Mother’s Blood, Sister Songs

How the genetics of Iceland reveals its female Irish roots in story and song.

Acclaimed Irish composer Linda Buckley has a personal and professional affinity to Iceland and in this radio series she teams up with documentary maker Helen Shaw to trace the connections between the two places. The Icelandic female line goes directly back to gaelic women, mostly taken as slaves, by Norwegian Vikings who settled the land over a thousand years ago. Buckley asks what is the legacy of that biology and what are the physical, cultural and aural traces of that relationship?

An evocative, music-led feature series exploring heritage, language, music, and gender while drawing out the little known stories of the women who mothered Iceland and the sisterhood between the two places.

Part 1 broadcast on RTÉ Lyric FM on December 29th 2019, followed by Part 2 on January 5th 2020.

Listen Back to Episode 1 in full:

Listen Back to Episode 2 in full:


Linda Buckley is an Irish composer/performer based in Glasgow who has written extensively for orchestra (RTE National Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra), and has a particular interest in merging her classical training with the worlds of post punk, folk and ambient electronica.

More about Linda

Mother’s Blood, Sister Songs is an Athena Media production for RTÉ Lyric fm made with the support of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the licence fee. ©AthenaMedia2019 no reproduction or use of content without written permission.

Arnhildur Valgarðsdóttir or ‘Adda’ (the name she performs under) is an extraordinary women of song and music. Linda Buckley and producer Helen Shaw met up with her at a church in Iceland where she plays organ, piano and leads the choir.

In this audio interview with Linda Buckley and producer Helen Shaw Professor Gísli Sigurðsson explains the impact of his research, how it challenges the nationalist thinking of the time, and how the story of the Irish princess slave, Melkorka, is one of the few slave stories that the Icelandic culture has both embraced and celebrated.

Linda Buckley and producer Helen Shaw sat down with harpist Katie Buckley in Iceland’s beautiful concert hall Harpa to talk music, Iceland and the phenomenal influence of Björk.

Jón Páll Björnsson curator of the Settlement Exhibition at Reykjavík City Museum takes producer Helen Shaw on a tour of the exhibition to find out more about the settlement and what it tells us about the people who first made Iceland their home.

Dr Emily Lethbridge, at the University of Iceland, is an expert on the Icelandic Sagas, those unique manuscripts which tell the story of the Icelandic settlement and the story of the Norse Vikings themselves. In this exchange composer Linda Buckley sits down with Emily at the Arni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavik and gets a deeper understanding not just of the sagas but how Ireland and the gaelic people feature in them, including the story of the supposedly mute Irish slave Melkorka.

Melkorka Ólafsdóttir is a flautist in the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and takes her name from the Melkorka of the Icelandic Sagas. She traces her lineage back to that Melkorka, who is said to have been an Irish Princess taken into slave and bought by an Icelandic chieftain and brought to Iceland. In this episode producer Helen Shaw and composer Linda Buckley sit down with Melkorka and talk music, Bjork and motherhood.

Kári Stefánsson is an Icelandic neurologist and founder and CEO of the Reykjavik-based biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics.

His work has focused on how genomic diversity is generated and on the discovery of sequence variants impacting susceptibility to common diseases. This population approach has served as a model for national genome projects around the world.


In this conversation Linda unpacks Joan Perlman’s work, finds out what brought her to Iceland, what inspires her, and how they are both, as artists, drawn to Iceland’s story of landscape and people for their work. Linda’s exploration of the female voice in ‘Mother’s Blood, Sisters Songs’ resonates with Joan’s work and her witness with places that speak of hidden stories, voices and lives, particularly women’s lives and stories.