About Declan O'Rourke
Irish singer/songwriter Declan O'Rourke combines thoughtful, often poignant lyrics with a folk-driven approach that has brought him great success in his home country. Though born in Dublin, he spent some of his formative years in Australia, which partly served as the inspiration for his double-platinum 2004 debut, Since Kyabram. Over subsequent releases like 2011's Mag Pai Zai and the ambitious 2017 historical set Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine, O'Rourke has cemented his reputation as one of Ireland's premier songwriters, counting greats like the Christy Moore, Paul Weller, and the late John Prine among his many admirers. He released his sixth album, Arrivals, in 2021.
O'Rourke was born in the Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot in 1976. Moving with his family to Australia at the age of 14, he picked up an acoustic guitar from a priest while living in the small town of Kyabram, Victoria, and began writing songs. He spent a few years working in his family's construction business in Melbourne before returning to Dublin in 2000, where he began performing his songs live. Before long, he'd landed gigs opening for Mark Dignam and Gemma Hayes. In 2002, he met Paddy Casey, who was busy working on the follow-up to his multi-platinum debut album, Amen (So Be It). Casey took O'Rourke under his wing and asked him to play guitar in his live band; O'Rourke subsequently played a pivotal role on Casey's hit 2003 album Living.
The following year, O'Rourke inked a deal of his own with the small indie label N4 Records and in October 2004 released his debut album, Since Kyabram. A thoughtful, folk-driven collection featuring string arrangements by Waterboys fiddler Steve Wickham, it entered the Irish charts at number five and spawned the hit single "Galileo." O'Rourke's domestic success was enough to earn him a five-album international distribution deal with V2 Records, while N4 retained his contract in Ireland. Since Kyabram was distributed internationally in March 2006, and "Galileo" was playlisted by BBC Radio 1. Despite being championed by the likes of DJ Jonathan Ross and punk legend Weller, Since Kyabram didn't sell as well as the label had hoped, and his contract was dissolved in early 2007.
O'Rourke spent the summer of 2007 recording his second album. Entitled Big Bad Beautiful World, the record took on a sleeker, more theatrical bent than its predecessor with more prominent rock elements. Upon its September release, it bested Since Kyabram with a number four placement on the Irish Albums chart. Over the next few years, O'Rourke focused on touring and struck up a friendship with John Prine after opening for the songwriting legend for a handful of 2010 shows in the U.S. Released on his own Rimecoat label, 2011's Mag Pai Zai was both a critical and commercial success, and in 2013 it became O'Rourke's first American release.
For his next project, he took on the creative challenge of releasing a new song every month for one year. Initially released through his website under the banner Howlin' Lowly Moons, the 12 singles were eventually collated into the 2015 full-length Gold Bars in the Sun, which featured a duet with Prine called "Let's Make Big Love." O'Rourke followed it in 2016 with In Full Colour, a retrospective of sorts that featured reimaginings of many of his earlier songs backed by Ireland's famed RTE Concert Orchestra.
After reading John O'Connor's The Workhouses of Ireland, O'Rourke set about finding out more about one of Ireland's darkest parts of history, culminating in the writing of Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine. Released in 2017, the album became one of only a handful that openly looked back at the devastating famine between 1845 and 1849. It was also one of O'Rourke's most overtly folk-based records since his debut. This trend continued on 2021's Arrivals, a poignant and relatively sparse set that was produced by Weller. ~ Dave Donnelly