Interview with Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh fiddler and founder of Celebrated Irish Group Altan: “I’m Very Proud That The Band Has Continued And Evolved.”

Altan, one of Ireland’s foremost traditional groups, will bring its combination of tunes and songs to the Abbey Bar, located above the Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg  on Thursday, February 20th. The evening begins at 7:30 pm.  The concert is sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website. Tickets are $30 General Admission, $25 for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online.

Earlier this week, fiddler, vocalist, and co-founder of Altan, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter via email about the musical tradition of Donegal where the band hails from, her work with the organizaion Cairdeas na bhFidléirí (Friendship of Fiddlers), and what keeps Altan exciting after 30 years!


So much of your music is a celebration of the musical tradition of your home county of Donegal. What do you associate with the music of this region?

County Donegal is situated in the North West of Ireland. On the Western part it is dominated by the Derryveagh mountains, which divides the county between the bog land and the good farming land. This varied topography gives Donegal a distinctive style in the musical dialects of the area as a whole! It seems to lean towards Scotland in its music, where a lot of the people had to emigrate to make a living and in turn brought back songs and tunes! Today the fiddle is the main instrument in the county but all of the other instruments , flies, pipes, whistles and accordions are also in abundance.

You founded Altan in the late 80s. What about this band has kept it
exciting and fulfilling for you over the years?

Myself and my late husband Frankie Kennedy started the band together,
never planning to take it too seriously as we were both teaching at the
time. But after 30 something years of touring and life in general I’m very
proud that the band has continued and evolved. I am really excited about this latest combo and our latest album The Gap of Dreams, as I feel with Martin Tourish (accordion) and myself playing melody and Ciaran (bouzouki) and Dáithí (guitar) adding great color with their accompaniment, the music has a very special dynamic and depth.

What was behind the decision to return to Donegal for newest album
“The Gap of Dreams” (2018)?

We wanted to indulge in the atmosphere and source of our music.
It seemed that it was time to go to the hills of Donegal and play the
music of the area. It worked as when we would travel to the studio daily, we would stop and appreciate where we really were. As an artist would bring his easel and paints out to paint a picture, we would bring the images into
the studio while playing and singing! The Gap (of the title) being that space between this world and the other!

You are a founding member of Cairdeas na bhFidléirí. Could you explain a bit about what this group stands for and why it is important to you?

Cairdeas na bhFidléirí meaans the “Friendship of Fiddlers,” which was set
up in the early eighties (circa 1982) to promote and make sure that the
fiddle music and style of Donegal was preserved and passed on to future generations. Donegal fiddling is unique and very different to other Irish fiddling styles. It also has a very unusual repertoire which isn’t found anywhere else!

What do you hope audiences take away from an Altan show?

I hope everyone will enjoy the show! I also hope that listeners will take away an understanding of the deep tradition of songs, both in my native language Gaelic and English, and of course the unique fiddle music of the area.

Who are artists in traditional music that are inspiring and interesting to you right now?

I’m enjoying so many young musicians at the moment! I can’t get over the standard and integrity of the musicianship these young musicians have obtained. I love listening to a young Dublin fiddler by the name of Liam O’Connor, Another one to look out for is Iarla O’Donnell. There’s also a 12 year old Donegal fiddler by the name of Brandon Shovelin that blows me away. There are so many amazing musicians, Rebecca McCarthy Kent, Aoife Ní Bhrídín, Molly Wall….. I could go on! Recently while discussing this with one of Donegal’s veteran fiddlers Danny Meehan, he pointed out that long ago we looked to all the older musicians for inspiration; but that now its the opposite! We are looking at the younger generation for inspiration! He was so right!


Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, DJs, runs half of the record label His & Hers Records and serves on the board of the SFMS. He is on instagram.

Martin Carthy & John Doyle April 28th in Harrisburg!

Two legends of English and Irish traditional music—Martin Carthy and John Doyle—combine forces for an unforgettable Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Saturday, April 28, 2018, at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The 7:30 p.m. concert will be preceded by a free 5 p.m. ballad singing workshop and a free 6 p.m. potluck dinner.


Former member of STEELEYE SPAN, one of folk music’s greatest innovators!

Carty, who received a BBC 2 Folk Award Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, has long been known as one of folk music’s greatest innovators and one of its best-loved, most enthusiastic, and at times quietly controversial figures. Trailblazing musical partnerships with, amongst others, Steeleye Span, Dave Swarbrick and his award-winning wife (Norma Waterson) and daughter Eliza Carthy have resulted in more than 40 albums.

