Loreena McKennitt

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Loreena McKennitt
McKennitt performing in 2012
McKennitt performing in 2012
Background information
Birth nameLoreena Isabel Irene McKennitt
Born (1957-02-17) February 17, 1957 (age 67)
Morden, Manitoba, Canada
OriginStratford, Ontario, Canada
Occupation(s)Musician, singer-songwriter, producer, composer
Years active1985–1998, 2006–present

Loreena Isabel Irene McKennitt, CM OM CD (born February 17, 1957) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer who writes, records, and performs world music with Celtic and Middle Eastern influences. McKennitt is known for her refined and clear soprano vocals.[1] She has sold more than 14 million records worldwide.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

McKennitt was born in Morden, Manitoba, of Irish and Scottish descent to parents Jack McKennitt (died 1992) and Irene née Dickey (1931–2011). In Morden, she developed her love for music, influenced, in part, by the musical traditions of the local Mennonite community.[3]

McKennitt enrolled at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg to become a veterinarian. While in Winnipeg she discovered folk music, including fellow Canadians Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot. After performing at the inaugural Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1974,[4] McKennitt developed an interest in Celtic music and visited Ireland to hear it for herself.[5] Developing a passion for Celtic music, she learned to play the Celtic harp and began busking at various places, including St. Lawrence Market in Toronto to earn money to record her first album.[6]

In 1981, she moved to Stratford, Ontario, to join the Stratford Festival acting company, and still resides there.[7]


Initial success: 1985–1998[edit]

McKennitt's first album, Elemental, was released in 1985, followed by To Drive the Cold Winter Away (1987), Parallel Dreams (1989), The Visit (1991), The Mask and Mirror (1994),[8] A Winter Garden (1995), and The Book of Secrets (1997). All of her work is released under her own label, Quinlan Road.

In 1990, McKennitt provided the music for the National Film Board of Canada documentary The Burning Times, a feminist revisionist account of the Early Modern European witchcraft trials. She and the musical team she headed would later re-record the documentary's main theme on her album The Visit under the title "Tango to Evora".

In 1993, she toured Europe supporting Mike Oldfield. In 1995, her version of the traditional Irish song "Bonny Portmore" was featured in the Highlander series, followed by the 1994 film Highlander 3: The Sorcerer. McKennitt's single "The Mummers' Dance" received airplay in North American markets during the spring of 1997, and was used as the theme song for the short-lived TV series Legacy. It also saw use in the trailer for a wide-release 1998 Drew Barrymore film Ever After.

Her music appeared in the movies The Santa Clause, Soldier, Jade, Holy Man, The Mists of Avalon, and Tinker Bell. It was also featured in the television series Roar, Due South, and Full Circle (Women and Spirituality).

Personal tragedy and hiatus[edit]

In July 1998, McKennitt's fiancé Ronald Rees, his brother Richard, and their close friend Gregory Cook drowned in a boating accident on Georgian Bay. She was deeply affected by the event, and she founded the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety in the same year. At the time of the incident, she was working on a live album of two performances called Live in Paris and Toronto. The proceeds from this album were donated to the newly created memorial fund, totalling some three million dollars.[9]

After the release of the live album, McKennitt decided that she would substantially reduce the number of her public performances, and she did not release any new recordings until the studio album An Ancient Muse in 2006.

Return to music: 2006–present[edit]

During 2005, McKennitt began work on the album that would become An Ancient Muse, her seventh full-length studio album, released in November 2006. In September 2006, she performed live at the Alhambra. The performance premiered on PBS and in August 2007 was released on a three-disc DVD/CD set titled Nights from the Alhambra.

In 2008, McKennitt wrote and composed a song she titled "To The Fairies They Draw Near" as the theme song for Disney's direct-to-video animated film Tinker Bell. She also provided the narration for the film.[10]

In early 2008, she returned to Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios to record A Midwinter Night's Dream, an extended version of her 1995 mini-album A Winter Garden: Five Songs for the Season. The album was released on October 28, 2008.[11]

Since the release of An Ancient Muse, McKennitt has toured consistently, with a European and North American An Ancient Muse tour in 2007 and another extensive tour across Canada and United States later in 2007, a tour of Europe in 2008 and a Mediterranean tour in 2009 with stops in Greece,[12] Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Hungary and Italy.

