This much I know: Máiréad Ní Mhaonaigh, musician

Máiréad Ní Mhaonaigh

Music takes you somewhere else. It has a quality that elevates you to a higher plane.

It’s almost like prayer. But unlike language, music is not restricted by words. 

Music alleviates your worries and helps you cope with the hardships of everyday life.

I grew up in Gweedore in County Donegal, surrounded by music. 

I was a very shy child and I think music actually helped me to overcome my shyness. 

My father Francie played fiddle and whistle and all my mother’s people were musical too — her mother’s house was actually the céilí house for the area, that’s how she met my father. 

I always wanted to play but never thought of doing it as a professional career. 

It is amazing that I have ended up as a performer, given that performing in front of people was the very opposite of my personality growing up. 

But maybe part of me was attracted to it for that very reason, because I saw it as a way of overcoming my fear, and I saw that it could allow me to become someone else.

I went to on to third level to study Irish and Geography and then, because I always loved the creative arts, I taught children, specialising in all things artistic. 

It wasn’t until 1987 that we formed Altan (with first husband Frankie Kennedy). 

We’d already started playing folk clubs around Dublin and people had became interested in our repertoire of Donegal tunes. The band really evolved out of that.

Home is back in Donegal now but I spend a lot of time on the road. 

I’ve been on tour since February — The States, England, Scotland, France — so I don’t have the luxury of following a set daily routine.

 But, I make the experience as positive as possible. 

One thing about this job is that you have a lot of time to yourself, back in the hotel room, and that’s when I do my thinking, which you could say is a form of meditation.

My worst fault is procrastination. And putting things off, especially domestic things, like painting that door or cleaning out that cupboard. 

I have a tendency to put things like that on the long finger.

The traits I most admire in others are integrity and honesty. I dislike pretence.

My idea of misery is being on tour and being stuck in a smoking room in a terrible hotel with no elevator.

The biggest challenge I’ve had to deal with was the death of my husband Frankie to cancer in 1994. The grief was overwhelming. 

I grew up overnight and eventually realised that the only solution to death is to embrace life.

I never became bitter. 

Later on, I married again. Dermot Byrne was in the band with me. 

Our daughter Nia is now 12, but we have since parted.

One of the best pieces of advice I got was from musician Liz Carroll’s father Kevin. 

We were playing to a packed house in Chicago and I was told there was an important person who wanted to meet me. He said ‘you stand here with us, let them come to you.’

If I could change one thing in Irish society, I’d get a Government that works for the people. 

Coming from Donegal, it is very annoying to see how all the young people have to leave. 

The energy that should be in every society has left and I blame the Government for it. 

They give themselves pay rises and yet people there are living on bread level, and below, which is why the young ones have to leave to look for work elsewhere.

If I could be someone else for a day, I’d like to be the Buddha.

I’ve had so much bereavement in my life that I do actually believe in some kind of afterlife.

And I do believe in a type of fate. If you send out good energy, it comes back at you. 

And I believe in being in the right place at right time — although I wouldn’t depend on it!

The biggest lesson life has taught me so far is not to fret. I try not to worry too much about anything anymore.

Máiréad Ní Mhaonaigh and Altan, along with Paul Brady, Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Martin Hayes, Mícheál Ó Suilleabáin and Colin Dunne perform at the Blas Summer School 20th anniversary Concert at the University Concert Hall, Limerick, June 26. 

Tickets: 061-331549

See www.blas.ie for details


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