"Exquisite fiddle-playing and superb vocals”
THE IRISH TIMES
Nollaig is one of Ireland's most gifted musicians, with her own unique way of playing traditional Irish music on the fiddle and such a distinctive sound that it would be impossible to mistake it for that of anyone else. This “sound” is so attractive to other musicians that there exists hardly any major Irish artist of the last thirty years with whom she has not worked - and many international artists have been equally entranced.
Her powerful presence graced Dónal Lunny’s ground-breaking band Coolfin, with whom she had a busy international touring schedule. One highlight was their performance in a special concert celebrating the Irish roots of American country music for Island: A Festival of the Arts in Ireland held at the John F. Kennedy Centre in Washington DC which was broadcast coast to coast on network television: they shared the stage with Ricky Skaggs, Emmy Lou Harris and Steve Earle. Nollaig has worked with Dónal off and on for many years: she joined the legendary band Planxty (of which he was a founder member) in 1980, touring all over Europe with them.
A television programme about Nollaig’s life and music was recently broadcast on Ireland’s TG4 as part of its “Fuaimrian mo Shaoil” series.She can als be seen in the current series of BBC TV’s Transatlantic Sessions playing with Alison Krauss and Aly Bain.
Nollaig’s prodigious technique and her unique ability to play both classical and traditional music with equal proficiency, coupled with her exceptional expressive gifts has inspired a number of composers to write orchestral pieces for her. In 2003 she performed in front of millions as soloist with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in a work by Shaun Davey commissioned by the Special Olympics held in Dublin. With the same orchestra she performed a piece by Dónal Lunny, commissioned in 1997 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Great Irish Famine, on several occasions, most recently at Expo 2000 in Hanover. In 1999 she gave the first performance in New York of a Concerto for Violin and Irish Fiddle by Evan Chambers, which had been commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra and in 2006 made her Carnegie Hall début as soloist in the same concerto.
She is herself a prolific composer: she arranged several of her own compositions for fiddle soloist and string orchestra and played these, together with some by Shaun Davey, at a special gala St Patrick’s Day concert in The Athenaeum, Bucharest in 2005. “Twins on a Swing” was used as a signature tune for the RTÉ / TG4 TV series ‘Sult’ for several years.
She enjoys an unrivalled popularity among composers of film- music with an Irish tinge and has been the featured soloist on over twenty feature-films – including the acclaimed Dancing at Lughnasa and Waking Ned. She was of course seen as well as heard world-wide in the1992 Hear My Song (about the life of singer Josef Locke). She is herself a prolific composer, writing for Coolfin, television documentaries and for her own recording projects.
Nollaig has recorded and worked with Enya, Van Morrison, Sinéad O’Connor, Nanci Griffith, Ricky Skaggs, Rod Stewart, Dónal Lunny, Mary Black, Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, Carlos Nuñez, Jim Rooney, Andy Irvine, Moving Hearts, The Indigo Girls, Spandau Ballet, Christy Moore, Liam O'Flynn, Dan ar Bras, Sharon Shannon, Maura O'Connell, Dick Gaughan, Paddy Keenan, Máirtín O'Connor and her sister, the innovative and influential harper Máire Ní Chathasaigh, among many others. She was a star performer in Dan ar Bras’ massively successful Héritage des Celtes project: both albums (released by Sony France) received Gold Discs in France. She has made two duo albums, Lead The Knave and Causeway, with legendary guitarist Arty McGlynn; a solo album, The Music of What Happened, in 2005; and a quartet album, Heartstring Sessions, with her sister Máire Ní Chathasaigh, Arty McGlynn and Chris Newman in late 2008 – all to great critical acclaim.
Further biographical information
Born into a well-known West Cork musical family, by the time Nollaig began to play the violin at the age of eleven she was already proficient in a variety of instruments - notably piano, tin-whistle and uilleann pipes. Throughout her teens she developed her talents both in the fields of classical and traditional music, winning several All-Ireland titles for fiddle-playing (Oireachtas and Fleadh Cheoil na h-Éireann) and traditional singing (Oireachtas) culminating in the award to her of the Bonn Éigse agus Ceoil at Slógadh Náisiúnta na h-Éireann 1972 for the best all-round performer, in consequence of having won first prizes for fiddle, tin-whistle, traditional singing, dancing, solo dramatic scene and poetry-writing! She had already begun to compose and in 1972 won an RTÉ Radio Young Composer of the Year Competition for newly-composed tunes in the traditional idiom. As a student of the Royal Irish Academy of Music she won the Vandeleur Scholarship and was awarded the prestigious Arthur Darley Memorial Prize at the Dublin Feis Ceoil for the playing of unaccompanied Bach Sonatas and Partitas.
