Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh

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Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh
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 56)
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
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.[citation needed]


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

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[edit]

Main article: Altan (band)

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[edit]

Main article: 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[edit]

Main article: 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 in October 2010.

2009: Solo work[edit]

Mairéad performing with her father.

Ní Mhaonaigh's first solo album, Imeall, was released in 2009. It was recorded in 2007/08 and co-produced by Manus Lunny. The title is Irish for 'Edge' or 'Threshold' and features traditional/folk songs as well as new compositions by Ní Mhaonaigh.[6] Ní Mhaonaigh débuted songs from the album on 28 December at the 2008 Frankie Kennedy Winter School in an intimate concert with Lunny and also released a small number of albums. The album was officially launched in Dublin on 12 February 2009. She has only released 3000 physical copies worldwide from her website.[6]

Ní Mhaonaigh also performed two special concerts with long-time friends Moya Brennan and Maighread & Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill at the Temple Bar TradFest in January 2008, the second time the four musicians performed together. It was the first time she performed songs from her forthcoming album and was joined by special guests who spent the last few years recording with her.[7][8] 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.[9]

2016–present: Na Mooneys[edit]

On 7 January 2016, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh announced on her Facebook page that she had just formed a new band called Na Mooneys along with her nephew Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and her siblings Anna Ní Mhaonaigh and Gearóid Ó Maonaigh, and that the new band were at the time recording their debut family album.[10][11][12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Ní Mhaonaigh was named Donegal Person of the Year in 2009.[15]


Solo albums[edit]

As Frankie Kennedy & Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh[edit]

With Altan[edit]

With String Sisters[edit]

  • 2007 Live (CD/DVD)

With T with the Maggies[edit]

Guest roles[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Altan Biography". Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Full Set – Presenter: Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh". RTÉ News. 
  3. ^ "T With The Maggies". The Irish Times. 11 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Robinson
  5. ^ O'Regan
  6. ^ a b "Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh Official website". Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  7. ^ "Folk Superstars to perform for Children". 18 November 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  8. ^ "Temple Bar to come alive: Mairéad, Moya, Maighréad & Tríona in Concert". 1 December 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  9. ^ "Moya Brennan on the songs of Rann na Feirste". 12 December 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  10. ^ "Na Mooneys sa studio.". Facebook. 7 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  11. ^ "Na Mooneys ar Facebook anois.". Facebook. 8 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  12. ^ "Mairéad is in the studio with her siblings Na Mooneys, to start off the New Year!". Facebook. 8 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  13. ^ "About Na Mooneys". Facebook. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  14. ^ "Ag críochnú an taifeadadh ar na laetha seo le Manus Lunny.". Facebook. 6 February 2016. Retrieved 6 February 2016. 
  15. ^ "Mairéad is Donegal Person of Year (2009)". 29 January 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2016. 
  16. ^ T with the Maggies Web Site