Enya is one of the world’s best-selling musicians, but she’s also an infamously private individual. Indeed, the solo artist has generally kept details of her personal relationships to herself over the years. However, in a rare interview she revealed the truth about the one romantic relationship she’s had that never fizzled out.
Although she’s a virtual recluse who’s never gone a solo tour in her decades-long career, Enya has managed to sell in excess of 75 million records worldwide. So, her ethereal music has certainly found itself a sizeable audience. And in April 2016 it was revealed that she was worth an astonishing $169 million. Remarkably, that meant she was the wealthiest Irish or British female solo recording artist ever.
However, Enya hasn’t used her considerable wealth and status as a popular recording artist to increase her profile as a celebrity. And she isn’t known for partying the nights away or spilling out of nightclubs with a man on her arm. Far from it, in fact. Instead, she’s largely retreated to her giant, personal castle near Dublin, hidden away from the prying eyes of the public.
So, what exactly did the notoriously private Enya let her guard down to reveal? What did she say about the enduring love of her life? Well, we’ll get to the juicy details of all that a little bit later on. Firstly, though, we should take a detailed look at the astonishing life of this most enigmatic of musical artists.
Enya came into the world back in the summer of 1961. Her place of birth was the small settlement of Dore, which lies in County Donegal. Despite it being situated within the historic region of Ulster province, most of which later became part of the U.K. as Northern Ireland, the remote “Forgotten County” of Donegal is in fact part of the Republic of Ireland.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Enya isn’t her real name. No, her birth name was actually Eithne Pádraigín Ni Bhraonain. That translates into English as Enya Patricia Brennan, with the Ni meaning “daughter of Brennan.” The Irish version of her name was such a tongue-twister that the songstress decided it would be easier to adopt the Anglicized version instead and ultimately to drop the surname altogether.
Enya was the middle child of nine for Leo and Máire Brennan. Her parents likely instilled a love of music in Enya from a young age. That’s because it was practically inescapable in her household. Indeed, Enya’s dad led a band that her mother was part of as well. He was also was the proprietor of a bar that regularly showcased groups, while her mom was a music teacher at a local school.
In 1989 Enya revealed to Tracks magazine in the U.K. that her childhood had been quite idyllic. “My upbringing was very quiet and happy,” she said. “I went to a national convent school where I boarded and developed a love for music, Latin and art. I wanted to be a music teacher, or at least study the subject further.”
Her love for music and musical talent was actually displayed long before her time at the convent school. Indeed, Enya competed in a singing contest at a music festival at an incredibly tender age. “I was only three when I sang at my first Feis Ceol competition,” she told Irish Roots magazine in 2010. Enya began learning piano just a year later and continued to perfect her skills on the instrument prior to her attendance at the Loreto boarding school, which was staffed by nuns.
Being separated from her family so early in life wasn’t easy for Enya, but she at least acquired a love of classical music while at Loreto. Her time at the school came to an end at the age of 17, and Enya then went off to take a music course, although she dropped out after just a year. And she wasn’t the only one of Brennan’s nine children to have musical talent and aspirations.
No, in fact several of her siblings had already started a band in 1970. The group – which would eventually be named Clannad – included Enya’s uncles Padraig and Noel and her eldest sister Máire, plus brothers Ciaran and Paul. It was a family affair, then, and fittingly the band name was chosen to reflect that, with Clannad meaning “family.”
Clannad would go on to achieve a considerable level of success by the mid-1970s, graduating from the folk circuit to successful tours across Europe and America. Their sound was largely centered around traditional Irish music mixed with elements of pop. In 1980, as their popularity continued to grow, they would admit a new member to their ranks.
That new member would, of course, be the band members’ sister/niece: Enya. She was just 19 years old at the time and added her vocal and keyboard talents to the group’s evolving style. Enya would play concerts across Europe with the band and recorded the albums Crann Úll and Fuaim with them. But just two years later, in 1982 she decided to quit.
Enya, you see, had decided to go it alone. Well, not quite. In actual fact, she teamed up with Clannad’s manager and producer Nicky Ryan. He felt she’d been undervalued in Clannad and began work on a new project with Enya and his partner Roma. “Music was never far from my mind. But contrary to popular belief, my ambitions were in no way connected to those of my family, as I knew I wanted to have my own career and make my own mark. But I just had no idea how to make that happen,” she later told Irish Roots magazine.
