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2017 Awards

Musician of the Year Award

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh is one of the best known faces, voices and fiddlers in traditional music, an energetic and inspirational performer and advocate for music.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh


When one thinks of Women in Irish Music, most times one thinks of this truly remarkable person, who has for over thirty years being at the cutting edge of the Tradition.

A native of the North West Donegal Gaeltacht, as a child she was taught by her father,  a major musical talent himself, who to this day continues to be a strong influence on her life. It was evident to many then, that her talent was exceptional. Classical violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, while on holidays in Donegal became aware of the young woman and tried to convince her to pursue a career in classical music. Fortunately for us though, she declined the invitation, and decided to stick with playing traditional fiddle.

In later years, after her with Belfast flute player, the late Frankie Kennedy, they eventually got married, and became one of the most influential fiddle and flute duos of all time. Together they were the foundation of the super-group, Altan who to this day continue to carry the great energy, of the Donegal music and song tradition to a worldwide audience.

Her love of her family, her community, her language and her country is distinctly reflected in all the work that she does as a musician, as a singer and as a composer. This is clearly apparent, when listening to her stunning solo recording, Imeall which was released back in 2008.

As well as being a truly remarkable singer and fiddle player, her generosity to others, especially young musicians is never-ending. Her support, and constant encouragement has played a positive impact on many aspiring singers and musicians over the years. With this in mind, one thinks of Scoil Gheimhridh Frankie Kennedy, which honored the memory of a great man.

Therefore it’s fitting that this year’s Gradam TG4 goes to an exceptional person and musician MAIRÉAD NÍ MHAONAIGH


Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh is one of the best known faces, voices and fiddlers in traditional music, an energetic and inspirational performer and advocate for music.

Her Donegal roots are deep and obvious from the first moment you hear her voice or her music-making. A native of the Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht in the north-west of that county her musical training began in the cradle. Her musical inspirations and influences began locally and early and she grew up in what was one of the best known rambling houses for musicians and singers, both locals and summer visitors to the Gaeltacht area.

Her father, Francie was a well-known singer, fiddler and composer (as well as being a teacher) and her mother, Cití Rua also contributed to her life-long love of music and song as she was a dab hand on the accordion. She followed her father’s profession and trained as a primary schoolteacher in Dublin, graduating in 1979. In college, she had hooked up with a fellow student Frankie Kennedy (1955-1994), a brilliant Belfast flute player. Their shared love of music brought them together and soon they were a duet in every sense. Their first group went under the title Ragairne and took a prize at the Letterkenny Folk festival. Soon after, in 1983 Mairéad, Frankie and Ciarán Curran issued Ceol Aduaidh on the Gael-Linn label and this brought them to national (and soon international) prominence with their unique Northern sound.

By 1987 the couple had decided that music would be their fulltime career and they left teaching behind and formed the group Altan. It was a decision that changed their lives and marked a new direction in every sense as international travel became their normal life – from Gaoth Dobhair to Boston, New York to Milan and Tokyo and back again.

Frankie’s death left a huge gap in Irish music but Mairéad has undertaken to preserve his legacy and the group continued with its unique verve and energy. Her singing, both with the group, on solo performance or with others has brought her much attention and a wide following.

She is constantly sought as a guest with other projects too and now has credits on more than 25 albums with performers as well-know and diverse as Albert Fry, Enya, The Chieftains, Dolly Parton, Mary Black, The String Sisters, T With the Maggies, Afro Celt Sound System and many more. She is also a polished presenter/broadcaster on both radio and TV on such prestigious programmes as The Long Note, The Pure Drop, The Full Set and Aistear na nGael.

Composing is yet another string to her bow and her music is to be heard on Altan and on her solo release Imeall (2009) and more recently on the family album Na Mooneys released earlier this year. Her teaching ability is not neglected either as she is a regular tutor at Cairdeas na bhFidléirí, the voluntary organisation that promotes her instrument of choice.

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