Saundra O’Sullivan never expected to fall in love at an annual traditional Irish music retreat in Midlothian, Texas.
A long-distance relationship led to a Texas wedding and a move to Ireland. Now the former Houston nurse returns to Texas with Tommy O’Sullivan, her charming Irish tenor husband to launch their debut duet album, Safe Home, at the North Texas Irish Festival from March 2-4 at Fair Park in Dallas.
It was her cousin’s idea to attend the Midlothian retreat. He wanted to learn how to play the flute and not knowing much about the Irish music scene, she tagged along for fun.
Tommy O’Sullivan frequently toured with Irish piper Paddy Keenan and as a member of Sliabh Notes, he has recorded three albums. He has recorded two solo albums, Song Ablaze and The Long Grazing Acre. At the retreat, he was a guitar and vocal instructor. Sparks flew when she bought his CD after his concert.
“I had seen Saundra and I certainly wanted to meet her. When we were introduced, I certainly didn’t complain,” Tommy O’Sullivan said.
The romance blossomed, and she began making frequent trips to Ireland. Her father was concerned about this Irishman stealing his daughter’s heart. During Hurricane Ike, while she was on duty, her musician beau visited and ended up striking a chord with her father.
“He got to know him on his own terms,” Saundra O’Sullivan said.
Her nursing schedule allowed her to go to Ireland, but upon returning to Texas, she discovered her heart was still in Ireland.
“I was on the plane home. I had been getting teared up getting ready to leave and I thought, ‘What am I doing? I am only happy when I’m with Tommy in Ireland,’” she said.
Tommy and Saundra O’Sullivan married in March 2010 in Houston and they moved to Dingle, Ireland shortly after the wedding.
In 2011, the couple took on a new challenge, opening O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub in Dingle. Housed in an over 300 year old building with beams and a cozy atmosphere, the pub is on The Mall next to Dingle’s court house. There is no television, juke box or pool tables, but there is live traditional Irish music every evening. Occasionally, they offer Texas barbecue in the pub’s beer garden.
“We wondered if there’s great drinks and traditional Irish music, would people come? And they did,” he said.
They wanted it to be a place where people connect and enjoy each other’s company without modern distractions.
“It’s all about conversation and music,” she said.
In 2015, National Geographic cited the pub as the go-to pub for traditional Irish music on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
For a couple of years, Saundra O’Sullivan kept a little secret from her husband: she can sing. From second grade through college, she sang alto in choir. Her choral and folk music background impressed her husband when he first heard her sing.
“I thought it was great. Surprised. Her harmony was spot-on. My voice is quite high. I would be considered a tenor. Her harmony is lower than mine and so her harmony grounds my singing,” he said. “She’s made me a better singer. Her pitching is spot-on. I had to make sure my pitching was as good as hers.”
They spent two years planning their album, doing work in America and Ireland.
“I’m new to the industry, new to singing. We wanted to wait for it to be right,” she said. “It covers both sides of the Atlantic. The CD is our musical journey together. It tells our story.”
With some help from musical friends, the album showcases the merging of their distinct backgrounds, a blend of Irish and Texan.
“We’re trying to start a new genre of music we call ‘Texish,’” he said.
The album will be available on www.cdbaby.com at the beginning of March.
Officially launching the album at North Texas Irish Festival is a homecoming for the couple especially for Tommy O’Sullivan, a North Texas Irish Festival veteran performer.
“I’m looking forward to returning to North Texas Irish Festival and performing with Saundra,” he said.
Saundra O’Sullivan is eager to see her family, including the cousin who took her to the Irish music retreat in Midlothian several years ago, as well the organizers of that retreat.
“It truly seemed right to have our official launch in Texas where our story began,” she said. “The two cultures are intertwined throughout the CD and I’m really proud of that. I really think it shows what Tommy and I do.”
Learn more: http://www.ntif.org/