seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Irish Fiddler & Vocalist

Compressed by jpeg-recompressMairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Irish fiddler and lead vocalist for the Irish traditional music band Altan, is born on July 26, 1959 in Gweedore, County Donegal, where Gaeilge is her primary language and she learns her songs and tunes from her family and neighbours.

Ní Mhaonaigh’s father, Proinsias Ó Maonaigh, is a noted fiddler, song writer and school teacher and is her first main influence. Her mother, Kitty Rua is also raised in a musical house that holds frequent house dances. It is no surprise that she and her siblings, Gearóid and Anna, all play music together.

In the early 1980s, Ní Mhaonaigh qualifies as a Primary school teacher and teaches in Saint Oliver Plunkett National School in Malahide, County Dublin. She and her husband, Frankie Kennedy, record Ceol Aduaidh (Music from the North) for Irish label Gael Linn in 1983. This timeless recording is the genesis of what later becomes Altan. The recording features her brother Gearóid Ó Maonaigh on guitar, Fintan Mc Manus on bouzouki, Ciaran Curran on bouzouki and Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (now known as Enya) on keyboards. The album quietly gains praise among enthusiasts of traditional Irish music worldwide, which leads the way for a career in music.

Ní Mhaonigh’s teaching career comes to a halt after she and her husband take a career break in 1987 and formed Altan. The band goes on to become one of the most acclaimed Irish traditional bands touring the world. They record for Green Linnet Records in the United States and tour North America extensively.

In 1994, Frankie Kennedy passes away to cancer, which is a tremendous loss to Ní Mhaonigh. She continues with the band at her late husband’s request and signs to multinational record label Virgin Records London in late 1994. This marks the first traditional Irish band to be signed to a major record label and propels Altan and Ní Mhaonigh into a wider audience of followers.

Altan travels all over the world headlining shows from Tokyo, the Sydney Opera House, the Hollywood Bowl to the National Concert Hall, Dublin.

Ní Mhaonaigh, along with fronting Altan, remains close her roots between touring and returns to her native County Donegal to play, sing and teach her music to a new generation. She helps set up Cairdeas na bhFidléirí (The Fellowship / Friendship of Fiddlers) in the early 1980s to promote and preserve the fiddle music of County Donegal.

In 2009, Ní Mhaonaigh releases her first solo album, Imeall (Edge/Theshold), as a limited edition. After many years of playing with the band and numerous requests for a solo recording she finally gets time to record the album after parting with her second husband Dermot Byrne, with whom she has her daughter Nia. She tours the album between Altan commitments with her co-producer and recording engineer Manus Lunny.

The album prompts one reviewer, Paul O’Connor, to remark, “Her identified success as the leader of Altan has dominated our sense of her to the point that we aren’t cognisant of how good she is as an artist, musician, composer in her own right.”

This new focus on Ní Mhaonaigh as an artist in her own right, prompts The Donegal Association in Dublin to grant her “Donegal Person of the Year 2009” at a gala dinner in Dublin’s prestigious Burlington Hotel.

Ní Mhaonaigh is awarded the top recognition in traditional Irish music by her fellow peers in 2018, when she is awarded TG4 Gradam Ceoil’s Traditional Musician of the Year. The following year, she is honoured in her own county at the now world famous “Cup o’Tae Festival” which is held annually in Ardara, County Donegal.

Ní Mhaonaigh is also a member of String Sisters, which is a Grammy listed folk supergroup of six of the world’s leading female fiddlers. Together they have released two albums – the Grammy-longlisted Live and Between Wind and Water. She is a member of T with the Maggies, which is a vocal supergroup of Donegal singers comprised of Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill and Moya Brennan of Clannad fame.

Recently Ní Mhaonaigh has recorded with a group of thirteen County Donegal-based female fiddlers which is called ‘SíFiddlers.’

(From: Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s website, http://www.mairead.ie)


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Birth of Andy Irvine, Musician & Singer-Songwriter

Andrew Kennedy Irvine, known as Andy Irvine, Irish folk musician and singer-songwriter, is born on June 14, 1942 in St. John’s Wood, London, England to an Irish mother from Lisburn, County Antrim, and a Scottish father from Glasgow. He is a founding member of popular bands Sweeney’s Men, Planxty, Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and Usher’s Island. He plays the mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, harmonica and hurdy-gurdy.

Irvine has been influential in folk music for over five decades, during which he records a large repertoire of songs and tunes he assembles from books, old recordings and folk-song collectors rooted in the Irish, English, Scottish, Eastern European, Australian and American old-time and folk traditions. He sets these songs to new music and also writes songs about his personal experiences or the lives and struggles of his heroes, including Tom Barker, Michael Davitt, Mother Jones, Douglas Mawson, Raoul Wallenberg, and Emiliano Zapata.

Imbued with a sense of social justice, Irvine often selects or writes songs that are based on historical events and presented from the victim’s perspective. Some of these songs chronicle the abject living and working conditions imposed on groups of people such as the emigrants, the brutalized migrant workers, the exploited textile strikers or coalminers. Other songs recall the archetypal experiences of single individuals – the woman seduced by an unfaithful man or disowned by her father, the destitute young man ostracized or murdered on the order of his sweetheart’s rich father, the down-on-his-luck farmer or the unemployed worker, the young man inveigled by the army’s recruiting sergeant, the scapegoats. Irvine’s songs also denounce worker deaths and industrial diseases, and lament the plight of hunted animals. His repertoire includes humorous songs, but also bittersweet ones of unrequited love, or of lovers cruelly separated or dramatically reunited. He also sings about famous racehorses, men or women masquerading in various disguises, a fantastical fox preying on young maidens, and the violent lives of outlaws.

As a child actor, Irvine hones his performing talent from an early age and learns the classical guitar. He switches to folk music after discovering Woody Guthrie, also adopting the latter’s other instruments, the harmonica and mandolin. While extending Guthrie’s guitar picking technique to the mandolin, he further develops his playing of this instrument and, later, of the mandola and the bouzouki, into a decorative, harmonic style and embraces the modes and rhythms of Bulgarian folk music. Along with Johnny Moynihan and Dónal Lunny, Irvine is one of the pioneers who adapts the Greek bouzouki into an Irish instrument. He contributes to advancing the design of his instruments in cooperation with English luthier Stefan Sobell, and he occasionally plays a hurdy-gurdy made for him in 1972 by Peter Abnett, another English luthier.

Although touring mainly as a soloist, Irvine has also enjoyed great success in pursuing collaborations through many projects that have influenced contemporary folk music. He continues to tour and perform extensively in Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, North and South America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.