On September 17, 2009, McKennitt announced that she planned to release a two-disc album titled A Mediterranean Odyssey. The first CD, "From Istanbul to Athens", consisted of 10 new live recordings made during her 2009 Mediterranean tour, including songs she had never before recorded in concert. The second CD, "The Olive and the Cedar", had a Mediterranean theme which McKennitt herself curated. It contained previously released studio recordings created between 1994 and 2006.

November 16, 2010, saw the US release (November 12 for Europe) of McKennitt's latest studio album, The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Recorded at the Sharon Temple, Ontario, it consists of nine traditional Celtic songs. "Every once and again there is a pull to return to one's own roots or beginnings, with the perspective of time and experience, to feel the familiar things you once loved and love still", said McKennitt.[13]

When McKennitt released The Wind that Shakes the Barley she visited several countries to help promote the album. During the promotional tour she performed an hour-long concert in the studios of German radio station SWR1, accompanied only by Brian Hughes (guitars) and Caroline Lavelle (cello) who have long been part of her tours and recordings. This live concert was released on CD in 2011. Called Troubadours on the Rhine, the album was nominated for a 2012 Grammy for Best New Age Album.

On November 30, 2012, McKennitt lent her support to Kate Winslet's Golden Hat Foundation together with Tim Janis, Sarah McLachlan, Andrea Corr, Hayley Westenra, the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, Dawn Kenney, Jana Mashonee, Amy Petty, and a choir, along with others, performing on "The American Christmas Carol" concert at Carnegie Hall.[14][15]

McKennitt's 10th studio album, Lost Souls, was released on May 11, 2018. She planned a tour to support the album's release in 2018 and 2019.[16]

She had a small acting role in the 2018 film Road to the Lemon Grove, as the voice of God.[17]

In 2019, McKennitt released the live album Live at the Royal Albert Hall, recorded earlier that year in London.



McKennitt's music has generally been classified as World or Celtic music even though it contains aspects and characteristics of music from around the globe and is sometimes classified as folk music in record stores.

McKennitt is occasionally compared to Enya,[18] but McKennitt's music is more grounded in traditional and classical invocations, using literary works as sources of lyrics and springboards for interpretation such as "The Lady of Shalott" by Lord Tennyson, "Prospero's Speech" (the final soliloquy in William Shakespeare's The Tempest), the Northumbrian murder ballad "The Twa Sisters" (which inspired "The Bonny Swans" on The Mask and Mirror), "Snow" by Archibald Lampman, "Dark Night of the Soul" by St. John of the Cross, Dante's Inferno, William Blake's "Lullaby", Yeats' "The Stolen Child," "The English Ladye and the Knight" by Sir Walter Scott, and "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes.


Before McKennitt composes any music, she engages in considerable research on a specific subject which then forms the general concept of the album. Before creating Elemental and Parallel Dreams, she travelled to Ireland for inspiration from the country's history, folklore, geography and culture. The album The Mask and Mirror was preceded by research in Spain where she studied Galicia, a Celtic section of Spain, along with its abundant Arabic roots.[19] The result was an album that included elements of Celtic and Arabic music. According to the jacket notes, her album An Ancient Muse was inspired by travels among and reading about the various cultures along the Silk Road.


Late in the 1990s, McKennitt created No Journey's End, a half-hour documentary, for American television in which she discussed the influences behind her music. No Journey's End contained excerpts from several songs from the albums Parallel Dreams, The Visit, and The Mask and Mirror It also shows live performances of the songs "The Lady of Shalott", "Santiago", and "The Dark Night of the Soul". It was later released on DVD and VHS, the former also containing music videos for "The Mummers' Dance" and "The Bonny Swans." A bonus copy of the DVD was included with the 2004 remastered versions of McKennitt's CDs.

