Skip to main content
< back to

Gradam Ceoil TG4

Laoise Kelly – Musician of the Year


Harper Laoise Kelly is from Westport, Co. Mayo and now lives on Achill Island. She is one of Ireland’s most significant harpers of her generation and uses a style of playing combining the techniques of fingerpads in the bass and fingernails in the melody on a thirty-four gut strung Paddy Cafferky harp. In addition to a successful recording and touring career, she now works as Director of the Achill International Harp Festival and is a founding member of Harp Ireland.

Kelly started learning music from a young age, growing up in a home where traditional music was ever present, but with a variety of other genres too, such as classical, jazz, pop and rock and including artists such as The Beatles, Johnny Cash and Louis Armstrong. Kelly’s father taught her and her siblings to play the piano, and after years of learning the tin whistle with piper Rory Sommers and composer and musician John Hoban, she picked up the harp at age twelve, with Ann-Marie Scanlon as her first teacher. Kim Fleming then became her main teacher and while learning the traditional harp and competing in Fleadh ceoil, she also studied classical, and sat exams at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Kelly was a founding member of the traditional group Bumblebees, who recorded two albums, Bumblebees (1997) and Buzzin (1999) and who toured extensively across Ireland, the UK, Europe, the US and Canada. She was also a founding member of Fiddletree, a folk group from the US, Ireland, Cape Breton and Scotland, who all play instruments made from the same tree and who have released two albums, The Fiddletree (2011) and The Unfathomable Menagerie (2013).

Her solo career saw Kelly recorded on over sixty albums with artists such as The Chieftains, Christy Moore, Sharon Shannon, Dónal Lunny, Tommy Makem, Matt Molloy, Tommy Peoples, Mary Black, Maighread & Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, as well as Kate Bush and American bluegrass singer and musician Tim O’Brien. She has released three solo albums: Just Harp (1999), Ceis (2010) and Fáilte Uí Cheallaigh (2015). She also released a live duo album with fiddle player Michelle O’Brien in 2010, The Wishing Well, and in 2016 released Ar Lorg na Laochra, a duo album with Monaghan piper Tiarnan Ó Duinnchinn.

She has also worked in theatre, and composed new music in 2018 for Scottish theatre company Theatre Gu Leòr’s production Scotties, a co-commission by the National Theatre of Scotland and The Abbey Theatre, Dublin. She was Musical Director on Brendan Behan’s The Hostage and Seán O’Casey’s Purple Dust with Glasgow theatre company Arches at the Edinburgh Festival and toured with New York-based Mabou Mines production of Peter & Wendy to the Edinburgh Festival and the Old Vic in New York.

Kelly has performed for Irish Presidents Michael D. Higgins, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese and has represented Ireland with the Irish Embassy in Nigeria, Ghana, Russia and Argentina. She also represented Ireland at the World Harp Festival in Paraguay and has won three All-Ireland Harp competitions and the Waterford Crystal harp at the Belfast Bicentennial Harp Festival 1992, a prestigious harp event that takes place just once every 200 years.

Touring regularly with artists such as Ó Duinnchinn, fiddler Tola Custy, singer and accordion player Breanndán Begley, Scottish singer Kathleen MacInnes and fiddle player Diarmuid Gielty among others, Kelly has just finished a tour of Ireland as a four-piece with fiddle player Tara Breen, accordionist Josephine Marsh and singer Nell Ní Chróinín.

‘Laoise Kelly is a young harpist with the disposition of an iconoclast and the talent and technique of a virtuoso.’– The Irish Times

‘An exuberant and innovative talent which catches the spirit of the modern Irish music movement in a way that few harpers have done to date.’ – Irish Music Magazine

‘Her right hand fires out tunes with a fluidity, creativity and clarity that has revolutionised the harp as a solo instrument; her left hand is the source of a new voice in the world of accompaniment and groove, rooted in her engagement with the contemporary world of guitar, bouzouki, bódhran and keyboard while being distinct in its own right. Laoise has made it OK for a harp to sit in the centre of the session and be the heart of the trad band headlining the festival.’ – Niall Keegan, Irish World Academy, UL.

Ar Lorg na Laochra with Tiarnan O Duinchinn, 2016

Fáilte Uí Cheallaigh, 2015

The Wishing Well with Michelle O’Brien 2010

Ceis, 2010

Just Harp, 1999