The three of them had previously discussed transforming Enya’s voice into a “choir of one.” The idea was to use studio trickery to create a sound not unlike that achieved by the famous producer Phil Spector in the 1960s. After leaving Clannad – in acrimonious circumstances – Enya moved in with the Ryans. It was the beginning of a rich creative enterprise between the three of them. Nicky acted as producer, Roma as lyricist and Enya the enchanting voice and musical talent.
The first real fruit of the trio’s labor was music that would be used for the soundtrack for The Frog Prince motion picture in 1985. The first release under her new phonetically spelled name Enya, it created a buzz in the right circles. And before long, a movie producer named Tony McAuley got in touch. He wanted her to write music for an upcoming BBC show called The Celts. After just under a week in a studio, Enya and Nicky emerged with a piece of music they called “The March of the Celts.”
This music would bear hallmarks of her later signature work, such as multi-tracked vocals and an ethereal, otherworldly sound that incorporated elements of Celtic music. “We just went to town and decided to do what we liked,” Enya revealed in a 1989 Geffen Records press release. “Nicky said, ‘Let’s do multi-vocals, let’s try this’ and we just tried everything we wanted and sent it off. There was silence for a few days and the next thing we heard they all loved it.”
The music – which came out on Atlantic Records’ “New Age” label – became a minor hit on the back of the series. It also earned Enya a favorable deal with Warner Music/Geffen that allowed her complete artistic independence. But the success of her debut would be a mere drop in the ocean compared to what was to come. Yes, Enya’s next album – which she started recording in the summer of 1987 and finished almost a year later – would be her major artistic and commercial breakthrough.
That album was, of course, the multi-platinum selling Watermark. Released in 1988, it featured the unlikely worldwide hit “Orinoco Flow” that, ahem, sailed away to the top of the U.K., Belgian, Dutch, Swiss and Irish charts. Enya – who traveled the world to promote the album – became a major global star on the back of its success, even if this attention would prove to be unwelcome in many ways.
Nonetheless, Enya, Nicky and Roma soon set to work on producing a follow-up to the hugely successful Watermark. That painstaking process over the course of several years would eventually result in the release of Shepherd Moons late 1991. Commercially, it even surpassed its predecessor and landed Enya the 1993 Grammy for Best New Age Album – a label she has nonetheless rejected throughout her career.
Plans for a first tour fell through, but 1992 saw her eponymous debut reissued under the title The Celts, to considerably bigger sales than previously. Enya, Nicky and Roma continued with their particular way of working into the mid-1990s, a period in which a Christmas EP and the fourth studio album The Memory of Trees hit the shelves. So, by 1997 Enya was rich and successful enough to purchase that private castle. Interestingly, Michael Flatley, aka The Lord of the Dance, also bid at the auction to claim the keys to Ayesha Castle.
But Enya’s move into what is effectively a personal fortress in 1997 wasn’t merely an indulgent act of a multi-millionaire. No, in fact it was at least partly motivated by the singer’s increasing problems with overzealous fans and – more scarily – outright stalkers. Indeed, an incident in 1996 saw an Italian man – who’d been following her around for over 12 months – make his way to her father’s bar with a photograph of Enya on his chest, only to stab himself when he was ejected from the premises.
This incident understandably made Enya even more reclusive than before. And as we’ve established, she was hardly renowned as a party animal anyway, preferring to spend her time hidden away from the public with her trusted collaborators Nicky and Roma, as well as her pets. Cats, to be precise. At one point in time Enya reportedly owned more than ten.
The year she moved into the castle, a greatest hits collection came out, which included a couple of new recordings. It took another three years for her fifth studio album to see the light of day, however, with A Day Without Rain arriving near the end of 2000. Despite its long gestation, it was nonetheless largely panned by critics. Entertainment Weekly was particularly savage, with its reviewer stating that “unless you’re bound in an herbal body wrap, there’s simply no acceptable reason to listen to this New Age nonsense.”
Despite critical indifference or outright hostility, A Day Without Rain still sold well, reaching the top 20 on the Billboard 200. And in the fall of 2001, its somber lead single “Only Time” was utilized by TV and radio stations in America in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities. As a result, it rose to number two on the charts.
Enya also achieved considerable success in 2001 with the single “May It Be,” which featured in the first of the acclaimedLord of the Rings trilogy of films directed by Peter Jackson. In retrospect, the link-up made perfect sense, with Enya’s otherworldly music practically tailor-made for epic fantasy films. Furthermore, the singer had proved her J.R.R. Tolkien devotion before, with her lyrics having occasionally been in the Tolkien-created languages Quenya and Sindarin, as well as a number of others including Irish, English, Latin and her own made-up dialect Loxian.
