Frankie had told a friend of hers that their singer in De Dannan was leaving the band. She showed Frankie a video of me on YouTube and he contacted me as a result.”

Bernadine met up with Frankie and by January she was playing her first gig for De Dannan, down in Clare.

“It was a real nervous time because I had two days to learn a load of new songs. The band is so well-known that you have to make sure you don’t mess up the words because at their gigs everyone in the audience knows them!

“It’s busy enough but not crazy with De Dannan and that suits me because I am working here in Frenchpark and I have the weddings too.

“We are doing three or four gigs a month with De Dannan at the moment and I have to say I love it. We were over in France recently in Lille and played at a festival – that went well. The line-up now is Frankie Gavin, Colm O’Cuiv from Kilkenny on guitar and Dan Bodwell on bass and Barry Brady, who is a Roscommon man. He plays the box.

“Actually we are opening the Boyle Arts Festival on the 24th of July and we are really looking forward to that. It can be very busy. For instance, recently I was singing at a wedding in Leitrim and I had to be in Kerry that night for a gig, so that’s what can happen.” Bernadine loves all sorts of music.

“I love listening to classical music to be honest and I love singing classical stuff too. I would have trained in that style. And of course I love traditional music. It’s what I was reared on and I am back playing the fiddle now again too!”

So what does the future hold for Bernadine? “I’m gaining experience all the time. I would love to do something on my own in time, with a band. Singing with De Dannan is a level up from anything I did before and I have a few ideas about what I should do. I am happy enough at the moment but I need to settle on what direction I want to go. I like the De Dannan style of music. I love being with De Dannan at the moment. They are very good to me and I get on great with them.”

Bernadine is doing a lot of travelling all around the country but she still lives at home with her parents Brian and Mary. She has two brothers and two sisters. “I have been working with Frenchpark & District Childcare for eight years. They have been brilliant to me…and very understanding with regard to time off for weddings and gigs. Only for them I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing at the moment. We will see what the future brings. But it’s going well at the moment” she concluded.

A cup of tea and two beautiful scones made by Bernadine’s mother, Mary, finished the evening off in Frenchpark.

I left the company of Bernadine Casserly with a clear sense that there is only one direction in which she is heading – and that’s upwards. It was a pleasure to meet her.

Note: Bernadine has released a single, ‘Calico Sky’, which is a reworking of an old Simon and Garfunkel song. Bernadine’s single is receiving a lot of airplay on radio stations around the country. She intends to release another single over the next few weeks.