Having graduated from University College Cork with a B. Mus. degree at the exceptionally early age of nineteen, she embarked upon a professional career, firstly with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra where she remained for three years until she joined Planxty in 1980. When Ireland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 Planxty made a guest appearance, playing Timedance, a piece specially written by fellow band-member Bill Whelan and later released as a single, in which Nollaig's distinctive playing was heavily featured. Bill of course went on to write the music for Riverdance - which also started life as a piece of Eurovision interval music: the rest, as they say, is history! Nollaig makes occasional guest appearances in Riverdance, thus completing the circle.
She has subsequently toured with a wide variety of artists in Ireland, the UK., France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Libya, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Japan, the U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand.
She is a frequent broadcaster: her countless RTE television appearances have included several on the prime-time Late Late Show, Nighthawks, Saturday Live and Sult as well as on specialist traditional music programmes such as The Pure Drop. She featured in a Late Late Show Special on prominent Irish women musicians. She made frequent appearances on the major 1991 BBC TV series Bringing it All Back Home with members of U2, Dónal Lunny and Arty, and performed on the prestigious Good Morning America TV show when the series was launched in the US.
Praise for Nollaig
"The highlight of the Festival was the exquisite and dignified playing of Nollaig Ní Chathasaigh... Strong and elegant on stage, her instrument appears almost to be an extension of her own body" - The Irish Times
" I would happily sit all night in a cold theatre to listen to Nollaig Casey..." - Fortnight (Belfast)
"Nollaig Casey played wondrous fiddle before singing unaccompanied with such feeling it brought tears to the eyes..." - The Subiaco Post (Western Australia)
“Nollaig’s performance was stunning for its sheer musical artistry, seducing some into quiet amazement and inducing others to insist on encore after encore...”
- The Irish Times
“...brewed up a storm on the main stage, the crowd roaring their appreciation. Nollaig Casey held centre spotlight with the ease and grace of a natural born artist”
– The Southern Star
“A colourful, resonant voice and richly expressive fiddle-playing”
- The Hot Press
“If Máire wasn’t around, Irish harping would be so much the poorer: her work restores the harp to its true voice."
THE IRISH TIMES
Máire's Tour Schedule
Live Reviews of Máire
Features about & Interviews with Máire
Máire's recordings & books
Audio & video clips of Máire
Máire Ní Chathasaigh (pronounced Moira Nee Ha-ha-sig) is "the doyenne of Irish harp players" (The Scotsman) and one of Ireland’s most important and influential traditional musicians, described by the late Derek Bell as “the most interesting and original player of the Irish harp today”. She grew up in a well-known West Cork musical family who were active in the Cork Pipers' Club and was already proficient in a variety of other instruments by the time that she began to play the harp at the age of eleven. Using her knowledge of the idiom of the living oral Irish tradition, she developed a variety of new techniques, particularly in relation to ornamentation, with the aim of establishing an authentically traditional style of harping - “a single-handed reinvention of the harp”. Her originality was quickly recognised and she made a number of TV and radio broadcasts as a teenager, going on to win the All-Ireland and Pan-Celtic Harp Competitions on several occasions. Her live performances had been attracting attention internationally since 1978, when she first toured Germany as part of the hugely-influential and commercially-successful Irish Folk Festival tour. Her very first recording was made for the live compilation album released to commemorate that tour; other artists featured were Liam O'Flynn, Andy Irvine, Dolores Keane and John Faulkner, Mick Hanly and Máirtin O'Connor. In 1985 she recorded the first harp album ever to concentrate on traditional Irish dance music, The New-Strung Harp, described by The Irish Examiner as "an intensely passionate and intelligent record… a mile-stone in Irish harp music”. Her approach has had a profound influence on the new generation of Irish harpers and in 2001 she was awarded Gradam Cheoil TG4 - Irish Traditional Musician of the Year - in recognition of her pioneering work. She remains the sole harpist recipient of this prestigious award. (For details see here.)
