Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh

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Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh
File:Altan - Mardis de Plouescat 2013 05.JPG
Mairéad performing with Altan at Mardis de Plouescat in 2013
Background information
Birth name Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh
Born (1959-07-26) 26 July 1959 (age 59)
Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland
Genres Irish traditional
World music
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1981–present
Labels Own label
Gael Linn
Virgin Records
Green Linnet
Compass Records
Associated acts Altan, T with the Maggies, String Sisters, Na Mooneys
Website Official website
Notable instruments

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (Irish pronunciation: [ˈmaɾʲed̪ nʲiː ˈwiːn̪i]) (born 26 July 1959) is an Irish fiddler and the lead vocalist for the Irish folk music band Altan, which she co-founded with her late husband Frankie Kennedy in 1987.[1] Today, Mairéad is recognised as a leading exponent in the Donegal fiddle style, and she is often considered as one of the foremost singers in the Irish language, her native tongue.[2] After 24 years with Altan, Mairéad released her first solo album Imeall, in 2009, and she was part of the Irish supergroup T with the Maggies, who released an album in 2010.[3]


Ní Mhaonaigh grew up in Gweedore, County Donegal, on the northwest coast of Ireland. Her father, Proinsias Ó Maonaigh, taught her to play the fiddle. She received tuition from fiddler Dinny McLaughlin, who was a frequent visitor to the home when she was young. Ciarán Tourish, who would later join Altan, was also a frequent visitor to the family home and also received tuition from McLaughlin.[4]

Ní Mhaonaigh has two siblings:

  • Her brother Gearóid Ó Maonaigh played guitar for Ragairne (a short-lived band formed by Ní Mhaonaigh and Frankie Kennedy, of which singer Enya was a member), appeared on the album Ceol Aduaidh, and organises the Frankie Kennedy Winter School.
  • Her younger sister Anna Ní Mhaonaigh has contributed backing vocals to several albums and was a member of the group Macalla.[5]

She met Frankie Kennedy at a session at age 15. Kennedy was inspired to learn to play and soon became a talented flute player. They married in 1981. [6]


The early 1980s: Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh & Frankie Kennedy duo, Ragairne

File:Ragairne appearing on SBB ina Shui.jpg
Mairéad with the short-lived band Ragairne on RTÉ television in the 1980s.

One evening, during a session in Gweedore (County Donegal), fifteen-year-old fiddle player Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, daughter of the session's leader Proinsias Ó Maonaigh, met with Belfast-born eighteen-year-old Frankie Kennedy during his summer trip to the Gaeltacht. They were attracted to each other, and Kennedy wrote to her regularly after leaving Donegal.

Kennedy was advised by a friend that he should learn an instrument if he intended to court Ní Mhaonaigh, and so he got a whistle and taught himself to play. Later he learned the flute, a somewhat louder instrument, so that he could hear himself in sessions. His love for Ní Mhaonaigh coupled with perfectionist tendencies turned him into a well-respected flute player.

Kennedy and Ní Mhaonaigh married in 1981.

The new couple continued to play at sessions in Donegal, and this formed the basis for their musical partnership. They made their recording debut on Albert Fry's eponymous record in 1979 and later formed a short-lived group called Ragairne which also included Gearóid Ó Maonaigh, Ní Mhaonaigh's brother, on guitar, and was rejoined in 1981 by singer Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, later known as Enya.

Joined by bouzouki player Ciarán Curran and Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, now known as Enya, on synthesizer, Frankie Kennedy and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh released a recording entitled Ceol Aduaidh on Gael-Linn records in 1983.

At the time, Kennedy and Ní Mhaonaigh were earning their living by teaching at St. Oliver Plunkett National School in Malahide, north County Dublin. But live performances in 1984 and 1985, particularly in the United States, convinced them that there was an audience for "no-compromise traditional music played with heart and drive," and they were persuaded to give up teaching.

During this time, the group added guitarist Mark Kelly and released in 1987 a record called Altan, named after a lake in Donegal, although the name Altan wasn't used for the band on that release. Altan was produced by Dónal Lunny, who subsequently appeared as either a producer or guest musician on every Altan album which followed.

1987–present: Altan

Forsaking their jobs as teachers, Ní Mhaonaigh and Kennedy formed the band Altan during the late 1980s. Kennedy's death from cancer in 1994 put the band's future in question, but she decided to continue at Kennedy's explicit request.

As well as her work with Altan, Ní Mhaonaigh over the years has presented traditional music programmes on radio and television, including the radio show, The Long Note and the television series, The Pure Drop.

2005–present: String Sisters

Ní Mhaonaigh is a member of the fiddle ensemble String Sisters active as a band since 2005.

2007–present: T with the Maggies

Ní Mhaonaigh along with friends Moya Brennan, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill came together as T with the Maggies in 2007, and released their debut album T with the Maggies in October 2010.

