Donegal's Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh is best known as founder and frontwoman of the iconic traditional music band Altan.

She has also forged an important solo career as an artist, musician and composer and is well-known as a member of T With The Maggies, Na Mooneys and SíFiddlers. 

Mairéad agus a cairde will perform in the National Concert Hall on Saturday October 24th, as part of the online festival Tradition Now 2020, featuring two marathon concerts showcasing the best of Irish traditional music - find out more here. 

We asked Mairéad for her choice cultural picks...

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FILM

I always go back to Shawshank Redemption. What an amazing story, with so many twists and turns! It still amuses me after many years. 

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MUSIC

My favourite music changes daily, from iconic albums like Joni Mitchell's Blue to the first The Bothy Band album, that still gives me a tingle of joy. Also, hearing new music from Emma Langford, Emma Ní Fhíorusice, Brid Harper, Clare Sands or Gavin James! I just get excited about music of every genre! 

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BOOK

I could mention classics like Wuthering Heights by Emily Brönte or Dubliners by James Joyce, but I’m choosing An Grá agus an Ghruaim by Seosamh Mac Grianna. I love this book for many reasons. It’s a series of short stories that the author heard from seanachaí in his locality growing up, so these are from the oral tradition and go back hundreds of years. They are ancient stories that depict places and characters from my area of North West Donegal, written with a poetic use of language. I’ve read it and reread it and it’s always a joy. 

Seosamh Mac Grianna

PLAY

Translations by Brian Friel. I have to be biased here, as this play is written about the area I live in - the fictional 'Ballybeg’ - and I walk An Tráigh Bán daily. I was lucky to see this first production of this play in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin many years ago in 1983, with Liam Neeson as one of the main actors. A beautiful play about language, love, imperialism and Irish history. 

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TV 

I don’t watch TV at all, mostly the news. But I must admit I’m hooked on Mrs America at the moment, depicting the rise of the feminist movement in America and it’s based on historical facts. Equality has come a long way since the 70’s and 80’s, it's hard to believe that it is still a struggle!

GIG

Covid has given us a silence which is deafening regarding live music. It’s just been a desert for musicians and music lovers alike. I can’t wait to play at a session in Huidi Beag’s pub in Bunbeg with my friends which won’t be very soon, alas... but we can dream. One of the concert highlights these last few years has been seeing Paul Simon, James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt in the RDS Arena on a summer's evening, pure joy!

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ART

At the beginning of February, I was invited to give a talk at Glucksman House in New York University, prior to going on tour with Altan. So I brought my daughter Nia to New York for a few days, as she was in her Transition Year. On one of the days we visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a keen artist and loved the visit. We especially loved the classics, like seeing Renoir, Chagall and Van Gogh in the flesh. 

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TECH

Since the lockdown, I’m becoming more proficient at different technical challenges on my computer, like editing short videos and making homemade videos for different festivals. I’ve always looked after Altan’s social media platforms, so I enjoy these new challenges. 

THE NEXT BIG THING...

I’ve just got news of a commission for me to write new music for a concert in January 2021, but I can’t reveal anything yet until it’s announced officially. I composed a few pieces during the lockdown which lifted my spirits. I’m so excited as my life is based on playing music, but I feel so happy composing and being creative and giving back to the well which has sustained me.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonigh agus a cairde perform in the National Concert Hall on Saturday October 24th, as part of Tradition Now 2020 - find out more here.