Her “celebrated virtuoso partnership” (The Daily Telegraph) with Chris Newman, “one of the UK’s most staggering & influential acoustic guitarists” (Folk Roots), made its début at the 1987 Cambridge Folk Festival. Their performances have been described as “music of fire and brilliance from the high-wire act in traditional music” by The Irish Times, they've made many appearances on TV and radio and their busy touring schedule has brought them to twenty-one countries on five continents. Click here for a list of some of their festival performances throughout the world and here for their latest news. Of their seven albums together, The Living Wood (1988) was the Daily Telegraph’s Folk Album of the Year, Out of Court (1991) was "stunning... one of the most refreshingly innovative releases in recent years" - Folk Roots, The Carolan Albums (1994) was “a masterpiece of virtuosity” - The Daily Telegraph, Live in the Highlands (1995) was “One of the best live albums I’ve heard for a long time... captures the essence of these remarkable performers in a rare and priceless way. Absolutely essential.“ - Folk Roots and Dialogues:Agallaimh (2001) was “Terrific: brilliant, beautiful, rich, virtuosic, delightful, classic, perfect!” Of their sixth CD, FireWire, the critics said: “An eclecticism and spirit of adventure that is quite thrilling… Virtuoso playing… bewitching string fantasies and a wonderfully clear and expressive voice" The Times "Maire... is in a class of her own" The Guardian "Takes one of the most effete instruments in traditional music and breathes a fire into its belly" The Irish Times “Brilliant, innovative harping and guitar-playing of astonishing virtuosity and versatility” Songlines “Dazzling virtuosity... guitar-playing to be marvelled at... delightful” The Daily Telegraph “Album of the Year” Live Ireland “Best Celtic Instrumental Album” 2009 Just Plain Folks Awards Nashville, Tennessee. Their new CD, Christmas Lights, was released in December - “A delightful... satisfyingly original, often refreshingly unpredictable take on festive favourites… Gorgeous and uplifting" THE LIVING TRADITION - and their associated new Christmas show played to sell-out audiences: “(Their) mastery and magic... produced a rapt response” THE GUARDIAN
In 2008 they recorded a quartet CD, Heartstring Sessions, with two of the most important names in Irish music, legendary guitarist Arty McGlynn and Máire's sister, virtuoso fiddler Nollaig Casey, and toured widely with it. “Inspired... a contender for album of the year” fROOTS “Traditional music at its very best” The Irish Times "An amazingly eclectic mix... Astounding" The Ulster Herald "Magnificent... Virtuosic... Outstanding" The Scotsman “World-class” Irish Music Magazine “Two of the mightiest pairings in current folk combine to give a tour-de-force of breathtaking order. Classic.” The Living Tradition "Exceptionnel… brillant…" Le Peuple Breton "Attention - chef d'œuvre! Bravo!!!” TRAD Magazine (France) “A dream quartet - the sweetest and most exciting music to emerge for a long time. Matching virtuosity with sheer good taste, this album of traditional and original music pours joyfully from the speakers... amazing, majestic, delightful.” Dirty Linen (USA)
The unique atmosphere of their live concerts as a duo continues to generate some extraordinary reviews. “Their virtuosity leads them on: Máire chomps on the bit of the harp's respectability, playing storming jigs & reels...” - The Irish Times “This celebrated duo took the place by storm. Stately Carolan tunes, jazzy Django-ish numbers, dazzling flat picking fliers, driving Irish dance tunes - this pair can nonchalantly do the lot. Guitar players applauded & went sadly home to burn their instruments!” - Belfast Telegraph “Their blinding technique and sizzling Irish reels brought an extended standing ovation...” - The West Australian “A truly electrifying combination" - The Stage "The audience were charmed and dazzled by the speed, the deftness, the emotional range of their playing... Máire's clear, warm and expressive voice... Their stagecraft was masterly and their introductions informative and funny..." - Christchurch Press (New Zealand) “Newman led us on death-defying sprints while Máire confirmed her status as one of the world’s greatest harpists” – Edinburgh Evening News "It isn't every day one gets to hear musicians whose playing and singing are so moving, so wonderfully executed with such technical brilliance and beauty, that they actually bring tears to one's eyes; they did to mine, and that evening in Tallaght will remain a lasting and unforgettable memory." - Irish Music Magazine “Managed to do things I have never heard a harp do before… The gasps from the audience, particularly from the other harp players, made one realise that here was a very special performer indeed… I was alternately astonished and delighted with the entire concert: the skills with which they interacted, and the beautiful music they performed left a lasting impression on me and surely anyone else who was privileged to witness this extraordinary event.” - Classical Guitar Magazine
Máire has perfomed at many harp festivals around the world. As the only Irish headline performer at the 11th World Harp Congress held in Vancouver in 2011, she represented both the Irish harp and Irish musical traditions. Other notable harp festival appearances have included the 2010 Istanbul Harp Encounter (part of that city’s European City of Culture celebrations), the 16e Festival "Harpe en Avesnois", (Maubeuge, France), the 7th European Harp Symposium (Cardiff, Wales), XIIes Journées de la Harpe, (Arles, France), Rencontres Internationales de la Harpe Celtique (Dinan, France), the International Festival for Irish Harp, Termonfechin, Co Louth, Ireland (on fourrteen occasions since 1985); the Edinburgh Harp Festival (on eight occasions); the O'Carolan Harp Festival, Nobber, Co. Meath, Ireland (on three occasions), the 9th World Harp Congress, Dublin, 2005 (opening concert in St Patrick's Cathedral and solo concert as part of Celtic Highlights series); the 5th World Harp Congress, Copenhagen 1993 (concert shared with Gráinne Yeats and Isobel Mieras - the first ever Congress event to feature the Irish harp); the World Harp Festival (Cardiff); HarpCon Bloomington, Indiana, the Highland Harp Festival, and Festivals held in Belfast, Dublin and Boston to commemorate the bicentennial of the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival. Recent harp event performances include concerts at the Welsh Harp School and the Cromarty Harp Village, Scotland.
