Conleth striking a chord among expats in region with songs about the emigrant experience

When Conleth McGeary left Dungannon for university in Liverpool over a decade ago, little did he know the next 10 years would see him take over a pub in the city, move to the Middle East, and tour the globe playing his own songs.

Now 30 and living in Dubai, he told the Belfast Telegraph: “I like writing about what is relevant, and for me right now that’s about moving and living away from home.

“A lot of songs are about love, but I like writing about real stuff —family and travel, and things that I think can be overlooked in music.

“The ‘Irish away from home’ thing seems to resonate with people most, and that’s the reason I’m getting the gigs, I think.”

While he moved to Liverpool to train as a teacher, his music career took off instead, thanks to Sunday night gigs in the Liffey Bar.

In 2022 he opened his own bar, The Beeswing (named after a Richard Thompson song), as a venue to help support other original artists.

He added: “No matter how much I loved it — and it was a good business idea — it wasn’t fulfilling me, and I knew I needed to play my own music.

“I got back into it full-time and went on tour in the Middle East, where I have a good following.

“It was only meant to be for a week-and-a-half, and then I was offered to stay at a residence in Dubai and travel round Bahrain, Doha and Oman whenever I pleased to gig.

“So, I took the chance and haven’t looked back.”

The countries have large Irish and British expat communities.

Despite a fear of “seeming egotistical”, he said he is constantly getting stopped on the streets of Dubai, where he has been living for the past year-and-a-half, and has appeared on local television and radio programmes.

He explained: “Because I’m an expat singing about moving away, it really resonates with people out here.

“My songwriting was never about trying to appeal to anyone, it was just me trying to be authentic and writing it for myself.”

Conleth McGeary has lived in Dubai for a year-and-half, playing gigs around the Emirates

His own songs started taking off when he first posted one he wrote for his mum on Facebook in 2016.

You’re Making Me Smile was written in a way that sounded like “your mother is chatting to you”, he said.

Another song, Ireland, about emigrating, went viral in 2022.

He added: “I still get messages from people in America, Canada, Australia — even people who move from Tyrone down to Dublin, but still feel homesick.

“People don’t always want hits, they want songs and people that are relevant to them.”

As a completely independent artist with no record label backing, Conleth has supported acts such as The Coronas and Ryan McMullan, and later this year will return to Ireland and the UK for a solo tour — including a date at Liverpool’s O2 in December.

Conleth said: “That’s because Liverpool is my home, really, even more so than Dungannon.

“I’ve lived there nearly as long as I’ve lived in Tyrone.

“The O2 has been my favourite place I’ve ever played in — it’s just magical.”

​Conleth McGeary’s latest single Distance is available on all streaming platforms. He can be found on Instagram @conlethmcgeary