A Question of Taste: Harpist Úna Ní Fhlannagáin

Úna Ní Fhlannagáin is a harpist and harp teacher based in Co Galway. She recently won the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal for harp in a competition broadcast live from Cork on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.

A Question of Taste: Harpist Úna Ní Fhlannagáin

Best recent book:

The Course Of Love by Alain De Botton. He notices, questions and explains the status quo, and somehow articulates what I previously thought was inexpressible.

Best recent film:

Birth Of A Nation. Harrowing and life-changing.

Best recent show/gig:

In the last year I’ve seen Beyoncé and Rihanna live, but for me, Scléip — a music, dance and drama competition trí Ghaeilge — tops them both. I attended the final in February, and the passion and intensity that those teenagers brought to their performances brought tears to my eyes.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately:

The eponymous album of Irish traditional band Cúig. Blinding tunes played with perfect phrasing, and high-energy, but sensitive, accompaniment on guitar and drums. ’Tis the schnizzle!

First ever piece of music that really moved you:

As a toddler I used to throw the tape-player into my cot to listen to ‘Minuet in G’ (commonly attributed to Bach, but actually written by Christian Petzold), which is a well-known Suzuki violin piece. Also, Mikey Smith playing ‘The Wild Geese’ on uilleann pipes at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2001 made my hormonal teenager self cry.

The best gig or show you’ve ever seen:

The pop band James at Witness in 2001, or the McCarthy Sisters at the Tunes In The Church concert series in Galway in 2016.

TV viewing:

I haven’t watched TV since 2002 — life is too full of interesting things.

Radio listening and/or podcasts:

My sister, Nóra answers my every sentence with “Did you know there’s a podcast on that..?”! I enjoy the guests on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, and Ronán Beo@3 on RnaG.

You’re curating your dream festival — which three artists are on the bill?

Nina Simone, Patrick Kelly from Cree, and Máire Ní Chathasaigh.

Your best celebrity encounter:

I was in a bathroom at an Irish traditional music festival, when I heard amazing fiddle music. I thought to myself “Wow, the sound system in this pub is really high-fidelity! That’s a gorgeous recording of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaig, but he must have released a new album — I’ve never heard that track before…” I emerged to find Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh outside in the empty smoking area, playing a tune for a friend. With their permission I stayed to listen, and had my very own private concert for an hour. It was like I’d died and gone to heaven.

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history or music event?

I would go back to to the year 1732 and stalk two ancient Irish harpers: Turlough O’Carolan and Denis Hempson.

Do you have any interesting family or ancestors?

I have 17 aunts and uncles and 74 first cousins, and they’re all fascinating. The most high-profile are probably my great-aunts, Sarah and Rita Keane, who were well-known Irish traditional singers. Ethnomusicologists used to come and camp in their garden, and collect songs from them. But the one I’m most proud of is my first cousin, Catriona Lucas. She was a dedicated Coast Guard volunteer. Her family love and miss her so much.

What’s the best harp you’ve ever played on?

My favourite harp to play is my own, which was made by Paddy Cafferky in Craughwell. I love the responsiveness of the strings, the full timbre of the middle register, the rich bass, its portability and minimalist but curvy design.

Unsung hero – individual or group who don’t get the praise they deserve:

I think Alcoholics Anonymous has been hugely helpful for many Irish people.

There are also other ‘Twelve Step’ groups in Ireland, patterned on Alcoholics Anonymous, which help people with different problems - other substance addictions, relationship troubles, debt, etc.

They’re free and anonymous, and a lot of people find them very supportive and helpful.

You are queen for a day — what’s your first decree?

Every child in Ireland will be given an instrument of their choice and then given high-quality instrumental tuition in school.

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