A Donegal Photo Album

an insight into the life of musician Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and the vibrant Donegal Gaeltacht traditional music scene.
  January –
February 2015

Ceoltóirí Altan photographed after winning the Letterkenny Folk Festival: Gearóid, Francie, Proinsias Mac a’Leagha (Belfast/Béal Feirste), Maighread Ní Ghallchóir (cousin) and Mairéad 1970’s.
Photographer: © Jimmy Coll

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh is renowned internationally as one of Ireland’s leading musicians. Together with her band Altan, she has played the music of Donegal with pride on stages throughout the world.  This exhibition looks at Mairéad’s remarkable life in music viewed through her personal archive of photographs.

The exhibition, organised as part of Tradfest 2015, presents photographs charting her career with Altan, musical collaborations with leading Irish and international musicians and a small selection of recorded performances. Private family photographs featuring her father Francie, brother Gearóid, sister Anna and mother Kitty take you behind the scenes and give an insight into a childhood steeped in the unique musical tradition of County Donegal. Also on show is an edited selection of archival press cuttings, carefully collated by her mother Kitty, which chart her impressive career. A full length documentary made by Ciarán Ó Maonaigh for TG4 about his grandfather Francie Mooney ÁÍt i mo Chroi is also featured.

As well as playing with Altan, Mairéad is also renowned for her work on other projects. She is a founder member of Cairdeas na bhFidléirí, an organisation founded over twenty-five years ago to promote, develop and keep alive the rich heritage of County Donegal. She has presented music programmes on both radio and television, which include: The Long Note, The Pure Drop, and lately, The Full Set. Mairéad is featured on recordings with Enya, The Chieftains, Dolly Parton, The String Sisters, T with the Maggies and many others. Mairéad has more recently presented two music TV series for RTÉ1, in 2013 and 2014, Aniar Aduaidh and Guth na nGael as well as Aistear na nGael, a history documentary for BBC Northern Ireland. She hopes to take time out to compose new music in the future.

For information on Altan visit: www.altan.ie

Organised in partnership with TRADFEST 2015.

For information on Tradfest 2015 visit www.templebartrad.com

tradfest logo



Altan will release a new album The Widening Gyre  in early Spring 2015

 “The music on this album examines the lifecycle of Altan by exploring the influence of Appalachian music on Irish music,” says lead vocalist, fiddler, and founding member Mairéad  Mhaonaigh of Altan’s new studio album The Widening Gyre.

After nearly 35 years together—the longest running lineup of founding members in Irish music—the members of Altan were ready to flex their musical boundaries when they started talking to Compass co-founder Garry Westabout the direction for their latest project.  With Garry in the producer’s chair and many good friends in the studioAltan fused the traditional Irish music that they are known for, namely Donegal fiddling and Gaelic singing traditions, with American roots music, particularly that of the Appalachian bluegrass fiddle. “Garry steered the band in the studio to open up musically while somehow managing to help us keep the integrity of Altan intact,” said Mairéad of Garry West’s production. Recording in Nashville for only the second time and the first time for a full album, the band was able to gather many of the roots musicians they’ve met over their thirty years together, including Tim O’Brien, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Bryan Sutton, and Compass co-founder Alison Brown. “We’ve made lifelong friends through music. The circle has expanded over the years, and our new album celebrates those relationships.”

The list of guests on The Widening Gyre is as diverse as it is impressive. Mary Chapin Carpenter, a friend of the band since the ‘90s, lent her vocals to the song “White Birds” to create a lush, meditative reimagining of the W.B. Yeats poem about being a bird on the sea, an appropriate metaphor for a band who has musically and physically crossed the Altantic in the making of the album. Eddie Reader, “an amazing singer and very generous person,” says Mairead, offers her angelic backing vocals to “Far Beyond Carrickfinn.” Altan has played concerts with Reader before and they were delighted to finally have the Glasgow native join them in the studio. Altan borrowed the mournful waltz “No Ash Will Burn” from the legendary Nashville songwriter Walt Aldridge. Mairead’s crystalline vocals unlock the Celtic undertones of the song while standing in stark contrast to the plaintive baritone of Bruce Molsky, a long time friend of the band and well-known old-time fiddler and singer.  The bluegrass presence shows itself most clearly on “Buffalo Gals” and “Thomasino (Thomas Tourish’s Tune),” a lively fiddle song written by Altan’s own Ciaran TourishCiaran is joined by bluegrass greats Alison Brown, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Todd Phillips, Bryan Sutton, and Darol Anger. Mairead says about Anger: “His unique approach gives a different color to the music which opens up amazing possibilities with Irish traditional music. He is a true artist with that fiddle!” She also declares Duncan to be, “a fiddler’s fiddler! He can create so many amazing variations on that instrument, it’s unreal!”

O’Brien duets on “The House Carpenter (Gypsy Davy),” a track which spotlights the shared musical roots of Irish and Appalachian music with references to both of these historical songs. O’Brien is best known for his work with Hot Rize, but like many dedicated bluegrass musicians, has shown a deep interest in Celtic music.The Widening Gyre straddles time as it manages to remind listeners of the ancient bond between Irish and Appalachian music while at the same time breaking new ground through collaborations between masters of American roots music and Celtic music.

“The title The Widening Gyre appeals to us and depicts the spiral of life, widening and embracing the new. It has an innate energy. We think that idea is reflected in the album’s music, says Mairéad.

The Widening Gyre is a compelling development in Altan’s story proving that they are still growing as artists, even after so many years togetherFor press inquiries, please contact Caroline McDonald at publicity@compassrecords.com.