Covid frontline stories: NI healthcare worker dressed in PPE by day, playing guitar at night

A Portadown healthcare worker has told how she has combined being on the front line during the Covid pandemic with her second career as a singer-songwriter.

Belfast folk singer Ciara O'Neill, who has combined being on the front line during the Covid pandemic with her second career as a singer-songwriter
Belfast folk singer Ciara O'Neill, who has combined being on the front line during the Covid pandemic with her second career as a singer-songwriter

By day, Ciara O’Neill works in full PPE gear as a radiographer in a Belfast hospital.

In the evening, she picks up her guitar to write songs or perform gigs across Northern Ireland and beyond.

Folk singer Ms O’Neill is set to release her new EP La Lune, made up of songs written during the pandemic, at the Out to Lunch Festival on January 22 at the Sunflower Bar in Belfast.

Ciara O'Neill of her in full PPE at work in a Belfast hospital. The Portadown healthcare worker has told how she has combined being on the frontline during the Covid pandemic with her with her second career as a successful singer-songwriter

She said she has always had dual loves of music and science: “I have been singing my whole life, I was always singing in choirs at school and I was classically trained at a young age.

“But I went into a very different career in healthcare, my degree was very science-based and I really missed music.

“Alongside my career in healthcare I started learning guitar and writing my own songs. In 2016 I released my first album and my second in 2018.”

Following this, Ciara took a career break which included a trip to Nashville to work alongside Grammy-winning artists at the world-famous Bluebird Cafe.

More recently, the Covid pandemic has had a devastating impact on local music.

She said: “The pandemic has absolutely decimated the music scene. Arts have suffered so much. For me, not being able to play live for a couple of years has been a huge impact.

“Music, for me, is a stress release and I love performing. Not being able to do that has really impacted me.

“I kept on playing throughout, if even it was just in the house. I am always writing songs.”

The pandemic had an equally significant impact on her work as a medic: “It has been a difficult time for everybody in healthcare.

“At the very start, things were changing on a daily basis and none of us knew what Covid was, none of us knew how it would affect us.

“It was frightening because I didn’t know what to expect or what would happen.

“As time has gone on, we have all just worked together in the hospital. You see the resilience of people coming through this.”

Ms O’Neill said her organisational skills allow her to balance her lives as a healthcare worker and a musician: “I do like the balance. It can be hard working a full day and then playing a gig in the evenings, that is tiring and stressful but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I manage myself so releasing music involves so much work, a huge amount of time.

“Often in my work break I am working on it on my phone and I am always doing music in the evenings.”

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