Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman Live in Lancaster October 12th

Having performed in 22 countries on five continents, Irish harper MAÍRE NÍ CHATHASAIGH and UK acoustic guitarist CHRIS NEWMAN come to Harrisburg for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Friday, October 12th, 2018, at 7:30 p.m., at the Ware Center in Lancaster.


Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $22 for SFMS members, and $5 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available online HERE through the Ware Center Box Office, or at the door the day of the show.  For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website.

Jess Hayden, Susquehanna Folk Music Society Executive Director and primary contributor to the Folk Mama blog, had a chance to speak to Maíre back in 2015. Their conversation is republished below, with new updates on what Maire has been up to since then!

FOLKMAMA: The harp is such a beautiful instrument. It’s found in so many cultures, but it seems like it’s particularly important in Ireland.

MAÍRE : Yes, that’s true. The harp itself in Ireland has an extremely long history. Ireland was originally a country of small kingdoms and every king or chief has his own court poet and own court harpist. To be a harpist during that time gave you very high status and you were very well paid. The harps that they played tended to be very big by comparison to harps played elsewhere in Europe. Besides being big they were very ornate and very expensive, which was an indicator of how important they were in that society.

But in the beginning of the 19th century that sort of harp went into decline and people started making harps strung with gut instead of steel strings. It was such a relief for the harp players who in the past had to keep their fingernails long (in order to pluck the strings) and had to hire servants to do all their chores! But seriously, the Harp has been the symbol of Ireland since the Middle Ages. It’s been on our coinage for hundreds of years and it’s on the Euro.

FOLKMAMA: So, tell me about the harp that you play.

MAÍRE : It’s a modern Celtic harp. It is struck, tuned and played in a similar way as the harp elsewhere in Europe. When people talk about the Celtic harp they are generally talking about the harp as it is found in Ireland and Scotland.

FOLKMAMA: I’ve seen Celtic harps in all different sizes. I’m curious about why that is.

MAÍRE : The size is variable really. Some builders make harps the size that they were in the Medieval period, but it’s really whatever they fancy. Some people go small because it makes them a lot more portable, but I play a big one because I like a big, beefy sound. My harp has 36 strings. The modern Irish harp is not chromatic, but you can change key by using levers. Each lever has two positions; up or down which means that you have a limited number of keys that you can play in.

FOLKMAMA: It must be difficult to tour with a harp.

MAÍRE : It’s a bit of a pain really but the harp that I tour with is about 15 years old and I don’t worry too much about it. That’s one of reasons I choose to play a mass produced instrument. If it all goes horribly wrong, I can just ring up the maker and say, “Can I have another one please?”

FOLKMAMA How did you get started in music?

MAÍRE : My parents paid for private lessons and I started when I was 11. My mother loved music and was a fantastic singer. My father loved music too, but he didn’t play an instrument. But because they were so fond of music, any instrument that we wanted we could have. That’s what they spent all their money on.

FOLKMAMA: Your sisters are musical too, right?

MAÍRE: Yes, my sisters Nollaig Casey and Mairéad Ní Chathasaigh are both singers and fiddlers. A couple of years ago we finally got around to putting out our first CD together as The Casey Sisters. It’s called Sibling Rivelry. As a direct result of performing an extended composition of ours that features on Sibling Rivelry at last year’s Cork Folk Festival, we were commissioned to write an hour-long piece for this year’s Festival, its 40th anniversary. Corcach: A Journey was inspired by Cork’s colourful 1400-year history, from its romantic origins through to its confident present. It was premiered in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork – one of the city’s most beautiful and historic buildings – last night (October 3rd) to open the Festival. It was such a thrill to be joined by some extraordinary musicians (the instrumentation consisted of harp, 2 voices, 2 violins, viola, cello, uilleann pipes and flute) to bring our vision to life, and to hear the amazing sound soar up into the high spaces of the cathedral! We’re hoping to record the whole thing soon!

The Casey Sisters

The Casey Sisters

FOLKMAMA: You’ve competed a lot and have been recognized as an All-Ireland champion on several occasions. How do these competitions work and what have they meant to you?

