From Bermuda to Bantry: Mairéad Hickey will star at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival

AS THE annual West Cork Chamber Music Festival settles comfortably into its third decade, a stellar line-up of musicians will again gather from all over the world for a classical music festival cum country house party on the edge of the Atlantic, writes Cathy Desmond.

From Bermuda to Bantry: Mairéad Hickey will star at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival

The 17th century Bantry House is the epicentre of the festival with events featuring popular classics to rarely heard pieces for every conceivable chamber combination.

Among the legion of a hundred or so international A-listers converging on Bantry, is a Cork musician who has grown up and come of age with the festival. Now based in Germany, Mairéad Hickey began her musical journey in Bermuda, making her performing debut with a local Suzuki group and playing with her dad Mick in care homes and hospitals.

There is charming footage online of a five-year-old tot breaking hearts in the Bermuda Folk Club, performing with her dad’s folk ensemble, with a remarkably assured rendition of the Tennessee Waltz.

Traditional music is very much in her DNA. Her grandmother Marie Hickey was a well-known fiddle player from Arklow. Mairead herself has proven equally adroit at the traditional Irish genre. Among her many prizes is the coveted Fiddler of Dooney and, in her teens, she launched her own teaching app featuring well know Irish fiddle tunes (still available on iTunes).

The family moved to Cork and at seven she began her tuition with the renowned Romanian pedagogue, Adrian Petcu who remains a mentor as she straddles the professional and student milieus.

She first performed in Bantry as part of a student quartet when she was 15 years old. Now at the ripe old age of 21, she is looking forward to returning for her second year as a fully-fledged performer. She joins cellist Chris Marwood from the Vanbrugh Quartet and Huw Watkins to play a Brahms Trio at one of the main evening concerts. You’ll catch her playing a Schubert Octet alongside festival headliner Tamsin Waley-Cohen, and she will form part of the line-up for the final concert with a contemporary work for sextet by French composer Guillaume Connessan.

The lessons on planning a good festival have not been lost on the young virtuoso who has not been slow to grasp the challenge of shaping the musical events. Last year, together with cellist Sinead O’Halloran, she launched a successful chamber music weekend, the Ortús Festival.

Bringing music to a wider audience is clearly a passion. “People feel that classical music is not for them somehow and yet this music has never been more accessible. With YouTube there is instant access to the world’s top performers,” says Mairead.

With multiple accolades to her name, there are many avenues to the young virtuoso.

What the future holds for her is not yet clear but of one thing she is certain. “I love playing chamber music. West Cork Chamber Music is just marvellous. There are so many wonderful musicians and they’re so well looked after there. We play great music and eat great food which is important too. It’s just perfect.”

  • West Cork Chamber Music Festival runs from 30 June – 8 July. See

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