Q&A: Ciarán Ó Maonaigh

Photo: Tony Kearns 

Q&A: Ciarán Ó Maonaigh

Ciarán Ó Maonaigh is a fiddle player from Gaoth Dobhair, County Donegal. A grandson of Proinsias Ó Maonaigh (a.k.a. Francie Mooney), he was the 2003 TG4 Young Traditional Musician of the Year. This year he released the album Fidil together with Aidan O’Donnell. Fidil is also the name of his group with O’Donnell and Damien McGeehan. The group is this year’s recipient of the Music Network Young Musicwide Award.

What is your earliest musical memory?
I remember sitting between my grandfather Francie Mooney and Tom Glackin in Hudí Beags pub when I was three or four, scraping away on a quarter-sized fiddle, thinking I knew all the tunes. This is easy, I thought. The lads gave me great encouragement, but I’d say I was annoying the daylights out of them.

What did you want be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a teacher like Francie and my aunt and uncle Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Frankie Kennedy, because they always seemed to have plenty of holidays to be playing music. Then I found out that the Department of Education preferred robots to human beings. I refused to teach humans to be robots as Gaeilge and decided it just wasn’t for me.

What quality do you most admire in other musicians?
Spontaneity. Both Danny Meehan and Vincent Campbell amaze me with their constant ability to come up with a new tune or a new way around a tune. Both are massive men in stature and are an even bigger in presence and music.

Which living musician do you most admire?
John Doherty. Although he may officially have died before I was born, he still seems alive to me. I keep finding more and more recordings of him. His ability, repertoire, personality and musicality surpass anything I have encountered.

What was your happiest musical moment?
A fiddle week in Donegal a few years ago when the watering hole didn’t close for the duration of the week.

What new musical skill would you like to learn?
Two skills: to be able to sing and to be able to say a few words while playing, even if only to tell someone the name of a tune that was coming up or what key it would be in.

What was the last concert you attended?
A concert in Danny Meehan’s local parish hall in Drumarone near Donegal Town. Tommy Peoples played a march he composed last year called ‘The March to Kinsale’ to commemorate the Flight of the Earls. An amazing thing happened as he was playing: the sound of the three hundred or so in attendance tapping their feet in unison created a vivid impression of that fateful march.

What is the last book you read?
Idir Feoil agus Leathar by Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde.

Where do you listen to music?
In the car while driving.

What radio programmes do you listen to?
Ronán Mac Aoidh Bhuí’s programme on RnaG, The Rolling Wave on Radio 1 and any good music programme that I happen to tune into. I listen to most of them from website archives.

What was the last recording you bought?
I bought Robbie Hannan and Conal Ó Grada’s new albums during the Willy Clancy week.

What other jobs have you held?
I work as a television producer, mostly making music documentaries, and work on programmes such as The Raw Bar, Canúintí Ceoil, Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí and Sé Mo Laoch.

What do you cherish most about irish musical life?
The company, on certain occasions, usually a couple of times a year, when the dynamic between musicians becomes electric. It usually happens at the Glenties Fiddlers Weekend or after the fiddle recital at the Willie Clancy week.

What would you change about it?
I’d put fiddlers on Premiership footballers’ wages.

What would you like played at your funeral?
A recording of Francie Dearg Ó Beirn playing ‘The Speaking Waltz’. It never fails to leave me in hysterics laughing.

If you could take a year off, what would you do?
Play music.

Give us a tune.
‘Cuffe Street’ as played by John Doherty and Frank Cassidy. Almost better than sex.

Published on 1 November 2008

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