“Gradam Cheoil TG4, the national Irish-language TV station’s Award for Irish Traditional Musician of the Year, was presented to Máire in 2001 “for the excellence and pioneering force of her music, the remarkable growth she has brought to the music of the harp and the positive influence she has had on the young generation of harpers” at a televised ceremony in the Cork Opera House. The Gradam is the highest, most prestigious honour for a traditional Irish musician.
She received a specially-commissioned sculpture by John Coll (pictured above) plus £4000. Other recipients since the awards were instituted have included Chieftains flautist Matt Molloy, fiddler Tommy Peoples, whistle-player Mary Bergin and pipers Liam O'Flynn and Paddy Keenan—all of whom are considered to be the leading exponents of their instruments within the Irish tradition. Dublin’s SUNDAY TRIBUNE said “Her acceptance of this major award marks her intelligent, brilliant exploration of the potential of harp.”
Click here for further coverage of the Awards.
“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
Go to Máire's website
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 the side-bar on the right.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.