“WHERE are the people going to come from?” asked one onlooker when Moya Brennan’s father bought a tavern overlooking the wild Atlantic ocean in Gweedore, a remote part of Donegal. “There’s no demand for music in pubs,” was the commonly held belief in this remote north-west corner of Ireland.

As a travelling musician at the end of the showband era, Leo Brennan decided to let the world come to him when opening a traditional music bar. In a move that summons the Hollywood film Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner, the pub was packed every night and would become a catalyst in the formation of Clannad two years later in 1970. The band’s international popularity, along with Enya and Moya Brennan’s solo success, would before long attract visitors from around the globe.

The strong links of language, culture and constant human movement since the days of the ancient Christian missionaries sailing back and forth have ensured an enduring relationship between Donegal and Scotland.

Moya Brennan has drawn deeply from that reservoir of tradition. One of her first performances was when accompanying her father on a trip across the water in the early 60s. “He was an entertainer, that’s why he bought the pub.

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We would get up every night and entertain. He took me to Glasgow and Edinburgh when I was just 11. I was wearing my Irish dance costume and danced a jig. I also learned a couple of songs so would have done something in Gaelic and a pop song.

"When my father opened the pub after everyone left, all the microphones were set up so we would start playing, everything felt very natural, we sang some Beatles and we would sing a Gaelic song.

"After that, we would get up and do 15 minutes, people would start coming to hear us but when we did the Gaelic songs they would turn their backs; they regarded it as a poor man’s language. It was like we were letting them down in some way but we fell in love with Gaelic melodies and Irish was my first language. We loved to sing in Irish, our first six albums were mainly in Gaelic.”

Clannad would feature Brennan along with two of her younger brothers Ciarán and Pól and her mother’s twin brothers Pádraig and Noel Duggan. Scottish guitarist Bert Jansch and his band Pentangle would have a key influence on the band with the latter twin suggesting: “They were doing in English what we were doing in Gaelic.”

HeraldScotland: While purists in Ireland would baulk at their eclectic musical freedom, a following soon developed. “It was all about the singing,” adds Brennan, who turns 69 in August. “We would delve into the harmonies that all our grandparents had taught us. My mother was a music teacher and she would teach us the songs of old but we also would blend the 1960s pop harmonies of The Beach Boys.”

It was while on tour with luminaries such as The Dubliners, The Fureys and The Chieftains, that Brennan would become known as the First Lady of Celtic Music after tourists visiting her father’s pub signed Clannad for a 23-city tour of Germany, one of the band’s early strongholds.

A decade later, Clannad’s fortunes would shift irreversibly after they recorded the theme for Harry’s Game, a British mini-series about the Troubles. Based on Gerald Seymour’s 1975 novel, the author and producers requested to use their version of the Scottish song Mhórag's na Horo Gheallaidh, instead a new track was suggested that was sung in Irish utilising the band’s distinctive harmonies.

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“When they approached us we were unsure what it was about. It was quite brutal but we liked that it was about two guys on opposite sides that both die in the end, no one wins, it was very poignant.

"We were never political, for us it was always culture, Donegal is quite separate from the rest of Ireland and we were very conscious of that but you were still very close to it. I went to Derry for ballet lessons and people would come to visit from the north [of Ireland]; you never thought about what side people were on but suddenly certain friends didn’t come over anymore.

"Harry’s Game is very melancholic. We took the theme of sadness and loss of life. Ciarán opened an old book of my grandfather’s [Proverbs from Connacht] there was a line, ‘Everything that is and was will cease to be, the moon and the stars, and youth and beauty.’

"We loved the whole idea of that, the song just captures a moment in time. We probably wouldn’t have sung it in Irish if we knew we were going to be on Top of the Pops. It then started to be played all over the UK. It was taken off the radio for a day until they got a transcription of the lyrics because it was at the height of the Troubles.”

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With only three terrestrial channels and the series being screened over three consecutive nights, Harry’s Game set in motion a zeitgeist moment for the song which would become a top-five hit in the UK and Ireland. The synthesisers and ambient mood of the track sung in Irish was an unlikely hit. A decade later it would reappear in the soundtrack of the 1992 thriller Patriot Games starring Harrison Ford, and during a Volkswagen car advert.

Bono was so moved by the song on first listen that he parked by the roadside to absorb the moment. The U2 front-man would appear on another definitive Clannad hit In A Lifetime that featured Brennan’s distinctive harp pattern. Bono had been venturing into a similarly ambient terrain when recording The Unforgettable Fire with U2.

When I asked him about the 1986 recording and memorable promo video, he explained that the song had been on his mind. “We were doing a lot of improvisation with Danny Lanois and [Brian] Eno at the time so when it came to working with Clannad on this track, I started singing the moment I heard it, without a sense of the structure of the song or where it, or indeed I, was going.

"It was kind of gobbledygook but, eventually, a picture emerged. A picture that turned into a video we recorded in Donegal. At the time of the video I had bought a black Humber Super Snipe hearse as spare parts for a green Humber Super Snipe that I was driving at the time. The hearse was driven in the video by my friend, the great painter Charlie Whisker. Just a few weeks ago, he passed away. I turned out for him dressed in the clothes of the undertaker from the video, so the song has been on my mind in the most touching, beautiful way.

"It’s like a change in weather, a soft light rain turns into a tempest. The Brennans are a magical family and the voice of Moya Brennan comes from somewhere other.”

The haunting video would further extend the band’s global reach but as Brennan remembers the hearse would attract the attention of some soldiers on the border.

“Bono got into the back of the hearse and as the army guys were looking in he winked at them. Of course, they jumped back until it dawned on them there was no coffin. The next day he was posing for photos with them.”

In A Lifetime is also the title of a recent expansive anthology that draws from Clannad’s fifty-year career and soundtrack work. It includes their other zeitgeist hit Robin (The Hooded Man) the soundtrack to another ITV hit, Robin of Sherwood, and I Will Find You, written for The Last of the Mohicans score.

The compilation release coincides with the band’s farewell tour that will reach Edinburgh in November after being postponed last year. Brennan admits that maintaining her health for such an extensive run has been a challenge due to a long-term lung condition.

Her Christian faith has been a boon in preparation for a tour that will take in 17 counties and stretch into 2022. “Faith helps me with so much. I know God is with me, it’s when we are doing things by ourselves, that’s when we feel the stress. I’m not saying I’ve got it perfect, we all fall but really that’s where my strength comes from. I wish we could all agree on the power of that and share it with our young people who are lost to suicide and drug addiction. There is a black hole and they don’t know where to go, there is a strength in knowing God is there.”

The band’s name translates as family, the branches of their tree have sprouted again to include Brennan’s son and daughter in the line-up for the tour and on a forthcoming solo album. “New things are on the table, I’m learning all the time. When people ask me for advice I tell them, ‘when you think you know it all give up’.

Clannad In a Lifetime farewell tour, Edinburgh Usher Hall November 4 .In a Lifetime is out now