Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Royal Wood went in search of his ancestors’ resting place and instead came across an even more meaningful locale — the launching point of their new life and a significant moment that determined his own fate.
It was a goosebump-inducing occurrence that took place in 2012 when Wood, a Juno Award-nominated singer and songwriter, was spending months in Ireland working on songs in a secluded cottage and touring the country.
During a previous visit to the Emerald Isle, Wood found an affinity for the village of Slane in County Meath. Upon returning to Ontario, his mother informed him Slane is only a short drive from her ancestral home in Rathkenny. Wood intended to return to the region and when he did, he made his way to Rathkenny, but he says it had been built up with new construction while old landmarks had been torn down.
“I didn’t find graves but it’s guaranteed I stood in places where my grandparents ran around and where they lived their lives as children,” he says.
More importantly was the discovery he made in a tiny drinking establishment popular with locals. Two sisters operated the pub and entry was by invitation only. Wood’s Irish heritage earned him admission and that’s where he learned of a momentous occasion in his family history.
“I told them my family was from the area and that they moved from here to Canada. When they heard that, one of them said, ‘You know, they would have bought their ticket for the boat here.’ The pub was the place where passengers in that part of Ireland purchased a ticket to travel overseas. I couldn’t believe it when they told me,” Wood says.
Musician Discovers Ancestry in Ireland
Not only was he walking in the footsteps of his maternal grandparents in County Meath, he was on the spot where they finalized one of the most important decisions in their lives and which determined how Wood’s own life might take shape.
Raised about 150 kilometres north of Toronto, in a rural part of Ontario outside of Peterborough, Wood has been drawn to music his entire life. His family, which is part Irish and part Scottish, includes five children who all play instruments. Wood has been dedicated to the craft since he was four years old. His career as a musician and producer has taken him on travels to many destinations in Canada, Ireland and beyond. While Ireland has had a deep impact on him, he finds travel influences and excites him for a variety of reasons.
“You see a lot of a country when you’re not in the major cities,” Wood says, noting his favourite travel moments are often when someone who knows the destination — usually a concert promoter — invites him along for a ride. “They’ll take you to these off-the-beaten-path places and through the back woods and you’ll go to spots where you would have never ever found if you were using Yelp or just travelling on your own.”
Wood is about to embark on a trip he is familiar with — a tour of Canada in support of his latest album, “Ghost Light,” which features the singles Long Way Out and Good to Be Young. His 13-date Canadian tour begins in Vancouver on September 16 and culminates in southern Ontario on October 15. Though he has toured the country numerous times, he finds live performance still riveting and fresh.
“I still have the same excited feeling I’ve always had when it’s time to get on stage with my band. We get to make a new moment every night because something is always different, whether it’s the audience or the city or the songs we’re playing,” he says. “Every single night we’re getting to do something new and that’s a great feeling.”
Wood will sometimes retreat to his family’s farm near Peterborough, a property he has purchased and on which he is growing organic produce and raising rescue horses. An artist with a strong interest in civic issues, Wood also marvels at Toronto, where he most often lives and works, and the diversity of its population.
“You have these pockets of culture that you can experience without ever leaving your city,” he says. “That’s fascinating to me.”
He calls Toronto a smaller-scale version of New York, noting the quality of theatre productions, museums and restaurants that can be enjoyed in Canada’s largest metropolis. He feels the city, like the rest of the country, is finding a stronger sense of self and that’s ultimately a positive step.
Whether in Toronto, on his farm or touring, Wood embraces the world around him, knowing it will come out in his songs, his prose writing or his painting. “We’re sponges as artists,” he says. “That’s what we do. We take it all in and it comes out in some form of expression.”
MORE ABOUT ROYAL WOOD
2016 Tour: Wood is on a multi-national tour, taking him to venues in the United States, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Ireland before he returns to Canada for a 13-date tour that begins on September 16 at the Fox Cabaret Theatre in Vancouver. Click here for details and ticket information.