Irish Examiner - May 20 2021

B-Side The Leeside: Schull musician Fergus O'Farrell passed away in 2016, but the album recorded as a session for Other Voices stands as a fine reminder of what a talent he was

The story of Fergus O’Farrell is one of tragedy, triumph and of a relatively short life lived to maximum potential. It is also one of incredible music – of haunting, storm-wracked songs that arrived like a gale gusting in from the sea.

To those in on the secret, Schull-born O’Farrell was among the most important Irish artists of his generation. Regarded by fans as one of the greatest ever songwriters to come out of Cork, O’Farrell and his group, Interference, never entirely received the recognition they deserved. Yet their following has, if anything, grown more devoted since the passing in February 2016 of the singer, who had lived nearly all his life with muscular dystrophy.

As sort of Irish Jeff Buckley, O’Farrell sang from the depths of his soul. His ballads brimmed with emotion and melancholy. And sometimes anger. And, incredibly, for much his career they were performed from a wheel-chair by a vocalist whose lungs were operating at one third of regular capacity. Health issues did little to detain O’Farrell up to his passing at age 48 in his native West Cork.

He was worshiped by a young Glen Hansard and by Mic Christopher, another protean Irish talent taken before his time. And in the years immediately prior to his death, he received some overdue acknowledgement when Interference’s elemental dirge Gold was featured, at Hansard’s insistence, on the soundtrack to John Carney’s Once and in its Broadway spin-off.

It was just one of several audacious comebacks by O’Farrell. In 2002, he had put Interference back together and blown off the shutters at Other Voices in Dingle, which, in its very first season, dedicated an entire evening to the band. The following year, that concert was released as an album, Interference Live In Dingle. It capture O’Farrell at his very peak and is fitting testament to one of Cork’s outstanding troubadours. Here is the story of the record – of how it came to be and of its legacy.


O’Farrell was born in Schull in 1967. His family were comfortably off, father Vincent a businessman who owned the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen. At age seven, Fergus was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy: his parents were told he would be lucky to make it to his twenties. A fighter from the start, O’Farrell refused to let his health get in the way of his ambitions.

“He didn’t really want to talk about it -– he didn’t want to be, as he would say, the cripple in the wheelchair. He wanted to be the singer on the stage.” recalls Paul Tiernan, the guitarist who played with Interference in the early 2000s and is part of the ensemble on Live in Dingle.

“It was amazing – people would forget about the wheelchair. The only time we’d remember was when there were issues with him getting on stage. And then we’d have to lift the fecker up. But he was very stoic about it.”

O’Farrell attended Clongowes Wood in Co Kildare. Clongowes is a rugby and cricket school but owing to his muscular dystrophy, Fergus received a dispensation. He found a soulmate in James O’Leary, with whom he would form Interference.

“Obviously with his disability he didn’t play rugby,” says O’Leary, who recalls that the fledgling ensemble’s first percussionist was a Casio keyboard drum machine. “I didn’t play rugby because I was myopic. And when you’re not playing rugby, there’s not much else to do. We were both mad into music and started to play together. That’s where the band came from.” Those who encountered him at Clongowes remember his magnetism – and determination.

“Although tiny in stature he was a giant inside and a powerhouse of talent bursting to transcend his physical disabilities and soar with the eagles,” is how Farrell is described by Clongowes head of communication Declan O’Keeffe in a tribute posted on the school’s website following the singer’s death.

“As soon as he got up on stage, O’Farrell knew music was his destiny,” agrees O’Leary, today a successful architect in Dublin. “Fergus was very very driven. And he was a star.”


The rest of the Cork contingent in Interference featured Kevin Murphy from Monkstown on bass and cello, and Cal McCarthy from Rochestown on drums.