In 2008, McKennitt released A Moveable Musical Feast, based on her 2007 An Ancient Muse tour. The DVD included interviews with McKennitt, her band, crew, fans and professional colleagues from the Canadian music industry.

Court case[edit]

In 2005, McKennitt was involved in an acrimonious court case in England when her former friend and employee, Niema Ash, published a book, Travels with Loreena McKennitt: My Life as a Friend, that contained intimate details of their friendship.[20] McKennitt argued that much of the book contained confidential personal information that Ash had no right to publish. The English courts found that there had indeed been a breach of confidence and a misuse of McKennitt's private information, and the case set important precedents in the law of England and Wales on the privacy of public figures.[21] The House of Lords affirmed the lower court's decisions in 2007.[22]


Awards and decorations[edit]

McKennitt's personal awards and decorations include the following:


Ribbon Description Notes
Order of Canada (CM)
  • Appointed Member (CM) on May 13, 2004[25]
Order of Manitoba (OM)
  • Appointed (OM) on July 15, 2003[26]
  • medal number: 056
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal
  • Decoration awarded in 2002[27]
  • Canadian version
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
  • Decoration awarded in 2012[28]
  • Canadian version
Canadian Forces' Decoration (CD)
Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
  • Appointed Knight on 2013[30]
  • France France award

Quinlan Road[edit]

Quinlan Road
FounderLoreena McKennitt
GenreFolk, Celtic, world, new-age
Country of originCanada
Official websitewww.quinlanroad.com

Quinlan Road is an independent record label founded in 1985 and based in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. It is owned and operated by its sole artist, Loreena McKennitt. Quinlan Road started out at McKennitt's home where she sold recordings by mail order. Today Quinlan Road music is distributed internationally by Universal Music Group.


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album details Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales threshold)
1985 Elemental
  • Release date: 1985
  • Label: Quinlan Road
1987 To Drive the Cold Winter Away
  • Release date: 1987
  • Label: Quinlan Road
1989 Parallel Dreams
  • Release date: 1989
  • Label: Quinlan Road
1991 The Visit
  • Release date: November 1, 1991
  • Label: Quinlan Road, Warner Bros. (USA)
1994 The Mask and Mirror
  • Release date: March 22, 1994
  • Label: Quinlan Road, Warner Bros. (USA)
4 21 18 143
1997 The Book of Secrets
  • Release date: September 30, 1997
  • Label: Quinlan Road, Warner Bros. (USA)
3 33 7 17
2006 An Ancient Muse
  • Release date: November 21, 2006
  • Label: Quinlan Road, MRA
9 15 83
2008 A Midwinter Night's Dream
  • Release date: October 28, 2008
  • Label: Quinlan Road, Universal
12 27 140
2010 The Wind That Shakes the Barley
  • Release date: November 12, 2010
  • Label: Quinlan Road
13 28 141
2018 Lost Souls[43]
  • Release date: May 11, 2018
  • Label: Quinlan Road
14 5 164
2024 The Road Back Home[44]
  • Release date: March 8, 2024
  • Label: Quinlan Road
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Live albums[edit]

Year Album details Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales threshold)
1995 Live in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts
  • Release date: October 1995
  • Label: Quinlan Road
1999 Live in Paris and Toronto
  • Release date: September 22, 1999
  • Label: Quinlan Road
2007 Nights from the Alhambra
  • Release date: August 21, 2007
  • Label: Quinlan Road, Verve
11 190
2009 A Mediterranean Odyssey
  • Release date: October 20, 2009
  • Label: Quinlan Road
2012 Troubadours on the Rhine
  • Release date: 2012
  • Label: Quinlan Road
16 32
2019 Live at the Royal Albert Hall[46]
  • Release date: November 1, 2019
  • Label: Quinlan Road
2022 Under a Winter's Moon[47]
  • Release date: November 18, 2022
  • Label: Quinlan Road
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


Year EP details Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales threshold)
1995 A Winter Garden: Five Songs for the Season
  • Release date: November 1995
  • Label: Quinlan Road, Warner Bros. (USA)
44 93


