Enya's first projects as a solo artist included soundtrack work for The Frog Prince (1984) and the 1987 BBC documentary series The Celts, which was released as her debut album, Enya (1987). She signed with Warner Music UK which granted her considerable artistic freedom and minimal interference from the label. The commercial and critical success of Watermark (1988) propelled her to worldwide fame, helped by its international top 10 hit single, "Orinoco Flow". This was followed by the multi-million selling albums Shepherd Moons (1991), The Memory of Trees (1995) and A Day Without Rain (2000). Sales of the latter and its lead single, "Only Time", surged in the United States following its use in the media coverage of the September 11 attacks. Following Amarantine (2005) and And Winter Came... (2008), Enya took an extended break from music; she returned in 2012 and released Dark Sky Island (2015).
Enya is known for her private lifestyle and has yet to undertake a concert tour. She is Ireland's biggest selling solo artist and second overall behind U2, with a discography that has sold 26.5 million certified albums in the United States and an estimated 75 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. A Day Without Rain (2000) remains the best selling new age album with an estimated 16 million copies sold worldwide. Enya has won several awards throughout her career, including seven World Music Awards, four Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album, and an Ivor Novello Award. She was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for "May It Be", a song she wrote for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).
Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin was born on 17 May 1961 in Dore, an area of the remote parish of Gweedore, County Donegal in northwestern Ireland. It is a Gaeltacht region where Irish is the primary language. Her name is anglicised as Enya Patricia Brennan, where Enya is the phonetic spelling of how Eithne is pronounced in Irish; "Ní Bhraonáin" translates to "daughter of Brennan". The fifth of nine children, Enya was born into a Roman Catholic family of musicians. Her father Leo Brennan was the leader of the Slieve Foy Band, an Irish showband, and ran Leo's Tavern in Meenaleck; her mother Máire Brennan (née Duggan), who has Spanish roots, was an amateur musician who played in Leo's band and taught music at Gweedore Community School. Enya's maternal grandfather Aodh was the headmaster of the primary school in Dore, and her grandmother was a teacher there. Aodh was also the founder of the Gweedore Theatre company.
Enya described her upbringing as "very quiet and happy." At age three, she took part in her first singing competition at the annual Feis Ceoil music festival. She took part in pantomimes at Gweedore Theatre and sang with her siblings in her mother's choir at St Mary's church in Derrybeg. She learned English at primary school and began piano lessons at age four. "I had to do school work and then travel to a neighbouring town for piano lessons, and then more school work. I ... remember my brothers and sisters playing outside ... and I would be inside playing the piano. This one big book of scales, practising them over and over." At eleven, Enya's grandfather paid for her education at a strict convent boarding school in Milford run by nuns of the Loreto order, where she developed a taste for classical music, art, Latin and watercolour painting. "It was devastating to be torn away from such a large family, but it was good for my music." Enya left the school at 17 and studied classical music in college for one year with the aim of becoming "a piano teacher sort of person. I never thought of myself composing or being on stage."
In the 1970s several members of Enya's family formed Clannad, a Celtic band with Nicky Ryan as their manager, sound engineer and producer and his future wife Roma Ryan assisting with the tour management and administrative duties. In 1980, after her year at college, Enya decided not to study music at university and instead accepted Ryan's invitation to join the group with the aim of expanding their sound by incorporating keyboards and another backup vocalist. She toured across Europe and played an uncredited role on their sixth album, Crann Úll (1980), with a line-up of siblings Máire, Pól and Ciarán Brennan and twin uncles, Noel and Pádraig Duggan. Enya became an official and credited member by the time of their next album Fuaim (1981), which features a front cover photograph of her with the band. Nicky maintains it was never his intention to make Enya a permanent member, and realised she was "fiercely independent ... intent on playing her own music. She was just not sure of how to go about it". This sparked discussions between the two on the idea of using Enya's voice to form a "choir of one", a concept based on the "wall of sound" technique by Phil Spector that interested them both.