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With a Celtic spirit culled from the rich musical traditions of their native County Donegal, Altan explores the expanse of Irish music, from lovely old tunes to lively jigs and reels. 

Their exquisitely produced, award-winning recordings and their heartwarming, dynamic live performances have captivated audiences from Donegal to Tokyo to Seattle. Throughout, there has been the unwavering commitment of the band to bringing the beauty of traditional music, particularly that of Donegal fiddlers and singers, to contemporary audiences in a way that shines a unique light on its qualities. In fact, the members of Altan have always believed that Irish traditional music is a modern genre in every sense, and its growing influence and popularity have proved them right. 

The seeds of the band lie in the music and fun of gatherings and sessions in kitchens and pubs in Donegal, where virtuoso music was heard in an atmosphere of respect and intimacy. It is here that the band’s heart lies still, whether they are performing on live television in Australia or jamming with Ricky Skaggs in the United States.


(The program for this U.S. tour will feature all-time favorite and requested pieces, ranging from haunting songs to lively spirited Donegal dance tunes. Set order may vary and will be announced from stage. There will be a short intermission.)

1. Seán sa Cheo
These are three reels from our 2018 album, The Gap of Dreams. The first reel is an unusual version of a traditional reel, followed by two spirited reels composed by Martin Tourish. The names of the pieces are “Tuar,” meaning “prediction,” and “Oíche Fheidhmiúil” meaning “a wonderful, memorable night!”

2. Andy de Jarvis
These are three jigs from the vibrant Cape Breton tradition of eastern Canada, which we got from the great Jerry Holland, who passed away a few years ago.

3. “Month of January”
A beautiful sad song from the singing of the great Paddy Tunney, who was a frequent visitor to the Gaeltacht area of Gaoth Dobhair.

4. “Piper in the Cave”
An unusual march, which we learned from the playing of the brothers Micky and Francie Byrne of Kilcar, County Donegal, also known as “The Deargs,” as the family was known for their red-colored hair!

5. Templehouse Highland selection
A selection of typical Donegal highlands and reels, which shows the strong connection with Scotland, our Celtic neighbors.

6. Dáithí Sproule
We usually get Derry-born Dáithí Sproule to delight us nightly with various songs, which he has collected over the years.

7. “Dónal agus Mórag/The New Rigged Ship”
This is a popular song, which Mairéad got from a neighbor about a wedding feast on Ratlin island, off the County Antrim coast. The neighbor could only remember two verses, and Mairead asked her father, Francie, to write a few additional verses in the same spirit of the original song. The reel that follows is an old reel from The Shetland Islands, which was given to Mairéad by the great Tom Anderson, telling her that it was from County Donegal originally and came to the Shetland Islands through the fishermen.

8. Gap of Dreams
Three newly composed jigs. The first jig Mairéad composed after hearing Dáithí mentioning the idea in a song by the title “The Ballad of Douglas Bridge.” The second jig was composed by Mairéad’s daughter Nia when she was 12 years old, and we simply call it “Nia’s Jig.” The third jig, composed by a young musician and accomplished musician, Sam Kelly, is our Irish guitarist’s son. He titled it “The Beekeeper.”

9. “Bacach Shíl Andaí”
A children’s song from the Irish uprising against the English in 1798. The French came to Kilalla to help, but the Irish, being ill prepared, were defeated and sent many on the run. Like a lot of children’s rhymes this has a serious dark story!

10. “Dark Haired Lass” and “Biddy from Muckross”
A selection of three reels from the Donegal fiddle tradition. “Biddy from Muckross” was a great source of tunes for local musicians, and it was said that she learned her music from the fairies.

11. “The Road Home”
A beautiful slow tune composed by Martin, depicting his emotions on a journey north along the Atlantic Coast to County Donegal on his road home from the wonderful Willie Clancy Summer School, which takes place annually in Milltown Malbay, County Clare, in memory of the great piper of that name who once lived there.

12. “Tullaghan Lasses”
This first reel was a favourite of one of Donegal’s greatest fiddler, John Seimi Doherty. The reels that follow are also from the Donegal fiddling tradition repertoire.

13. “Gleanntáin Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair”
Translated as “The Green Fields of Gaoth Dobhair,” which Francie Mooney, Mairead’s father composed in praise of their home area in northwest Donegal.

14. “Fermanagh”and “Donegal” Highlands/Reels
These two highlands are firm favorites of the band and their audience as they depict the essence of the music of County Donegal.

Altan Biography 

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, a marriage, and a journey to bring the unique repertoire of Donegal music to the world. In the mid-1980s, Ní Mhaonaigh and Kennedy recruited from Fermanagh bouzouki player Ciaran Curran, 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 1, 1985, in St. John’s Church in Listowel, County Kerry, at the famous Listowel Writers Week. 

The group’s eponymous debut was released in 1987, followed quickly by Horse with A Heart, which saw the inclusion of Paul O’Saughnessy on fiddle and lending his stunning virtuosity and in-depth knowledge of the Donegal style. In 1992, the album Harvest Storm brought with it Dáithí Sproule on guitar, himself one of the pioneers of guitar in Irish traditional and folk music. Their 1993 release, Island Angel, became the second biggest-selling world music album in 1994. Shortly after its release, the legendary accordionist Dermot Byrne joined the band. Sadly, Kennedy died on September 19, 1994, but his vision, artistry, and sense of fun is still at the heart of Altan, and his legacy is carried and celebrated in every note. 

A 1996 record deal with Virgin catapulted the band on an extensive touring schedule over the subsequent decade. This period saw them working with great American performers like Dolly Parton. Martin Tourish, a past TG4 Young Musician of the Year, took the accordion seat in late 2013. The band explored connections between traditional Irish and bluegrass music with The Widening Gyre, recorded in Nashville with American musicians, such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jerry Douglas, and Alison Brown. In 2016, they performed at The Grand Ole Opry with Ricky Skaggs. 

Altan has traveled with Irish presidents on state visits to Japan, North Korea, and Italy. And in 2006, the Irish government honored Altan with an official postal stamp to celebrate their contribution to the Irish culture. In 2008, Ní Mhaonaigh was awarded the coveted TG4 Gradaim Ceoil (Music Award) 2017, the highest accolade a traditional musician can receive in Ireland. 

The band’s 2017 book, Altan: The Tunes, features a collection of 222 melodies from Altan’s 30-year history alongside transcribed dance music and interviews with the band members. Containing a detailed commentary on each of the tunes, it is the only collection of Donegal music currently in print. 

The band’s latest album, The Gap of Dreams, celebrates the roots of its music in Donegal folklore. The title refers to that “gap” between this and the “other world,” which older fiddlers noted as the source for their music and inspiration, poetically describing encounters with the fairy folk or listening to tunes on the wind. In creativity, the “gap of dreams” is never shut. 

Clare Friel Biography 

Clare Friel, TG4 Gradam Ceoil Ceoltóir Óg/Young Musician of the Year 2018, was born and brought up in Glasgow, Scotland, with very close family ties to Donegal. She is a highly regarded fiddle player and singer and plays as a part of The Friel Sisters. Friel is quickly making a name for herself and has played and toured with such acts as Altan, The Chieftains, Moya Brennan, Lúnasa, Sharon Shannon, Carlos Nuñez, Cherish the Ladies, and the Máirtín O’Connor Trio. The Irish Times has said, “Clare’s fiddle is a joy: unhurried, throaty and conversational in style,” while Irish Echo said, “She plays with a ferocious intensity.” 


Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts | Virginia G. Piper Theater
7380 E 2nd St
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

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