Year Album details Peak chart positions
2009 A Mummers' Dance Through Ireland
  • Release date: 2009
  • Label: Quinlan Road
2013 The Journey So Far – The Best of Loreena McKennitt
  • Release date: 2013
  • Label: Quinlan Road
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Boxed sets[edit]

Year Album details
2008 The Journey Begins
  • Release date: 2008
  • Label: Quinlan Road


Year Single Peak chart positions[48][49] Album
1991 "The Lady of Shalott" The Visit
"All Souls Night"
"Courtyard Lullaby"
1993 "Greensleeves"
1994 "The Bonny Swans" 75 The Mask and Mirror
"The Dark Night of the Soul"
1995 "The Mystic's Dream"
"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" A Winter Garden: Five Songs for the Season
1997 "The Mummers' Dance" 10 18 23 14 The Book of Secrets
1998 "Marco Polo"
2006 "Caravanserai" An Ancient Muse
2007 "Penelope's Song"
2008 "The Seven Rejoices of Mary" A Midwinter's Night Dream
"Noël Nouvelet!"
2009 "Dante's Prayer" Non-album single
2017 "Breaking of the Sword" 50 Lost Souls
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


  • The Mummers' Dance (1997)
  • The Bonny Swans
  • Nights from the Alhambra (2007, live concert in Spain premiered on PBS)[50]
  • A Moveable Musical Feast (2008, a tour documentary from Loreena's 2007 North American Tour)[50]


See also[edit]

  • Eileen McGann – fellow Irish-Canadian female Celtic folksinger. During McKennitt's early career McGann played many of the same venues, and they appeared together on several early compilation recordings.
  • List of ambient music artists


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  3. ^ "A seasoned soul – 22 Jan 200". The Irish Times. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  4. ^ John Einarson (2021). A History of Winnipeg Music.
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  6. ^ If You Must, Label Her 'Enlightened' Pop music: Loreena McKennitt, who performs in Irvine tonight, sings ethereal material, but don't pigeonhole the harpist as New Age.", L.A. Times, November 29, 1994.
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  11. ^ "A Midwinter Night's Dream Loreena's newest recording for the winter season set for release October 2008 – 7 October 2008". Quinlanroad.com. Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
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  18. ^ Goddard, Peter (October 29, 1991). "The darling of old folkies and new agers plays it her way". Toronto Star. p. E1.
  19. ^ Todd, Douglas (1996). Brave Souls: Writers and Artists Wrestle with God, Love, Death, and the Things That Matter. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Stoddard Publishing Co. Limited. p. 185. ISBN 0-7737-5832-1.
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  22. ^ "Lords decline to hear McKennitt privacy case." Out-Law News. March 30, 2007. Retrieved August 20, 2022.
  23. ^ Ms. Loreena McKennitt Archived May 23, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Royal Canadian Air Force
  24. ^ Ms. Loreena McKennitt, Royal Canadian Air Force
  25. ^ "The Governor General of Canada List". Gouvernment of Canada.
  26. ^ "The Order of Manitoba – Official Registery[sic] List". Gouvernment of Canada.
  27. ^ "The Queen Golden Jubilee Medal List". The Governor General of Canada.
  28. ^ "The Queen Diamond Jubilee Medal List". The Governor General of Canada.
  29. ^ "HCol Loreena McKennitt recognized for 12 years of service".
  30. ^ "The Governor General of Canada – AWARDS TO CANADIANS List". Gouvernment of Canada.
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  33. ^ a b Australian (ARIA) chart peaks:
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  39. ^ a b "CAPIF– Discos de Oro y Platino". Argentine Chamber of Phonograms and Videograms Producers. Retrieved August 29, 2011.[permanent dead link]
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  41. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
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  43. ^ "Lost Souls – Loreena McKennitt". Loreenamckennitt.com. Retrieved June 3, 2018.
  44. ^ "The Road Back Home". Loreena McKennitt. Retrieved February 23, 2024.
  45. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2008 Albums" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved December 28, 2021.
  46. ^ "New recording Live at the Royal Albert Hall available November 1". Loreena McKennitt Website. September 26, 2019. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
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External links[edit]