Solo performances by Máire happen quite rarely, though there have been an increasing number in recent years: at the Samhain Festival, Stockholm, the 21st Swiss Harp Festival, the International Harp School, Wells, B.C., Canada, the 7th Rio Harp Festival, Brazil, the Mission Folk Festival, B.C., Canada, Harfen in Schwaben, Germany, the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland; the London Irish Centre; the International Festival for Irish Harp, Termonfechin, Co Louth, Ireland; the University of Leeds; the Southeastern Harp Weekend, Asheville, N.C., USA, and the Birmingham Early Music Festival - and of course, as mentioned above, at the 11th World Harp Congress, Vancouver.
Máire holds an honours B.A. degree in Celtic Studies from University College Cork. Two books of her harp arrangements, The Irish Harper Voume I and The Irish Harper Voume II have been published by Old Bridge Music.
Máire contributed two articles about the Irish harp and modes in Irish music to the Companion to Irish Traditional Music (Cork University Press) & is profiled in Celtic Women in Music (Mairéad Sullivan, Quarry Music Books, Canada). She's also profiled in the Rough Guide to Irish Music.
Máire now concentrates primarily on performance. However, she’s always placed a high priority on passing on her knowledge and techniques to the next generation, with the aim – now largely achieved - of re-integrating the Irish harp into the mainstream of the living oral Irish tradition. She has been giving masterclasses in Europe and the USA since the mid-1970s with the result that her ideas and techniques are now very widely disseminated. 2013 was her twenty-eighth year as a tutor at An Chúirt Chruitireachta, the Summer School/Festival organised by Cairde na Cruite (The Irish Harp Society) in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, the pre-eminent such festival, attracting harpers from all over the world. (See www.cairdenacruite.com or contact the Festival Director, Áine Ní Dhubhghaill, at email@example.com for further details.) She has taught in the past at the Cork Municipal School of Music (where she developed the first ever examination syllabus for non-pedal harp) and at the Leeds College of Music. Her arrangements have been featured on the Syllabus of the Royal Irish Academy of Music for a number of years. She has been a visiting harp tutor at Newcastle University, Limerick University, the University of Ulster and the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana.
Chris and Máire are featured on the major BBC 2 TV series on Irish music Bringing it All Back Home - the associated BBC book features a large photograph of Máire on the front cover – and on Polygram USA’s major 1998 Celtic harp album and associated PBS TV special Celtic Harpestry. They’re also featured on Irish rock legend Rory Gallagher’s posthumous 2003 album on BMG, Wheels within Wheels. Máire is harp and voice soloist with the New English Chamber Orchestra and the Choir of New College Oxford on John Cameron's major work Missa Celtica, released by Erato Disques, Paris. (Further information at www.johncameronmusic.com) The Goldcrest film Driftwood features her singing, and her harping and compositions feature with Dónal Lunny, Sharon Shannon, Máire's sister Nollaig Casey and other luminaries of the Celtic music world on Dan ar Braz's Gold Disc-awarded album for Sony France Finisterres.
Máire has played for many dignitaries over the years, including Pope John Paul II and the King and Queen of Spain.
Máire plays an Aberdeen harp made by William Rees Harps of Rising Sun, Indiana www.traditionalharps.com and an electro-acoustic Mélusine harp made by Camac Harps, France www.camac-harps.com: she's grateful to both companies for the sponsorship which enables her to play their wonderful, sweet-toned but powerful instruments.
Multiple All-Ireland, Oireachtas- and Pan-Celtic-winning Mairéad Ní Chathasaigh‘s sweet soaring voice and subtle, very traditional fiddle-playing ground the music deeply in its roots. Mairéad has a deep knowledge of the Irish singing tradition and a special interest in the Sliabh Luachra fiddle repertoire and style. She has toured in the USA, Canada, Italy, Belgium and France, given traditional singing workshops in Ireland and the UK and is a regular adjudicator at Fleadhanna Cheoil throughout Ireland and at Fleadh Cheoil na h-Éireann.