He is a ballad singer, a ground-breaking acoustic and electric guitarist, and an authoritative importer of newly composed material. Carthy prefers to follow an insatiable musical curiosity rather than cash in on his unrivaled position. Perhaps most significant of all are his settings of traditional songs with guitar that have influenced a generation of artists, including Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.


Former member of SOLAS, one of Ireland’s greatest guitarists!

John Doyle has worked with many of the most notable Irish music performers. From a musical family in Dublin, he went on the road at age 16 with the group Chanting House, which he formed with Susan McKeown and which eventually included Irish music greats like Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers, and Donough Hennessy. Doyle went on to form the highly acclaimed super group Solas with Egan, John Williams, Karan Casey, and Winifred Horan that took the folk and Celtic music worlds by storm, due in large measure to Doyle’s powerhouse rhythmic guitar style and innovative arrangements.

Solas appeared on The Today Show, A Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, E-town, and World Café. The group received three NAIRD awards and a Grammy nomination. After leaving Solas, Doyle performed and toured with many other greats in the folk, Celtic, and bluegrass worlds. There are few artists more respected in the genre or more in demand in the studio, as a songwriter, and as a performer. In recent years, Doyle has focused primarily on writing songs based on the varied experiences of Irish emigrants.

Before the concert, come to a free workshop on ballad singing with Carthy and Doyle at 5 p.m. and then the free 6 p.m. potluck dinner. Bring a covered dish to share. Drinks and place settings will be provided.

Concert tickets are $26 General Admission, $22 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available online at or by calling toll-free (800) 838-3006. This concert is presented with support from Your Name In Lights sponsors Steve and Nancy Wennberg and i 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


Tėada, from Sligo, Ireland to appear March 18th in Harrisburg (tunes, music + dancing)

“One of the most exciting traditional groups to emerge in recent years” Irish World

Coming from Sligo, Ireland the band Tėada (the word means “strings” in the Irish language) has achieved worldwide acclaim for its ability to stay true to the timeless, expressive force of traditional tunes inherited from previous generations of great Irish musicians.

Midstaters can experience Tėada in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, March 18, 2018, at 7:30 p.m., at Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. The five-piece band expands to seven for this event with champion step-dancer Samantha Harvey and legendary singer and musician Séamus (SHAY-mus) Begley.

Tickets are available at

Téada first appeared in 2001 on Irish television, led by County Sligo fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada. Though still in their teens, the young musicians were driven by the timeless, expressive force of music inherited from previous generations.

The band was quickly cheered for “keeping the traditional flag flying at full mast” (The Irish Times). “A fresh force in Irish music” said Earle Hitchner in the Irish Echo, and Irish Music Magazine described them as “the strings that bind…a young band with a deeply authentic sound [at] the cutting edge of the next generation.”

“We try to capture some of the rawness and individuality of the solo artist tradition, within the dynamic of a full band,” says Mac Diarmada.

The original quartet is now often a septet with Seamus Begley, the elder statesmen of the group. From a famous musical family in County Kerry, named 2013’s Traditional Singer of the Year (Irish TV TG4), Begley brings a deep trove of songs as well as fiery accordion playing and wit.

Téada’s most recent release, In Spite of the Storm (Gael Linn, 2013), follows a string of acclaimed albums on the Green Linnet and Compass labels, and the first to feature Begley. “One of the outstanding releases in recent memory,” raved Daniel Neely in The Irish Echo. “Another typically thoughtful and thought-provoking excursion from a band still hungry for tunes– and, belatedly, for songs,” added Siobhan Long in The Irish Times.

The American tour is supported in part by Culture Ireland, a branch of the Irish government promoting Irish arts worldwide. For more information on the band visit their website at

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available online at or by calling toll-free (800) 838-3006.

To listen/watch Teada visit these sites:


In Spite of the Storm:


Song with Seamus Begley

Pride of New York (Irish music w/ Joanie Madden, Billy McComiskey, Brian Conway + Brendan Dolan) coming to York, PA January 15. Read about the members!

As our first concert of 2017 the Susquehanna Folk Music Society offers the very rare opportunity to hear an Irish-American super-group with some of the best-known players on this side of the Atlantic Ocean!  Described as “a killer ceili band,” Pride of New York has members who have won pride-of-new-yorkfour all-Ireland championship awards, recorded multiple solo albums, and logged countless miles touring across the U.S. and abroad.

The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 15, 2017, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George Street, York, PA.

Concert tickets are $27 General Admission, $23 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. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at

Read below to learn about these fantastic musicians and their impressive accomplishments!