Based at the old Winstanley shoe factory in Dublin, Interference were soon creating buzz around Dublin. O’Farrell was also blossoming as a songwriter, often penning lyrics in collaboration with another Clongowes graduate, poet Malcolm MacClancy. They were like nothing else in the city remembers Michael McCormack, the filmmaker whose long-awaited documentary about the band, Breaking Out, has had its release put back due to the lockdown last year. “They had a swagger about them,” says McCormack. “They didn’t care whether you liked them or not. This was the noise they were going to make. I was about 14. I started going to see them all the time.”

O’Farrell was still playing standing up in those early days, but his health soon forced him to perform from a wheelchair. This didn’t prevent Interference becoming fixtures at Whelans’ on Wexford Street.

“Things never went right for them,” says McCormack. “For so many reasons, they didn’t get the breaks. But you’d be at the gigs and you’d look around and see the likes of Glen Hansard, Mic Christopher – all these people who would go on to start bands."


Interference released a self-title album in 1995. Arriving at the high-point of Britpop, it failed to set the world alight. O’Farrell, whose health was worsening, went home to Schull.

But Interference were in little danger of being forgotten. For years afterwards fans of the band held onto their memories and their passion. And when O’Farrell was persuaded to put together a new line-up for a reunion show in a pub in Schull in 2002, devotees from across the country made sure to be there.

News of the gig reached Glen Hansard. He was preparing to host the first season of Other Voices, filmed at St James’s Church in Dingle. With Interference a functioning entity once again, Hansard campaigned for the group to be included.

“It was so exciting to have Interference, who are a West Cork band, come over the county bounds and to be allowed do their thing in West Kerry,” says Philip King, who conceived of and produced Other Voices. “Fergus O’Farrell was a hugely significant figure – he was a creator, he was a maker of new songs, he sang with an individual voice that was totally identifiable as him.”

“It was such a buzz,” says Paul Tiernan, who had by then joined the group and helped O’Farrell re-arrange the material for the quasi-acoustic setting at St James’s. “It was the first Other Voices. And the first time really that a serious music show was filmed outside the walls of RTÉ or even outside Dublin. It was in a church in Dingle and that itself was a novelty."

The complicating factor was the presence of TV cameras – a new experience for all involved. “Fergus was the right side of nervous,” says Tiernan. “Having an audience meant you were much less conscious of the camera and all the paraphernalia. It felt very much like a gig. Fergus used to drink Jack Daniels and Coke, to get in the right mood for a show. He couldn’t get any Jack Daniels and had vodka and Coke instead. He said, ‘it’s done something to my voice – my voice is not working’. This was five minutes before we were on. We just said, ‘Fergus you’ll be grand’."

Of course, he was much more than grand.


Buoyed by the success of Other Voices and of the Live in Dingle album, O’Farrell continued to write and record, as well as playing occasional views. In 2007 his music would be introduced to an international audience when Gold featured on the film Once.

Interference lived on, too, with Glen Hansard taking over as frontman for a series of reunion gigs in tribute to his late friend and comrade-in-arms.

Many who encountered the band express the regret that they never reached the deserved heights during O'Farrell's lifetime. However, the Live In Dingle album remains a fitting testament to their talents

Digging for Gold: Four Essential Interference Cuts

Gold: “And I love her so….I wouldn’t trade her for gold,” sings O’Farrell on what has become Interference’s best known song. It’s a hurricane of a ballad, in which powerful emotions are juxtaposed with lyrics that cast a poetic spell.

Breaking Out: A song from the band's early days that made it all the way to the Live In Dingle album. Powerful stuff that's still begging to become a huge hit in the right hands.

American Townland: One of his collaborations with poet, Malcolm MacClancy this is a slice of Americana filtered through a prism of West Cork melancholy.

I Was Looking For Someone: Another heart-achingly gorgeous love song from O'Farrell.

Ed Power


Irish Film Review: Breaking Out - July 15 2021

Seán Crosson reviews Michael McCormack’s IFTA-winning film Breaking Out, an intimate journey into the heart and soul of musician Fergus O’Farrell.

