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 Martin Fay of The Chieftains

martin-fay-1Martin Joseph Fay, Irish fiddler and bones player and co-founder of the Irish traditional music ensemble The Chieftains, is born in Cabra, Dublin on September 19, 1936.

The Chieftains are credited with reviving worldwide interest in traditional Celtic music. Fay performs as the group’s fiddler and bones player for some 40 years.

Fay develops an early interest in the violin and takes music lessons at the Municipal School of Music in Dublin. He joins the orchestra of the Abbey Theatre during his teen years and is introduced to Irish folk music by the theatre’s musical director Sean O’Riada.

It was through O’Riada’s folk band, Ceoltóirí Chualann, that Fay meets the other original Chieftains members, Paddy Moloney, Seán Potts, and Michael Tubridy. The foursome releases their first album, Chieftains 1, in 1964. The Chieftains perform on local radio and television programs and in pubs throughout the British Isles, but it is not until the 1970s that they begin touring overseas.

The Chieftains gain international acclaim when their music is used in the Academy Award-winning sound track for the film Barry Lyndon (1975). In 1989, The Chieftains are officially designated Ireland’s musical ambassadors. Although the quartet’s membership changes over the years, Fay records more than 30 albums with The Chieftains.

In 2001, Fay decides to stop touring with The Chieftains, limiting his appearances with the group to events in Ireland. He subsequently retires in 2002. After a lengthy illness, he dies at the age of 76 in Cabra on November 14, 2012.


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Birth of Maura O’Connell, Singer & Actress

maura-oconnellMaura O’Connell, singer and actress known for her contemporary interpretations of Irish traditional music, strongly influenced by American country music, is born on September 16, 1958 in Ennis, County Clare.

Born into a musical family, O’Connell is the third of four sisters. Her mother’s family owns Costello’s fish shop in Ennis where O’Connell works until music becomes her full-time career. She grows up listening to her mother’s light opera, opera, and parlour music records. Her father’s interest leans towards the rebel ballads. Despite the presence of classical music in the house, O’Connell gets very involved in the local folk club scene and together with Mike Hanrahan, who later fronts folk rock outfit Stockton’s Wing, they perform a country music set, as a duo called “Tumbleweed.”

O’Connell attends St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Spanish Point from 1971 to 1974, where she takes part in the school choir. She is also a member of the “Cúl Aodha Choir”, led by Peader Ó Riada, that sings at the funeral of Willie Clancy in 1973.

O’Connell begins her professional musical journey during a six-week tour of the United States in 1980, as vocalist for the traditionally-based Celtic group De Dannan. The following year, she is featured on the band’s landmark album, The Star Spangled Molly, which becomes something of a national phenomenon in her homeland. However, not long after joining the group she becomes very interested in the experimental roots music of America’s New Grass Revival when the bands’ paths cross. She moves to the United States in 1986, settling in Nashville, Tennessee. There she meets progressive bluegrass pioneers Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, with whom she works on most of her records.

O’Connell records her first solo album in 1983, however, it does not make any impact in Ireland or in the United States. She receives a Grammy Award nomination for her 1989 album, Helpless Heart, which is her first record released under Warner Bros. Records. Real Life Story (1990) and Blue is the Colour of Hope (1992) register a move toward a pop synthesis. Her versions of “Living in These Troubled Times” and Cheryl Wheeler‘s “Summerfly” become standout tracks on the 1993 album A Woman’s Heart, on four all-female overseas tours and on the 1994 follow-up album in her homeland. A Woman’s Heart Vol. 2 features her heartfelt renditions of Nanci Griffith‘s “Trouble in the Fields” and Gerry O’Beirne’s “Western Highway.” After numerous albums heavily inspired by American newgrass music, she returns to her Irish roots with the 1997 release Wandering Home.

As the new millennium approaches, O’Connell signs with Sugar Hill Records in late 2000 and begins working on her seventh album. Instead of working with her longtime producer Jerry Douglas, she has Ray Kennedy produce Walls and Windows, which is released in 2001, and features an eclectic collection of songs, including work by Kim Richey, Van Morrison, John Prine, Eric Clapton and Patty Griffin. Her 2004 album, Don’t I Know, contains musical textures added by everything from fiddles, to clavinets, to lap steel guitar and B-3 organ.

Naked With Friends (2009) is O’Connell’s first a cappella album. Guest vocalists include Mary Black, Paul Brady, Moya Brennan, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Tim O’Brien, Dolly Parton, Sarah Dugas, Kate Rusby and Darrell Scott. The album is nominated for a Grammy Award.

In addition to her solo work, O’Connell has collaborated with a number of Celtic, folk, pop and country artists, including Van Morrison, Brian Kennedy, Moya Brennan, Mary Black, John Prine, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, John Gorka, Béla Fleck, Robert Earl Keen, Dolly Parton and Shawn Colvin. She has also sung background vocals for a number of artists, including Van Morrison’s 1988 project with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat and Stockton’s Wing on Take A Chance.

