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 Singer Jimmy McShane

jimmy-mcshaneJames Harry McShane, Irish singer best known as the front man of Italian band Baltimora that had the hit song “Tarzan Boy,” is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on May 23, 1957.

McShane learns at a young age to play bass and guitar. As a teenager, he is allegedly shunned by his family after they learn of his homosexuality. Later as a young man in the late 1970s, he leaves Northern Ireland to study at a stage school in London, where he learns to dance, sing and recite.

Hired as a stage dancer and backing singer, McShane soon goes around Europe with Dee D. Jackson and her band. During a visit to Italy with the band, he is attracted to the country’s underground dance scene, which leads to him settling in Milan in 1984. He tells Dick Clark on American Bandstand in 1986 that he fell in love with Italy from that moment. He also learns the Italian language.

McShane makes his debut playing in small clubs in his hometown and is presented to various audiences, without success. In view of his low artistic success, he decides to work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the Red Cross until he meets Italian record producer and keyboardist Maurizio Bassi, with whom he creates Baltimora. The act finds success with its most popular single, “Tarzan Boy”, released in 1985.

In the United States, McShane is overwhelmed with the success of “Tarzan Boy”. Some sources state lead vocals are performed by Maurizio Bassi, the group’s keyboardist, with McShane actually providing the backing vocals. This still remains uncertain, and McShane lip synchs while appearing in the “Tarzan Boy” music video, and not Bassi. Both the music and the lyrics of Baltimora are written mostly by Bassi and Naimy Hackett, though McShane writes the lyrics to some of their songs, such as the single “Survivor in Love.”

After the release of “Survivor in Love,” with no label support for a follow-up album and due to its poor success, Bassi decides it is time to move on to other projects and Baltimora disbands.

The single “Tarzan Boy” bounces back into the Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1993 as a remix, climbing to No. 51, at the time of its appearance in a Listerine commercial. The song is also featured in the films Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993), Beverly Hills Ninja (1997) and is then referenced in A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).

McShane is diagnosed with AIDS in Milan in 1994. A few months later he returns to Northern Ireland to spend his final year, and dies in his native Derry on March 29, 1995 at the age of 37. A family spokesman issues the following statement after his death: “He faced his illness with courage and died with great dignity.” In the centre of Derry, a commemorative plaque is bestowed upon the grave of McShane and his father, who had died three years prior.


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Birth of Singer-Songwriter Van Morrison

Sir George Ivan Morrison, best known as Van Morrison, Northern Irish singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is born on August 31, 1945 in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the only child of George Morrison, a shipyard electrician, and Violet Stitt Morrison, who had been a singer and tap dancer in her youth.

Known as “Van the Man,” Morrison starts his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands, covering the popular hits of the time. He rises to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead vocalist of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he records the garage band classic “Gloria.” His solo career begins under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records buys out his contract and allows him three sessions to record Astral Weeks (1968). Though this album gradually garners high praise, it is initially a poor seller.

Moondance (1970) establishes Morrison as a major artist, and he builds on his reputation throughout the 1970s with a series of acclaimed albums and live performances. He continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains.

Much of Morrison’s music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” “Domino” and “Wild Night.” An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream of consciousness narrative, such as the album Astral Weeks and the lesser-known Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as “Celtic soul.”

Van Morrison has received six Grammy Awards, the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, he is knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

(Pictured: Van Morrison performing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 26, 2015 | Image: Getty)


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Birth of “Jem” Finer, Founding Member of The Pogues

jem-finerJeremy Max “Jem” Finer, English musician, artist, composer, and one of the founding members of The Pogues, is born in Stoke-on-Trent, England on July 20, 1955.

After college at Keele University, Finer travels around Europe and spends some time working on a barge in France. He settles in London and becomes the bass player in a group called The Petals and lives in 32 Burton Street, a house which he sometimes shares with Spider Stacey and Shane MacGowan. Together with James Fearnley they found The Pogues. Primarily a banjoist, he also plays other instruments, including mandola, saxophone, hurdy-gurdy, and the guitar. Apart from Shane MacGowan, Finer is the most prolific composer for the band.

Finer appears on all the band’s albums until their breakup in 1996. He continues working as a musician and composer after leaving The Pogues.

On January 1, 2000, the Finer-composed Longplayer piece of music is started and is designed to last 1,000 years without ever repeating itself. It currently exists in both computer-generated and live versions. Longplayer represents a convergence of many of his concerns, particularly those relating to systems, long-durational processes, and extremes of scale in both time and space.

Finer serves as “Artist in Residence” at the Astrophysics Sub-department of the University of Oxford between October 2003 and June 2005. Finer and Hamburg-based swamp pop legend DM Bob begin recording and performing together in 2005, releasing their album Bum Steer in August of that year and co-producing the debut album by experimental pop band Marseille Figs. In July 2005, Finer wins the PRS Foundation New Music Award on the basis of his proposal to build a device that will automatically “compose” a song of indeterminate length by harnessing the creative force of the weather.

In March 2012, Mobile Sinfonia, a global composition for ringtones is launched, developed during a year Finer spends as a non-resident artist at the University of Bath. This piece concerns mutual invasion of soundscape via ringtones.

Finer is currently working on a number of new projects continuing his interest in long-term sustainability and the reconfiguring of older technologies, including Spiegelei, a spherical camera obscura featuring Finer’s innovative 360-degree projection system and the Supercomputer in Cambridge, a 5-bit mechanical sculpture which will compute minimal musical scores.