Occasionally you encounter a work that can reignite your appreciation of film and sometimes of life itself. Breaking Out is such a film. Received with several standing ovations at its World Premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh in July 2019, the production eventually won the Best Irish Documentary award in Galway, followed by its more recent George Morrison Feature Documentary Award at the 2021 IFTAs.

I regret I recall precious little of the life and music of the film’s subject, Fergus O’Farrell. A seminal figure on the Irish music scene in the 1980s, he was the quintessential ‘musician’s musician’ influencing (with his band Interference) many major musical acts to follow including the Hot House Flowers and the Frames. With his extraordinary vocal and song-writing skills, O’Farrell was a singular voice. However, for many people, his work was first encountered via one of the most memorable songs included in John Carney’s Once (2006), “Gold”, which features in the house party scene about half way through the film. The song is also a centrepiece of the theatrical musical adapted from the film and was performed at the Tony Awards when the musical won eleven awards.

O’Farrell’s achievements were all the more impressive as he struggled throughout his life with the effects of muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that gradually reduced his ability to perform. Despite an early prognosis at the age of eight that he would not live to see twenty, O’Farrell lived to see his 48th year before sadly passing away in February 2016. Fortunately for us, director Michael McCormack had discovered him during his initial Interference days in the early 1980s and followed his progress as a musician, allowing McCormack to bring together an impressive array of material chronicling O’Farrell’s life, talent and life-affirming struggle with the disease that he grappled with.

While the film offers a deeply moving account of its subject, O’Farrell’s love of life itself and the phenomenal efforts he made to continue to record and perform as his body declined cannot but inspire. A particularly poignant aspect of his condition was that it is the lungs in particular that are most effected (he describes himself at one point as functioning with less than half of one lung by the end), leaving O’Farrell struggling for every breath he took as he sung. However, there is no self-pity here – not that his formidable but always loving wife Meng Li would ever allow it. She is described perfectly by O’Farrell as “like a controlled nuclear explosion” and their love story, from first meeting while he was hospitalised for pneumonia in Cyprus where Li worked as a nurse (brilliantly recounted in an animated sequence), to the care she provides him as he battles his body’s degeneration is just one of the many inspiring, moving, and revelatory aspects of the film as a whole.

There are many moments one could pick from this extraordinary film to highlight; for myself, the sequence of Glen Hansard breathing into a tube to provide O’Farrell with breath between lines of a song – as he recorded his final album “The Sweet Spot” with musical collaborators down the years in his home in Schull, Co. Cork, – are among the most moving shots I have encountered in recent cinema. This film will stay with you for many weeks, months and perhaps years after watching; it could even change your life, if you allow yourself to take inspiration from an individual who appreciated the preciousness of every breath you take.

Seán Crosson


RTÉ Documentary on One - February 2012

A Talent for Life - The Fergus O'Farrell Story

Cork man Fergus O'Farrell had a talent for life. That was until his untimely death in February 2016. Gifted with a special voice and a rare touch for writing melody, he was one of Ireland's unsung heroes of music. He also suffered with muscular dystrophy - a debilitating condition that slowly saps a person's strength, by breaking down their muscle tissue.

More than 20 years ago, Fergus and his band Interference released a self-titled album, to much critical acclaim. However, the deserved commercial success didn't follow. And even though their live performances garnered them a legendary status amongst musicians and fans alike, the Interference line-up fragmented, reforming only an ad hoc basis.

But none of this cooled Fergus' ardour; not even fighting a disease, relentless in its pursuit to rob him of his dream. First, it took his ability to hold a guitar; then it stole his capacity to raise his hands to a piano. Along the way, it confined him to a wheelchair. But somehow, he continued; composing, collaborating (with the best in the business), and most importantly - singing.

Maybe it was to do with his belief from a young age that he was destined to pursue music which kept him going. His sheer doggedness drove him to adapt and re-learn how to use his unique voice, through each stage of his muscular dystrophy. Whatever it was, Fergus refused to be overwhelmed.