Aside from the music world, Martin Scorsese casts O’Connell, scruffed up for the role, as an Irish migrant street singer in his 19th-century epic Gangs of New York, released in 2002.

O’Connell announces the end of her solo career in 2013.


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Birth of Francis O,Neill, Music Collector & Police Officer

francis-oneillFrancis O’Neill, Irish-born American police officer and collector of Irish traditional music, is born in Tralibane, near Bantry, County Cork on August 28, 1848. His biographer Nicholas Carolan refers to him as “the greatest individual influence on the evolution of Irish traditional dance music in the twentieth century.”

At an early age O’Neill hears the music of local musicians, among them Peter Hagarty, Cormac Murphy and Timothy Dowling. At the age of 16, he becomes a cabin boy on an English merchant vessel. On a voyage to New York, he meets Anna Rogers, a young emigrant whom he later marries in Bloomington, Illinois. The O’Neills move to Chicago, and in 1873 he becomes a policeman with the Chicago Police Department. He rises through the ranks quickly, eventually serving as the Chief of Police from 1901 to 1905. He has the rare distinction, in a time when political “pull” counts for more than competence, of being re-appointed twice to the position by two different mayors.

O’Neill is a flautist, fiddler and piper and is part of the vibrant Irish community in Chicago at the time. During his time as chief, he recruits many traditional Irish musicians into the police force, including Patrick O’Mahony, James O’Neill, Bernard Delaney, John McFadden and James Early. He also collects tunes from some of the major performers of the time including Patsy Touhey, who regularly sends him wax cylinders and visits him in Chicago. He also collects tunes from a wide variety of printed sources.

O’Neill retires from the police force in 1905. After that, he devotes much of his energy to publishing the music he has collected. He dies in Chicago, at the age of 87, on January 28, 1936.

In 2000, a life-size monument of Francis O’Neill playing a flute is unveiled next to the O’Neill family homestead in Tralibane, County Cork. The monument, and a commemorative wall are erected through the efforts of the Captain Francis O’Neill Memorial Company.

In 2008, Northwestern University Press issues Captain O’Neill’s Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago, a non-musical memoir edited by Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch, O’Neill’s great-granddaughter, with a foreword by Nicholas Carolan of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Carolan himself writes a musical biography of O’Neill, A Harvest Saved: Francis O’Neill and Irish Music in Chicago, which is published in Ireland by Ossian in 1997.

In August 2013, the inaugural Chief O’Neill Traditional Music Festival takes place in Bantry, County Cork, just a few miles from Tralibane. The 2013 event marks the centenary of the publication of O’Neill’s Irish Minstrels and Musicians. The event has taken place annually since.


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Birth of John Sheahan, Musician & Composer

John Sheahan, musician and composer and the last surviving member of the definitive five-member line-up of The Dubliners, is born in Dublin on May 19, 1939. He joins The Dubliners in 1964 and plays with them until 2012 when The Dubliners’ name is retired following the death of founding member Barney McKenna.

Sheahan goes to school at the local Christian Brothers in Marino, Dublin, where he receives his first musical education, learning the tin whistle. When he is about twelve years old he begins to take an active interest in music and soon he transfers the musical knowledge gained on the whistle to a fiddle he finds lying around at home. Enthusiastically supported and encouraged by his parents, he attends the Municipal School of Music in Dublin where he studies classical violin for more than five years.

During this time he continues to maintain his interest in Irish traditional music, which sometimes leads him to improvise on the classics by putting in a few embellishments. His improvisions ultimately lead to the development of his unique style, gaining him a number of awards at various féiseanna. His interest in American bluegrass fiddle music must also have influenced his style, as can be heard in tunes like Flop Eared Mule, recorded with The Dubliners in 1968, 1969 and 1983.

Sheahan plays with a number of bands around the country until he meets The Dubliners in the early 1960s. At that time, the group is formed by Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna, Ciarán Bourke and Luke Kelly. He joins the band in 1964, together with Bobby Lynch. Both musicians have been playing during the interval at concerts and usually stay on stage for the second half of the show. When Luke Kelly moves to England in 1964, Lynch is taken on as his temporary replacement. When Kelly returns in 1965, Lynch leaves the band and Sheahan stays. He is the only member of the Dubliners to have had a formal musical education.

After 50 years of playing and after the death of founding member Barney McKenna, in the fall of 2012 Sheahan announces the retirement of The Dubliners by the end of the 50th anniversary tour. The last formation of the band features Sheahan, Seán Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and Gerry O’Connor. He is a steady member of the band for 48 years and the high standards of his playing strongly contribute to forge the Dubliners’ sound.