Joanie Madden

Joanie Madden is the award winning whistle and flute player who, aside from playing in The Pride of New York, is the leader of Cherish the Ladies. Joanie is the first American to win the Senior All-Ireland championship on the tin whistle and is the youngest member to be inducted into the Irish-American Musicians Hall of Fame. Committed to promoting and preserving Irish culture in America, she was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor; an award that pays homage to the immigrant experience. Joanie has played on hundreds of albums and is the top selling whistle player in history having sold over 500,000 solo albums. Joanie Madden is online at Cherish the

Billy McComiskey

Billy McComiskey has been called the finest and most influential Irish button accordion players to ever emerge from the United States. A Brooklyn native, he started studying accordion with the late Sean McGlynn from Galway and in 1986 won the All-Ireland Senior title. Billy has played with Greenfields of America, Irish Tradition and the internationally acclaimed Trian. In June of 2016 he was named a NEA National Heritage Fellow, the highest honor bestowed to a traditional musician in the United States. Billy McComiskey is online at Compass

Brian Conway

A New York born fiddler, Brian is a leading exponent of the tastefully ornamented Sligo fiddling style. The winner of two All- Ireland junior titles in 1973 and 1974 and the All-Ireland senior championship of 1986, he has been called one of the best fiddlers of his generation. His latest CD, First through the Gate, is a long-awaited and stunning solo debut which exemplifies the versatility that characterizes his concert performances and festival appearances. Visit Brian Conway at his website.

Brendan Dolan

Brendan Dolan is one of the most respected and inventive keyboardists in Irish music today. He has worked with accordionist John Whelan, singer/songwriter Cathie Ryan, Andy Statman and Itzhak Perlman, and can be heard on the latest recordings of Billy McComiskey, Brian Conway and The Green Fields of America. Brendan has recently completed a Master’s degree in Irish and Irish-American Studies at NYU, where he currently works as an archivist on the Mick Moloney Irish-American Music and Popular Culture Collection.


Cassie and Maggie MacDonald perform in Harrisburg, November 13th

With a level of talent surpassed only by the joy they show in sharing music from Nova Scotia, siblings Cassie and Maggie MacDonald appear in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, at Appalachian Brewing Company’s Abbey Bar, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. Celtic fiddle, piano, vocals and step dance will be featured. This is a sit-down concert in a listening-room cassie-maggie-promo-2014environment.

Born to a Nova Scotia family with a rich musical heritage, the MacDonald sisters have used their upbringing as a springboard for their own brand of Celtic roots music. Among their honors are 2015 Live Ireland Radio New Group of the Year, 2015 Chicago Irish-American News Emerging Artist Album of the Year, Independent Music Awards nominee for World Song of the Year, Canadian Folk Music Award nominees for Young Performers of the Year, two-time East Coast Music Award nominees for traditional album and trad/roots group album, and double Music Nova Scotia Award nominees for new artist and roots album of the year.

Their newest CD is called “The Willow Collection”.

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 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. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at

I got a chance to speak to Cassie MacDonald about their music, which in a large part has been passed down through family traditions, and their efforts to preserve and keep vital the Celtic music from their region.


FOLKMAMA: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what audiences should expect when they come to a Cassie and Maggie MacDonald concert.

CASSIE: Maggie and I are sisters and we come from a small town in Nova Scotia that was populated by Scottish people who came over in the 1700s. Northern Nova Scotia, where we come from, is still very much entrenched in that heritage although the music has really taken on a life of its own after it was brought over from Scotland.

There are a lot of young people, ourselves included, who are really taking those traditions and bringing something fresh to it. I play the fiddle and Maggie plays piano and guitar and we both sing as well. We are also both [step] dancers, which we think of as another element of percussion—an instrument almost.

So there will be the instrumentals that we are really known for across the globe and also vocals in both English and the Gaelic language that we have in Nova Scotia. It’s sort of an interesting dialect; kind of between the Scottish Gaelic and the Irish Gaelic. It’s really grown and evolved in its own way. Especially in the music, there are a lot of beautiful songs that use this special dialect.

Visually it’s just the two of us but we bring a lot to the table with Maggie’s instrumentalist background on piano and guitar and the fiddle playing and of course the dancing. There is never a dull moment! We have a lot of fun.

FOLKMAMA: Tell us about the repertoire. How much of it is traditional and how much contemporary?

CASSIE: Everything that we do is based in tradition –that provides the bedrock of what we do. But we have really taken it to a new place. We try to balance the traditional tunes with contemporary arrangements. Of course we are doing a lot from our newest album which is more contemporary. So we try to maintain a balance with old music, but present it in a fresh way.