The song earned Enya an Oscar nomination, and surprisingly she sang live at the ceremony in 2002. Despite her traditional reticence to appear on stage, though, she’s since admitted that the Academy Awards performance was a wonderful moment for her. And in the years following that Oscars appearance, Enya has released music in much the same way she always has: at her own pace.
In 2005 Enya released her sixth studio record Amarantine. However, in the fall of that year she would suffer another terrifying ordeal. A stalker managed to make his way into her castle and assaulted a member of Enya’s staff before going off to search for the singer. Thankfully, she was able to lock herself in a panic room in the castle and set off an alarm, although the invader escaped.
Mercifully, the singer hasn’t had to endure any unwanted invasions of her home since. Moreover, she soon returned to making music. In 2008 her seventh studio album And Winter Came was released, and in 2015 LP number eight arrived, namely Dark Sky Island. The seven-year gap between her most recent two records is the longest in her career to date. But Enya wasn’t working constantly, though. In fact, she took time out to enjoy her new home in France and travel.
Then, when she was promoting her eighth studio LP, Enya suddenly became more open with the media. She spoke to the press on a number of occasions, and fans were able to learn a little more about their mysterious Irish idol. And in a 2015 interview with The Belfast Telegraph, she even gave some titillating details about her romantic life.
When the interviewer pointed out that Enya had conveyed more overt emotion on Dark Sky Island than she ever had previously on her records – highlighting the track “Even in the Shadows” as an example – Enya replied, “Ah that song is me exposing myself. It’s a heartbreak song. I’ve never done a heartbreak song before.” Then, Enya even answered a question many of her fans were dying to know: did she have a partner or was she happily unattached?
“I am single, yes,” she admitted to the The Belfast Telegraph. “But as the song suggests, there have been… relationships. It’s quite hard to have someone accept that – well, not that they are second to the music, but that I do need a certain amount of space for it.”
The primacy of her music in her life was so important to Enya that it had caused problems in the personal relationships she had had. “Even though the person will understand that at the beginning, there is something like jealousy towards the music after a while,” she declared. “It’s difficult.”
A year later, in 2016 The Sun, a prominent U.K. newspaper, ran an online article on Enya. Headlined “A castle full of cats, fear of love, stalkers, songs sung in Tolkien… strange life of reclusive £91m Enya,” it explored the Irish songstress’ withdrawn and serious nature. The article also brought to light again some old quotes Enya had made about the love that had seemingly been lost.
The quotes, which appear to be from 1992, give a real insight into the mind of the mysterious singer. Firstly, she addressed how her life making music interfered with any potential relationships. “After a bad day in the studio, I’m dark and difficult to be with. I want and need to be on my own,” she admitted. “I ask you, what sort of man would be able to adapt to someone like me? Relationships have always clashed with my lifestyle.”
Enya then went on to state how solitude was bliss for her. “It suits me to live alone, because I’m not someone who can break off from writing a song, go away for a weekend, then come back,” she stated. “When I’m working, I have no sense of humor. I’m serious, a worrier.”
Next, Enya made a startling confession, one that would surely surprise most people. “Falling madly in love and getting married would be the most horrific thing that could happen [to me],” she declared, before name-checking the one amorous relationship that has never let her down or fizzled out.
“My first love and my present love is music,” she avowed, somewhat dramatically. “My affairs are with melody and words and beautiful sounds.” Nevertheless, Enya didn’t completely rule out finding love of a more traditional kind, with a suitable male. “If finding Mr. Right happens, then it happens; if it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen. No problem,” she concluded.
Thankfully, though, Enya isn’t always alone with just her music to keep her company. No, her sister Moya of Clannad fame told Ireland’s The Herald in February 2019 that she has often has plenty of company. “She’s grand – busy doing stuff. She is always recording,” Moya explained. “She’s one of the sisters. I have four and am the eldest of nine [siblings]. Any family get together is always an excuse – a birthday, christening, a wedding – we are always together.”
Then, of course, there’s always Nicky and Roma, Enya’s loyal comrades who’ve been working and living with her for a large part of all of their lives. Enya, it seems, has always been most content spending time with them, her cats and creating the elaborate music she’s become known for. It might be odd to some people, but if it makes her happy, then who are they to judge? It’s just the way she is, rather than an attempt to cultivate a mysterious persona. “I have never attempted to create an enigma,” she told The Belfast Telegraph. “I have just always been a very independent person.”