Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s name is synonymous with what’s good in the music and culture of her native County Donegal, Ireland. Born in the Gaeltacht area of Gaoth Dobhair, where Gaeilge was her main language, she learned her songs and tunes from her family and neighbours.
Mairéad’s father, Francie Mooney was a noted fiddler, song writer and school teacher and was her first main influence. Her mother, Kitty Rua (Red haired) was also raised in a musical house that held frequent house dances. It is no surprise, therefore, that both Mairéad and her siblings; Gearóid and Anna all play music together and lately released a new album, ‘Na Mooneys’;
In the early eighties, Mairéad qualified as a Primary school teacher and taught in Saint Oliver Plunkett’s P.S. in Malahide, Co. Dublin. She and her late husband recorded Ceol Aduaidh (Music from the North) for Irish label Gael Linn in 1983. This timeless recording was the genesis of what would later become Altan.
The recording featured, Mairead’s brother, Gearóid Ó Maonaigh on guitar, Fintan Mc Manus on bouzouki, Ciaran Curran on bouzouki and Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (now known as Enya) on keyboards. The album quietly gained praise among enthusiasts of traditional Irish music world wide, which lead the way for a career in music.
Mairéad Ní Mhaonigh’s teaching career came to a halt after she and her late husband Frankie Kennedy took a career break in 1987 and formed Altan. The band went on to become one of the most acclaimed Irish traditional bands touring the world. They recorded for Green Linnet in the USA and toured North America extensively.
Then in 1994, Frankie Kennedy passed away to cancer, which was a tremendous loss to Mairéad. She continued with the band at her late husband’s request and signed to multinational record label, Virgin Records London in late 1994. This marked the first traditional Irish band to be signed to a major record label and propelled Altan and Mairéad into a wider audience of followers.
Altan have travelled all over the world headlining shows from Tokyo, the Sydney Opera House, the Hollywood Bowl to the National Concert Hall, Dublin.
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, along with fronting Altan, has remained close her roots between touring and returns to the ‘source’ to her native Donegal to play, sing and teach her music to a new generation.
She helped set up Cairdeas na bhFidléirí (The Fellowship / Friendship of Fiddlers) in the early eighties to promote and preserve the fiddle music of Co. Donegal.
In 2009 Mairéad released her first solo album, ‘Imeall” (Edge/Theshold) as a limited edition. After many years of playing with the band and numerous requests for a solo recording she finally got time to record the album, after she parted from her second husband Dermot Byrne, with whom she had her daughter Nia. She toured the album, between Altan commitments with her co-producer and recording engineer, Manus Lunny.
The album prompted one reviewer, Paul O’Connor to remark “Her identified success as the leader of Altan, has dominated our sense of her to the point that we aren’t cognisant of how good she is as an artist , musician, composer in her own right.”
This new focus on Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh as an artist in her own right, prompted The Donegal Association in Dublin to grant her Donegal Person of the Year 2009 at a gala dinner in Dublin’s prestigious Burlington Hotel.
She was awarded the top recognition in traditional Irish music, by her fellow peers in 2018, when she was awarded TG4 Gradam Ceoil’s Traditional Musician of the Year. The following year, she was honoured in her own county at the now world famous “Cup o’Tae Festival” which is held annually in Ardara, Co Donegal.
Mairéad is also a member of String Sisters, which is a Grammy listed folk supergroup of six of the world’s leading female fiddlers. Together they have released two albums – the Grammy-longlisted ‘Live’ and ‘Between Wind and Water’.
She is a member of “T with the Maggies” which is a vocal supergroup of Donegal singers comprising of Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill and Moya Brennan of Clannad fame.
Recently she has recorded with a group of Donegal of 13 based female fiddlers which is called ‘SíFiddlers’