Musicians of Donegal: (Courtesy The Knotted Chord Archive).
Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh(1959- ) Fiddle, singer.
Born in the Gaeltacht area of Gweedore, in Northwest County Donegal. Her father Francie, who’s mother Roise Ni Domhnaill played melodeon and concertina, plays fiddle and her mother concertina. Mairead started playing music at age 8, taught fiddle by her father. There was weekly visits to the house of Joe Jack Curran of Magheragallon, along with her father, where reels and highlands were the order of the day. She learnt the English and Irish songs of the area from an early age influenced by Jimmy Dinny O’Gallachoir. At age 14 Mairead saw Paddy Glackin in a concert in Dublin and became obsessed with the fiddle thereafter. Her tutor through this period was Buncrana fiddler Dinny McLoughlin who gave her technique and repertoire.
Other musicians who influenced Mairead were John Doherty, Tommy Peoples, Prionsais O’Maoinigh and Neilli Ni Dhomhnaill for singing. In the late 1970’s she met up with Belfast musicians Dermy Diamond and Tara Bingham. While in College in Dublin from 1979-80 Mairead played with Nollaig Casey and Frankie Kennedy, who she went on to marry in 1981.
Mairead and Frankie released Ceol Aduaidh(Gael Linn) in 1983 and this was followed up by the album Altan(a lake beside Errigal mountain in Donegal) in 1987 at which stage Mairead and Frankie had given up the teaching jobs for full time music careers.
The band Altan was formed on an American tour in 1987 with the original line up of Mairead and Frankie with Paul O’Shaughnessy,fiddle later replaced by Ciaran Tourish, Ciaran Curran(bouzouki) and Daithi Sproule, guitar alternating with Mark Kelly. Dermot Byrne, accordion, joined the band in 1994 after guesting on two previous albums.
Frankie Kennedy tragically died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 35.
Altan continued, at Frankie’s insistence, and has become one of the so called traditional ‘supergroups’ playing mostly big festival arenas and concert halls all over the world. A highly professional group with a distinctive sound based around Mairead’s singing and dual fiddle/accordion with guitar/bouzouki backing.
Their repertoire, with the preponderance of Highlands, Germans, Mazurkas, as well as the reels, jigs and hornpipes most popular in Donegal also makes them stand out.
They have recorded five albums on the Green Linnet label and four on the Virgin label, since 1996, including the newly released "The Blue Idol".
Mairead has gone on to present programmes on national radio(The Long Note) and television(The Pure Drop). She is now married to Dermot Byrne.
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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