“Music is what nourishes me. It’s like food and water and prayer. It raises me up.”
TG4’s landmark music series Sé mo Laoch kicks off its 12th season on Sunday, September 12 with these opening words from Donegal traditional singer and fiddle player Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh in the first in a series of five programmes featuring some of Ireland's finest exponents of traditional music and song.
In the opening programme we journey with Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh from her early schooldays under the eye of her schoolmaster and musician father, to the heartbreaking loss of her soulmate Frankie Kennedy and her rise to international acclaim as a member of world-famous Altan.
Featuring contributions from current and former Altan band members, musician Paddy Glackin and lifelong friends Tara Bingham and Dermy Diamond, the programme explores the groundbreaking nature of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s role in Altan and acknowledges the debt young female musicians owe to her in breaking down traditional boundaries.
“Mairéad showed other women musicians they didn’t have to be satisfied with the sidelines, that they could take centre stage,” former Altan member Paul O’Shaughnessy comments in the programme.
“I never saw myself as a woman when I was playing,’ Mairéad reveals. ‘When I was playing music, I was playing music. I remember one woman told me she’d had the fiddle taken off her when she started learning to play, and I understood then how supportive my father Francie had been.”
Central to Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s story is her creative partnership with husband Frankie Kennedy, and his death at the age of 38.
With a million-dollar record deal for Altan secured just prior to his death, Mairéad had no choice but to continue touring and performing. It was only when she had her daughter Nia several years later that she decided to return to Donegal and raise her child through Irish, surrounded by the music she loves.
“Mairéad and Frankie really understood that the local music she grew up playing was special,’ Paddy Glackin recalls in the programme.
“And when people speak of the Tír Chonaill tradition they inevitably mention her name.”
Mairéad’s enduring passion for the music of her home place has led to her joining forces with fellow Donegal performers Moya Brennan, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill as a member of T with the Maggies.
She also plays a central role in family band ‘Na Mooneys’ and performs as part of all-female Donegal fiddlers group, ‘The Sí Fiddlers’.
The programme features many performances including a stand-out rendition of I wish my love was a red red rose, and further contributions from Mark Kelly; Mairtin Tourish; Ciarán Curran; Steve Cooney; Manus Lunny; Nia Byrne; Ann Mooney; Gearóid Ó Maonaigh, and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill.
Upcoming ‘Sé mo Laoch programmes in TG4’s latest series will feature lilter Séamus Fay from Cavan, mouth organ players John & Pip Murphy from Wexford , singers Áine Uí Cheallaigh and Kevin Conneff of the Chieftains.
Directed by Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and produced by Dónal O’Connor, Executive Producer is Niamh Ní Bhaoill. ‘Sé mo Laoch is produced by Aniar TV.
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