Even when it looked like he had reached the end of the road, as another bout of pneumonia took a grip and hospitalized him, Fergus rallied to defy the odds. You could say that conviction carries a man a long way when it comes to fulfilling his fate. Fergus credited his endurance to a very tight-knit family based around him in Schull, West Cork and of course, his Chinese wife, Li.

From performing at festivals in eastern Europe to sharing the stage with Glen Hansard in Radio City, Fergus kept on keeping on. This very spirit drew others to work with him - inspired by his ethos and skill.

You could say there was a touch of poetic justice about how his song Gold, as sung by him in person in the Oscar-winning movie Once, nudged him into view and earshot for a whole new audience before his untimely passing in 2016 .

Produced and narrated by David Young.
Production supervision by Sarah Blake.
Sound supervision by Mark Dwyer.

First Broadcast on 23rd Feb 2012.

The album 'Interference' is now reissued and is available. Also for sale is the 'Live in St. James Church, Dingle' CD (from the 'Other voices' television show). - Interference gig

Interference play a special one-off gig at Vicar Street on June the 6th.

Recently featured on the RTE series and album Other Voices – Songs From a Room, Interference have been vastly influential on the development of many Irish bands. The reason for their legendary reputation and yet their low profile lies with the singer, Fergus O' Farrell who has muscular dystrophy, a progressive wasting disease, so he can't physically deal with the rigours of touring.

Their live gigs of the past and eponymous album have had a huge impact on the Irish music scene. Instead of touring, Fergus has collaborated and recorded with the likes of Liam O' Maonlaí , Glen Hansard, Nina Hynes, Kieran Kennedy, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Steve Wall. After not having gigged for seven years, the band played in September 2002 in O'Farrell's hometown of Schull and the appearance on Other Voices came out of that.

Fergus wants to do as much as possible in the decade he calculates he has left, so expect to hear a lot more Interference soon. Special guests on the night will be Gavin Friday, Mannix Flynn, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Liam O'Maonlaí and Iarla O' Lionáird. Doors are at 7.30pm and tickets are €17.50, available through Ticketamster outlets.


Hot Press single review - March 26 2007

Featuring multiple mixes each of three songs, All Your Life/Sweet Love is an absolute gem of an EP by arch Irish musicians David Bickley of Hyper[borea] and Fergus O’Farrell of Interference. These stunning tracks – put together in O’Farrell’s studio on the remote West Cork coast – blend O’Farrell’s beautiful folk vocals into some seriously spacey electronica/funky dance beats. Individually, Bickley and O’Farrell are geniuses in their own right; what they’ve created together brings their gifts to a whole new plane.

Adrienne Murphy


Bickley O' Farrell - All Your Life Sweet Love

Psychonavigation Records

"The 1st new studio recording from the Legendary Fergus O'Farrell (Interference) for 12 years! Mini LP with remixes and new tracks by - Chris Coco, Sacha Puttnam, Digitonal and Electric Penguins. This is a unique musical collaboration between two very distinct Irish artists. The songs are is some ways straight forward pop yet infused with strong, feature-film like atmospheres wrapped around highly narrative lyrics. This is the first release from the full LP which is due out later this year and features some innovative re-workings and original tracks from some of the foremost exponents of modern music. Produced by Dare Mason (Dare Mason (producer-engineer) runs The VIP Lounge, West Cornwall's premier studio. He previously worked in London, in particular at the Townhouse studios. He has worked with the likes of Prince, Paul McCartney, Boy George, Tina Turner, Ravi Shankar, Soul II Soul and many others.) Fergus O'Farrell - Interference- We used to go up to the attic where they played and just watch in awe, we were always learning from them. - Glen Hansard (The Frames) David Bickley - Comes highly commended for daring to interrogate and invigorate wildly divergent stylings in the multi-cultural light of a new century HOT PRESS Everything you need for those blissed out moments of slow-burning satisfaction."