MAÍRE : It’s a certain mark of quality. It’s something that Ireland just has; The Fleadh. People compete at the county level and then the provincial level and then All-Ireland if they get through to that. I used to hate competing when I was a kid but in retrospect I think it was a good thing, particularly for girls. You don’t have to anything as unladylike as saying, “Look at me, I’m brilliant.” You can say, “A third party has said I’m brilliant.” I won the under 14, and the under 18, and then I won the All Ireland Senior three times.

FOLKMAMA: You’ve been known for having a pretty eclectic repertoire. When you and Chris go about deciding what to play, what are the criteria?

MAÍRE : Really, is it nice music? Does it work on our instruments? Can we do something with it arrangement wise? Mainly, do we like it? When we play, though, we keep the different styles distinct. We don’t mix them up in a big soup.

FOLKMAMA: How long playing with Chris:

MAÍRE Since1987. We’re married. So we have a really nice time touring together.

FOLKMAMA : What can people expect at one of your concerts?

MAÍRE : We like to have fun. We’ll play some traditional music and some of our own compositions. We’ll go from some beautiful slow pieces to some super fast ones. Chris is extremely funny—he’s vey entertaining. He is also a fantastic improviser–a different solo every night!

Irish Super Group “The Alt” Coming to Harrisburg Sunday October 4th

Three master Irish traditional musicians performing together as The Alt—John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary—come to Harrisburg on Sunday, October 4, 2015, for a 7:30 p.m.concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The group takes its name from a storied glen on the side of the beautiful mountain Knocknarea in Ireland’s County Sligo. It was in the little village of Coolaney in the shadow of the glen that they first gathered to rehearse.

the alt

The old ballads, winding tunes, and freshly-discovered songs that each of the three contributed reflect the pure love of the song that has made Irish music so beautiful and compelling over thousands of years. The Irish brought that same love of song to America, nestling into their new homes in Appalachia and forming the bedrock that brought us American country, bluegrass, and old-time music. In an homage to that migration, the members of The Alt chose to record their debut album in the quiet isolation of a small cabin in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains.

Each member of The Alt is a leading light of today’s folk scene. John Doyle was born and raised in Dublin and now lives in Asheville, NC. He is considered one of the preeminent guitarists and vocalists of his generation. His work with the Irish band Solas and with Karen Casey has influenced many other artists, and his guitar accompaniment style is iconic in Irish music. Nuala Kennedy is a flutist and singer/songwriter, well-known internationally for her beautiful vocals and her unusual arrangements of traditional songs. Eamon O’Leary, who plays guitar and bouzouki, is one of the most in-demand Irish guitarists and vocalists in the U.S. today based on his work with The Murphy Beds.


Although each member of The Alt is a songwriter, for their debut album they concentrated on traditional Irish songs that they grew up with or collected from friends and teachers, archival recordings, and written collections. “The singular sound of The Alt that came from this recording session is greater than the sum of its parts,” Hearth Music says, “at once delicate, deliberate, and always in deference to the song at its core.”

Concert tickets are $26 General Admission, $22 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at or toll-free (800) 838-3006. The concert is presented in cooperation with Dauphin County Parks and Recreation. Funding for Susquehanna Folk Music Society concerts is provided by the Cultural Enrichment Fund and by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, administered locally by the Cultural Alliance of York County. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at

The local family band, Irish Blessing will open. Irish Blessing, a York (PA) based family band, has wowed audiences from New Zealand to New York. The band includes family members Cushla Srour (keyboard/ flute/ whistles), husband Jim (bodhrán), and sons Josh (fiddle) and Jonathon (wooden flute). Both sons dance, and between them they have won World Championships in both Irish music and dance, toured with Michael Flately’s Lord of the Dance, and participated in America’s Got Talent with HAMMERSTEP (a dance fusion group based out of Brooklyn).


Son Josh is soon to be deployed to Cuba, and this is the last chance for the public to see them perform together as a family before he leaves!