FOLKMAMA: I’m really impressed with how BIG your sound is! It’s a bit unexpected for a duo.

CASSIE: We actually get that comment quite a bit. It just comes of out the kind of music that we play. It’s naturally very energetic. Maggie’s style of accompaniment is very, very full. She almost takes the place of a percussionist and a bass player. So she’s really covering a lot of bases with her accompaniment. And my style of playing is quite bold, not aggressive but very full I would say.

Our style of music, what we grew up with, was always playing for dances. And most of the time there wasn’t a really reliable sound system. But the dancers were still there wanting to give it their all, so you had to find a way to really fill up that sound so they could hear the beat and the rhythm in the tune and it wouldn’t get lost in the big dance hall.

FOLKMAMA: How does the music that you play differ from the Acadian and Quebecois music also found in Canada?

CASSIE: These traditions all have a lot of Scottish influences, and even in the Cape Breton music that we pay there is also a lot of French influence. The boundaries are kind of blurred and we’re always trading ideas back and forth.

I think if you wanted to understand the differences, it really would come down to the style of dancing. That’s what really drives traditional music from Nova Scotia—the dancing. Also, the foot percussion that is a defining feature of Acadian and Quebecois music isn’t really found so much in the Cape Breton style.

FOLKMAMA: I’ve visited Nova Scotia and it seems like in many families there are family members playing music together. How important has family connection been to you?

CASSIE: In our case what has really driven our whole career is that history of family music. When we play we always play a least a couple of set that our grandfather had recorded and would have played himself. And we always try to keep his personal sound alive because it was very unique and very special and we’re so lucky to have that legacy.

Both Maggie and I feel this intense responsibility to keep our family music alive, although we do play a lot of contemporary music and we’ve been honing our own individual sound.

FOLKMAMA: Do you feel that you sing together better because you are siblings?

CASSIE: Actually, singing is relativity new to us. We grew up in such a rich instrumental tradition with so many fiddle players in our family; singing wasn’t really part of the equation. So we’ve been on a journey ourselves to really discover, with our vocals, what we want to bring to the tradition ourselves.

FOLKMAMA: Why is the style of music so distinctive in Nova Scotia?

CASSIE: A lot of people have looked into that. Not just in Nova Scotia but in all the Maritime Provinces.  It was a very isolated but we also had a lot of people traveling on the sea; a lot of fishermen. So we did have influences from different cultures who may have planted little seeds here and there. For the most part the isolation has been a big part of keeping the traditions very pure.

A lot of the first settlers that came from Scotland weren’t concert musicians, they were farmers or fishermen. If they were musicians they weren’t necessarily classically trained, but they were there to provide entertainment and they were there for dancing. Because it’s dance music it has that intrinsic rhythm. You can’t keep your feet still!


De Temps Antan (from Quebec!) , March 6th, Harrisburg

Dear Folk Music Fans,

I wanted to draw a little special attention to the upcoming De Temps Antan concert (this comingSunday, March 6th at 4 PM).

I’ve been making a lot of forays to festival in Quebec during the last dozen or so years, and have just fallen in love with the music there—it’s a refreshing and spirited blend of French and Irish, and so many of the bands (De Temps Antan especially) are very, very captivating on stage.

Additionally, De Temps Antan has one of the very best fiddle players that you’ll ever want to see. Andre Brunet. He is a pretty incredible force on stage, so unbelievably powerful and the music just flows right out of him!

I hope to see you on Sunday afternoon for a very special concert. I know that you won’t be disappointed!

Jess Hayden, Susquehanna Folk Executive Director

De Temps AntanDe Temps Antan, hailed as Quebec’s most powerful trad trio, brings its high-powered rendition of time-honored melodies from the stomping grounds of the province’s musical past to Harrisburg on Sunday, March 6, for a 4 p.m. Susquehanna Folk Music Society matinee concert at the Appalachian Brewing Company’s Abbey Bar, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

The group’s three members, vivirtuoss on fiddle, accordion, harmonica, guitar, bouzouki, and a number of other instruments, make enough music and enthusiasm for six players. Their success has brought them to play more than 600 concerts worldwide, including tours in Russia, Europe, Malaysia, and America. Each of the three members was a leader in the massive, multi-platinum, Quebec folk band La Bottine Souriante and have toured the world on some of the biggest stages. They’re now taking the energy they brought to arena performances and channeling it into a powerful trio.

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $21 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online or toll-free (800) 838-3006.

