Irish songwriter Declan O'Rourke divided his formative years between Australia and his native Dublin, honing his craft as an expatriate and developing his professional career upon his return in his early twenties. A product of the folk-rock busking tradition that produced Damien Dempsey, Mundy, and Paddy Casey, under whom O'Rourke served his musical apprenticeship, his audience-friendly brand of acoustic pop has brought him multi-platinum success in Ireland. His rough vocal style contrasts neatly with his intelligent string- and piano-laden arrangements, at once differentiating him from his contemporaries and highlighting the debt he owes to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Paul Brady, and Burt Bacharach.
O'Rourke was born in the Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot in 1976. Moving with his family to Australia at the age of 14, O'Rourke picked up an acoustic guitar from a priest while living in the small town of Kyabram, Victoria and began writing songs. He spent a few years working in his family's construction business in Melbourne before returning to Dublin in 2000. Though wary of the "music business," he began performing his songs live. Within two weeks of his return, he performed an opening slot for local hero Mark Dignam, while his eagerness to perform at any opportunity led singer Gemma Hayes to offer him a support slot the following year. In 2002, he met Paddy Casey, who was busy working on the follow-up to his multi-platinum debut album, Amen (So Be It). Casey took O'Rourke under his wing, taking him along to label meetings, which softened his outlook toward the industry. O'Rourke, by now a talented electric guitarist, performed with Casey's live band for some two years, playing a lead role in the singer's 12-times platinum second album, Living, released in October 2003.
O'Rourke broke away from Casey, inking a deal with the small indie label N4 Records, owned by acclaimed accordionist Sharon Shannon. He released Since Kyabram in October 2004, a collection of 11 tracks that featured string arrangements by Steve Wickham, violinist with the Waterboys. Since Kyabram spawned the hit single "Galileo," which the author later admitted, rather cynically, to writing specifically for radio. The gamble worked, however, as the album debuted in the Irish album charts at number five and went on to achieve double-platinum status. O'Rourke's domestic success was enough to earn him a five-album international distribution deal with V2 Records, while N4 retained his contract in Ireland. Since Kyabram was distributed internationally in March 2006, and "Galileo" was playlisted by BBC Radio 1. Despite being championed by the likes of DJ Jonathan Ross and punk legend Paul Weller, Since Kyabram didn't sell as well as the label had hoped, and his contract was dissolved in early 2007.
O'Rourke spent the summer of 2007 recording his second album. Entitled Big Bad Beautiful World, the album took on a sleeker, more theatrical bent than its predecessor, with O'Rourke casting himself as the ringmaster of a desolate circus on the elaborate cover. The album debuted at number four on the Irish albums chart, while the single of the same name also charted. Over the next ten years, O'Rourke would release three further albums, culminating in 2016's In Full Colour. After reading a copy of John O'Connor's The Workhouses of Ireland, O'Rourke set about finding out more about one of Ireland's darkest parts of history, culminating in the writing of Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine. Released in 2017, the album became one of only a handful that openly looked back at the devastating famine between 1845 and 1849.