INTERVIEW A traditional affair


Caitlin and Ciaran
?Caitlín Nic Gabhann dancing to a tune played by her fiancé, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh. The couple are performing in The Linenhall this Thursday night.

A traditional affair

Ciara Moynihan

Traditional music and dance duo Caitlín Nic Gabhann and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh are performing in The Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, this Thursday night, May 28, as part of the venue’s series of offerings for the Bealtaine festival.
The couple’s spirited music and dance is rooted in age-old tradition but brimming with soul, life and fun. Ciarán’s fiddle playing, technically accomplished but free and flowing, is complemented by Caitlín’s concertina, and by her dancing – her footsteps sounding out the rhythms and reinforcing their acclaimed musical chemistry. Perhaps inevitably, that strong musical chemistry sparked a certain chemistry of the heart, and the pair are now engaged to be married next year.
Both Caitlín and Ciarán are acclaimed musicians in their own right. A three-time All-Ireland champion on concertina, Caitlín is regularly performs at festivals and in concert halls around the globe. She has also toured the world with Riverdance as a troupe dancer.
A former recipient of TG4 Young Musician of the Year, fiddle player Ciarán Ó Maonaigh, Ciarán released a solo album, ‘Ceol a’Ghleanna’/‘The Music of the Glen’, in 2004. He is also a member of the band Fidil along with Aidan O’Donnell and Damien McGeehan, and they have released three acclaimed albums.
While Ciarán is originally from Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal, and Caitlín grew up in Ashbourne, Co Meath, they are living in Galway now. Their new CD, simply entitled ‘Caitlín & Ciarán’, contains a selection of fiddle, concertina and dance music, from spirited reels to emotive airs to rousing marches.
The Castlebar concert is the last date on Caitlín and Ciarán’s nationwide tour, which came hot on the heels of a tour in the US. The Mayo News caught up with Caitlín ahead of Thursday’s show.  

Do you both come from musical backgrounds?
We do. Both our families are heavily involved in traditional music, singing and dancing. I grew up being brought to Fleadhanna and sessions and ceilis around the country. My dad plays fiddle and has been teaching fiddle at home in Ashbourne for 40 years. My mam dances and brought me to countless dancing classes and feises growing up. Ciarán learned the fiddle from his grandfather Francie Mooney and was also influenced by his aunt Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and his late uncle Frankie Kennedy, both members of the band, Altan. So we had it coming from all directions! There was no getting away from it!

How long have you both been playing your respective instruments?
We both started when we were young, eight or nine years old.

What drew you to the concertina?
My dad always said, ‘You can pick whatever instrument you like’. I just loved the playfulness of the concertina. It’s a fun instrument- lots of buttons.. It’s small but mighty! I started on the fiddle, as everyone else at home was playing the fiddle and there were always fiddles lying around, but I discovered the concertina before long and never looked back!

When did you first meet Ciarán, and when did you start collaborating together?
We met about ten years ago, around at the festivals. We’d be bumping in to each other at the festivals every few weeks. I enjoyed sitting in sessions with him, as he has a great energy, always positive, and a fierce bow arm! He’s a really solid, rhythmical and driving musician and great to have in a session. We sat next to each other in sessions for the guts of seven or eight years before we decided start playing more professionally together and took the plunge to make the CD together.

How long were you dancing with Riverdance, and how did that come about?
I toured with Riverdance for two years and had a ball! In my third year of college in UCC, I auditioned for the show, and it wasn’t until six months later that they called.
I was over the moon and dropped everything to go with the show. I even dropped out of college – called my parents who were on holiday in Australia at the time, to tell them I was leaving college to go away dancing! I don’t regret it at all. It’s not easy to get in to Riverdance, as in, they only recruit every few years. So I was lucky. I finished college after I left Riverdance. A fantastic experience seeing the world. But I missed playing my concertina…

What can people heading to your Castlebar show expect?
There’ll be plenty of chat and story telling! I’ll do a few dances over the course of the night and we’ll play a variety of music on the fiddle and concertina. We try to keep the show varied between the stories, tunes and dances, so everyone is kept interested and entertained.

What are your favourite memories of being on the road in 2015?
We love being on the road together. We’re getting to see all the towns in the country and make lots of new friends.

Are the two of you taking a break from performing now that the Irish tour is over?
We are heading for Italy from Castlebar for a weekend of performances, and then we are playing at festivals throughout the summer. After that, we’ve to start planning a wedding!

If someone were to say you could only do one, dance or play the concertina, which would you chose, and why?
Ohhh! That’s hard! I’ve grown up with both and they complement one another so well! I think I would probably say dancing, because listening to good music, I can’t keep my feet still. The right rhythm and energy in music, and your feet just take off on their own … mine do anyway … I barely have to think about it. I’d miss my concertina though!

Caitlín & Ciarán are performing in The Linenhall Arts Centre on Thursday night at 8pm. For tickets (a16/a14 (concessions) or a10 special Bealtaine rate for over 65s) call 094 9023733, or drop-in in person. The ‘Caitlín & Ciarán’ CD is available to buy or to download on as well as from iTunes and Amazon.