My Weekend: I've been coming to Cork since 1984 to play at the folk festival

MAIRÉAD NÍ MHAONAIGH of Altan is excited this year to be performing with daughter Nia, a talented fiddle player, and renowned bouzouki player Manus Lunny.
My Weekend: I've been coming to Cork since 1984 to play at the folk festival

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh who performs at Cork Opera House tomorrow, Saturday October 3 and also Sunday October 4 as part of Cork Folk Festival.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I was born and bred in the Gaeltacht area of Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal. I am a musician and singer and I play in the traditional band Altan.

I have an older brother, Gearóid, who plays the guitar, and younger sister, Anna, who is a singer and whistle player. We recorded an album together a few years ago which we titled Na Mooneys.

I am delighted that my daughter, Nia, who will be 17 soon, also enjoys the music and we love playing and singing together.

I got most of my music from my father, Francie Mooney, who passed away 14 years ago. He was a primary school teacher but played the fiddle and also composed songs, most notably ‘Gleanntáin Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair’ which Paul Brady and the Johnstons recorded in the late 60s and was the first Gaelic song to get into the charts in Ireland. I am lucky that my mum is still alive and enjoying life at the age of 93 years.

Our home always welcomed musicians, actors, writers etc. It was always full of creative interesting people, as my father was also interested in writing dramas and involved in the local GAA club.

There was never a dull moment in our home, and if we were not playing music, we were on stage doing something else, like acting in a play, or in a show of some sort.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

My ideal Friday night is a quiet night — dinner at home with my family or friends and some tunes or conversation. I travel so much that I really enjoy the quieter times when I get home. I must admit that I have really enjoyed these last six months at home during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Lie-ins or up with the lark.. which is it for you?

I really enjoy lazy weekends, not to be rushed and no schedule. So definitely, I love lie-ins!

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

Being a musician, I usually work when everyone else is having leisure time, like weekends and holidays, it is part of the job.

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break?

I have always loved the buzz in Barcelona and have gone there whenever I could for a weekend over the years. It has everything from atmosphere, museums, architecture cuisine.

Five-string banjo player and guitarist, Mick Daly, Folk singer, Karen Casey and Singer songwriter, John Spillane, who will also be among those performing as part of Cork Folk Festival.
Five-string banjo player and guitarist, Mick Daly, Folk singer, Karen Casey and Singer songwriter, John Spillane, who will also be among those performing as part of Cork Folk Festival.

And who would you bring with you?

Now that would be a secret!

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

I think since the lockdown, we are all discovering our own home areas. I love walking the beautiful unspoilt beaches here in north west Donegal, there are miles of them, and I usually have them to myself. I also like to go to places like Glenveagh Castle Estate, Sliabh Liag, the highest sea-cliffs in Europe, climb Errigal and visit Gola or Tory Island. I feel that Co Donegal is becoming like Colorado in the USA, a lot of people are enjoying the outdoors and making the most of it. There is so much to do here.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

I love to. I usually make dinner in my house and bring my mum and whoever else is around to meet up.
Do you get to indulge any hobbies?

When I have time, I love to draw, paint or just read a good book beside the fire.

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter do you have a signature dish?

Both, I love to cook but I also love to be entertained. When I am at home, I am mostly vegetarian, and I like experimenting with different plant based dishes. I made a Vietnamese Coconut Curry with Tempeh last weekend which went down very well!

We have so many places to eat out in Cork - where are your go to spots for coffee/ lunch/ special meal?

I always enjoy dining out when I am visiting Cork. I love Greene’s restaurant and Market Lane. I really enjoy the English Market to stock up on wonderful goodies… it is such an institution and a must for visitors while visiting the city. You in Cork are so lucky to have such a wonderful market.

Sunday night comes around too fast.. how do you normally spend it?

I am usually travelling home from a concert and getting my daughter ready for school on the Monday morning.

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?



Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh, with Nia Byrne and Manus Lunny, will join The Bonny Men, Strung with Maria Ryan, Lucia Mac Partlin, Maria O’Connor and Aonghus McCarthy, on Saturday, October 3 for a virtual concert — held without audiences — at the Cork Opera House. Produced by Aniar TV, the concert will be streamed live on TG4’s social platforms and broadcast on TG4 television at a later date.

Further details are available at

For more on Cork Folk Festival see

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