On Wednesday, Oct. 19, the acclaimed traditional Irish band Altan arrives in Maine on the first night of their long awaited U.S. tour. Their only Maine performance will be on stage at Boothbay Harbor’s historic Opera House. Advance discounted tickets are currently on sale.
The spirit and sound of Altan comes from the deep and rich musical tradition of their native County Donegal. On one of his many visits to the Donegal Gaeltacht of Gaoth Dobhair, Belfast born flute player Frankie Kennedy met fiddler and singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, sparking off a deep musical connection, marriage in 1981, and a journey that took them all over the world. Their vision was to bring the unique repertoire of Donegal music to the world and that mission is still as strong as ever.
In the mid 80s, Mairéad and Frankie recruited bouzouki player Ciaran Curran from Fermanagh, whose intricate counterpoint is at the center of the Altan sound, and guitarist Mark Kelly from Dublin, whose mastery of a wide palette of guitar styles and harmonic vocabulary add a breadth and depth of color. As a band, Altan played their first concert on June 1st 1985, in St. John’s Church in Listowel, Co. Kerry at the famous Listowel Writers Week.
One of the band’s finest hours came with the release of “Island Angel” in 1993, which was recognized by Billboard World Music Charts as the second biggest selling world music album globally in 1994 and in the same year, Altan performed for Bill Clinton at the White House. The band would play for US presidents over the course of their career as well as accompanying Irish Presidents on their state visits.
A record deal with Virgin Records followed in 1996, which catapulted the band on an extensive touring schedule over the subsequent decade. This period saw them working with many American performers including Dolly Parton, recording on her album “Heartsongs” (1994) and its follow up, “Little Sparrow” (2001); she returned the favor on the band’s record “The Blue Idol” in 2002 by dueting with Mairéad on the song “The Pretty Young Girl.”
Altan has traveled with Ireland's President Mary MacAleese and President Michael D. Higgins on state visits abroad to Japan, North Korea and Italy. President Higgins invited them to join him in his residence, Áras an Uachtaráin in 2018 to celebrate their 30 years as a band. The Donegal County Council held a civic reception in their offices to mark the occasion in May 2018. In 2006 the Irish Government also honored Altan by putting them on an official postal stamp to celebrate their contribution to the Irish culture one of the highest honors to be bestowed on an Irish citizen.
Martin Tourish, a past TG4 Young Musician of the Year, took the accordion seat in late 2013 and the band recorded their album The Widening Gyre in Nashville with awarded performers including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jerry Douglas and Alison Brown. This album explored the connections between Irish and Bluegrass music, a particularly special moment of which was performing at The Grand Ole Opry with Ricky Skaggs in 2016.
Altan’s founding member and leader, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh was awarded Donegal Person of the Year in 2008 and the coveted TG4 Gradaim Ceoil (Music Award) 2017, for her musicianship and singing. These are the highest accolades which a traditional musician can receive in Ireland.
Guitarist Dáithí Sproule of Derry, whose first group was legendary Skara Brae, has lived for many years in Minnesota. Dáithí was one of the first guitarists to develop DADGAD guitar tuning for Irish music .In 1995 he released his first solo album “A Heart Made of Glass” with songs in English and Irish. In 2008 he released an instrumental guitar album “The Crow in the Sun”, featuring 13 original compositions. In addition to performing and recording Dáithí is a teacher and lecturer in subjects ranging from guitar styles and traditional songs to Irish language and myth.
For more on Altan, visit https://altan.ie.
Tickets for this extraordinary evening of traditional Irish music are available by contacting the box office at 86 Townsend Ave., open Wednesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or by calling 207-633-5159. Tickets and information are also available at boothbayoperahouse.com. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., doors for seating open at 7.
The evening is made possible thanks to generous sponsorship from an anonymous fan of the Opera House and Altan.