2007–present: Solo work & solo live performances

Mairéad performing with her father.

In 2007/08, Ní Mhaonaigh recorded Imeall, her debut (studio) album in the home studio of her friend and musician/co-producer Manus Lunny in Tír Chonaill, County Donegal, Ireland. On 28 December 2008, at the Frankie Kennedy Winter Music School in Gweedore, Ní Mhaonaigh premiered live some songs from the album in an intimate concert with Lunny. For this occasion, she also released a small number of copies of the album. On 12 February 2009, the album was officially launched in Dublin and released worldwide. Only 3000 physical copies were pressed and made available worldwide from her website.[7] The title is Irish for 'Edge' or 'Threshold' and the album features traditional/folk songs as well as new compositions by Ní Mhaonaigh.[7]

Ní Mhaonaigh previously performed two special concerts in January 2008 at the Temple Bar TradFest with long-time friends Moya Brennan, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill. It was the second time the four musicians ever performed together. It was also the first time Ní Mhaonaigh performed live some songs from her then yet-to-be released solo album Imeall. For the occasion, she was joined by special guests who spent the last few years recording with her.[8][9]

Since February 2009, Ní Mhaonaigh (fiddle, lead vocals) has toured solo and (mostly) as a trio with Manus Lunny (bouzouki) & James Higgins (percussions).[10] She has also guested a few times with other musicians such as French flutist Sylvain Barou (in June 2013 in Calais, France and in April 2014 in L'Île-d'Yeu, France) and French violinist Didier Lockwood (also in June 2013 in Calais).

Mairéad also contributed a track, Má Théid Tú Chun Aonaigh to the Irish charitable album Ceol Cheann Dubhrann which was released in December 2009 to raise funds for two projects in Ranafast, a Gaeltacht area from which Mairéad has collected songs.[11]

2013–present: Na Mooneys

On 7 January 2016, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh announced on her Facebook page that the new band called Na Mooneys that she had formed (along with her nephew Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and her siblings Anna Ní Mhaonaigh and Gearóid Ó Maonaigh) two years earlier (during the last Frankie Kennedy Winter School[nb 1] where they performed their first ever show)[12] were in the process of recording their debut family album.[13][14][15] On their Facebook page (created on 7 January 2016), the band describe themselves as «a family of musicians & singers from the Donegal Gaeltacht» playing Irish traditional music.[16]

On 6 February 2016, the new band Na Mooneys announced that they were just near the end of the recording of their debut album in Manus Lunny's studio, with Anna and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh putting down some vocals for a few songs, before to get ready for the mix.[17]

On 4 June 2016, Na Mooneys are due to take part in the "Féile Ceoil" event ("music festival" in Irish gaelic) in Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland.[12]

Personal life

Ní Mhaonaigh was named Donegal Person of the Year in 2009.[18]


Solo albums

As Frankie Kennedy & Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh

With Altan

With String Sisters

  • 2007 Live (CD/DVD)

With T with the Maggies

Guest roles


  1. The last Frankie Kennedy Winter School occurred in December 2013 / January 2014.


  1. "Altan Biography". Retrieved 20 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The Full Set – Presenter: Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh". RTÉ News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "T With The Maggies". The Irish Times. 11 November 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Robinson
  5. O'Regan
  6. Altan: Inspiration
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh Official website". Retrieved 20 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Folk Superstars to perform for Children". 18 November 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Temple Bar to come alive: Mairéad, Moya, Maighréad & Tríona in Concert". 1 December 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Gigs Archive". May 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Moya Brennan on the songs of Rann na Feirste". 12 December 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Ag seinm ag an fhéile súil go mór leis an spraoi! (Playing at the festival.....looking forward to the fun!)". Facebook. 27 May 2016. Retrieved 28 May 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Na Mooneys sa studio". Facebook. 7 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Na Mooneys ar Facebook anois". Facebook. 8 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Mairéad is in the studio with her siblings Na Mooneys, to start off the New Year!". Facebook. 8 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "About Na Mooneys". Facebook. Retrieved 10 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Ag críochnú an taifeadadh ar na laetha seo le Manus Lunny". Facebook. 6 February 2016. Retrieved 6 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Mairéad is Donegal Person of Year (2009)". 29 January 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. T with the Maggies Web Site

External links


  • "Altan: The History". Altan band web site. Retrieved 10 January 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • O'Regan, John. "Angels of the Island". The Living Tradition. Archived from the original on 11 March 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Robinson, Michael (Fall 1995). "An Interview with Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh". Fiddler Magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vallely, Fintan; Piggott, Charlie (1998). Blooming Meadows: The World of Irish Traditional Musicians. Nutan. Roberts Rinehart Publishers. ISBN 1-86059-067-5. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>