Interview w/RUNA who will perform in York, PA on February 13, 2016

The five-person Celtic band Runa, which interweaves the haunting melodies and exuberant tunes of Ireland and Scotland with the lush harmonies and intoxicating rhythms of bluegrass, flamenco, blues, and jazz, comes to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York on Saturday, February 13, 2016, for a 7:30 p.m. concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society.

The band includes vocalist and step-dancer Shannon Lambert-Ryan of Philadelphia; Dublin-born guitarist Fionán de Barra; Cheryl Prashker of Canada on percussion; Dave Curley of Galway on mandolin, vocals, bodhrán, and step-dancing; and Maggie Estes White of Kentucky on the fiddle. Runa members have played with Solas, Riverdance, Slide, Clannad, Fiddlers’ Bid, Moya Brennan, Eileen Ivers, Hazel O’Conner, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Barcó, Téada, Jonathan Edwards, and the Guy Mendilow Band.

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $21 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. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at

I got the chance to chat with Shannon Lambert-Ryan, lead singer and step dancer with the band.


FOLKMAMA: Tell me some things about how the band formed and how long you’ve been together.

SHANNON: The band has been together for about 7 and ½ years. It started with what was supposed to be a side recording project. Fionán (who I had met at the Philadelphia Folk Festival) and Cheryl (who I had met around the same time) and I decided to record an album together at Fionán’s studio in Dublin. At the time we were all working with other bands, but we just looked at each other after the record was done and said “This is really special, we should do this more often.”

So at first we did most of our gigs as a trio, occasionally bringing in some really terrific guest musicians that helped us to stretch out beyond the “only traditional” music world. So we were able to add some jazz and bluegrass elements to our sound.

FOLKMAMA: So when did the other members of your current line-up join?

SHANNON: Maggie and Dave came a bit later. We met Dave through Fionán’s brother Eamon, who is in a band called Slide. A little bit later when the jazz fiddle player that we had been working with was moving on her way, we asked Maggie to join. It all just kind of fell into place.

FOLKMAMA: The band has some really lovely CDs. Have you recorded with this current composition?

SHANNON: We’ve done four CDs in total, the last two are really representative of that quintet sound. The full line up is on the fourth CD.

FOLKMAMA: Tell me about yourself. How did you get your start in music and dance?

SHANNON: I started as a step dancer when I was about 5 or 6 in Philadelphia. I had gone with my parents to a festival and I had seen a bunch of people step dancing and I said, “That’s what I really want to do!” Both of my parents were Appalachian Cloggers and loved folk music so I grew up surrounded by traditional and cultural music from around the world.

I love lots of different kinds of music from all different time periods, but there is just something about Irish music that has been home for me in many ways.

I majored in history and theater and music, and everyone told me that I really had to choose one, although I didn’t really want to. I feel though that I’m really lucky because I’ve found a way to really incorporate all three of them into what I do with the band. Obviously I’ve incorporated music, but history too because lot of research goes into the music, whether it’s the songs or the tunes.

Then the performance aspect—there is a lot drama in all of the songs. The theater and the acting have really come in handy in terms of conveying that to the audience. People often look to me and they say, “You’re the singer. You’re the one that is presenting the story,”and the truth is that it’s a story that the whole band is telling.

FOLKMAMA: Musicians have the opportunity to go to some unusual places. What are some of the experiences that have really stood out for your?

SHANNON: Well, lots of things. We got a chance to do a cameo appearance at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for a St Patrick’s Day Celebration and we’ve had musicians like Ron Block for Alison Krauss and Union Station and Ricky Skaggs on stage with us.

We’ve also gotten to play the National Anthem at a couple of different baseball stadiums; twice for The Phillies and once for the Diamondbacks out in Arizona. And a couple of years ago we recorded a music video out at the Grand Canyon—literally about a foot or two from the drop off!

FOLKMAMA: And the band has won some pretty impressive awards too, right?

SHANNON: Yes, we won Top Group and Top Traditional Group in the Irish Music Awards and an Independent Music Award for Best World/Traditional Song. Were just totally honored and floored to be recognized like that. You know you play music because you love playing music, not really to go after the glory. But when those special moments come along it really validates whet you are doing.

FOLKMAMA: What would audiences expect to see when they come to one of your concerts?

SHANNON: We like think of our shows as opening up our living room to everyone so that we can all join in for that session, in for that party.

At the end of performances people always say, “You look like you are having so music fun up there!”RUNA Promo Photo 2013

Photo Credi

Photo Credit Bob Yahn

Photo credit Bob Yahn

Photo credit Bob Yahn

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