“Gradam Ceoil TG4, the national Irish-language TV station’s Award for Irish Traditional Musician of the Year, was presented to Máire in 2001 “for the excellence and pioneering force of her music, the remarkable growth she has brought to the music of the harp and the positive influence she has had on the young generation of harpers” at a televised ceremony in the Cork Opera House. The Gradam is the highest, most prestigious honour for a traditional Irish musician.
She received a specially-commissioned sculpture by John Coll (pictured above) plus £4000. Other recipients since the awards were instituted have included Chieftains flautist Matt Molloy, fiddler Tommy Peoples, whistle-player Mary Bergin and pipers Liam O'Flynn and Paddy Keenan—all of whom are considered to be the leading exponents of their instruments within the Irish tradition. Dublin’s SUNDAY TRIBUNE said “Her acceptance of this major award marks her intelligent, brilliant exploration of the potential of harp. It also celebrates the creation and pursual of a heraldic professional life in music within which she plays a core traditional repertoire, but mixes in sympathetic genres.”
Click here for further coverage of the Awards.
Máire on the cover
of Bringing It All Back Home, the book of the major 1990 BBC TV series about the influence of Irish music.
Máire on the front cover of Bringing it All Back Home, the book of the major 1990 BBC series about the influence of Irish music.
...to Máire's ground-breaking 1985 solo album The New-Strung Harp , which was remastered and re-released in September 2023, on Spotify here.
"The New Strung Harp was a game-changer in the world of harp-music... truly ground-breaking... Máire is an absolute legend. The music here is as sublime now as it was when it was released... Essential listening." THE IRISH ECHO (USA)
... to Máire playing her compositions with Sharon Shannon, Dónal Lunny, her sister Nollaig Casey and other luminaries of the Celtic music world on Tracks 5 & 13 of Dan ar Braz's Gold Disc-awarded album for Sony France, Finisterres, on Spotify here.
Go to Máire's website
Máire Ní Chathasaigh (pronounced Moira Nee Ha-ha-sig) is "the doyenne of Irish harp players" (Scotland on Sunday), “the great innovator of modern Irish harping, a player of outstanding technique and imagination” (The Rough Guide to Irish Music), "an absolute legend" THE IRISH ECHO (USA) and one of Ireland’s most important and influential traditional musicians. She was described by the late Derek Bell as “the most interesting and original player of the Irish harp today” and was the 2001 recipient of Irish music's most prestigious award, Gradam Ceoil TG4 - Irish Traditional Musician of the Year. Watch Máire & Chris playing at the televised ceremony at the Cork Opera House on the night she was awarded Gradam Ceoil TG4 - Musician of the Year 2001.
She grew up in a well-known West Cork musical family, steeped in the oral Irish tradition, and was already proficient in a variety of other instruments by the time that she began to play the harp at the age of eleven. As there was no prior tradition in Ireland of playing Irish dance music on a harp, she used her existing knowledge of the idiom of the oral Irish tradition to develop a variety of new technique - particularly in relation to ornamentation - that made it possible for the first time to play this music on the harp in a stylistically accurate way - “a single-handed reinvention of the harp”. Her approach sharply diverged from the established norms of 20th century Irish harping up to that point - the instrument had been associated in the public mind almost exclusively with song accompaniment; performance of the music of the old Irish harpers had been confined to a select few; and the playing of Irish dance music on the harp in an authentically ornamented style had been unheard-of. Máire's originality was quickly recognised and she made a number of TV and radio broadcasts as a teenager, going on to win the All-Ireland and Pan-Celtic Harp Competitions on several occasions. (She won the Senior Competition at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil three times in succession, in 1975, 1976 and 1977 - a record that is still unsurpassed.) In 1985 she recorded the first harp album ever to concentrate on traditional Irish dance music, The New-Strung Harp, described by The Irish Examiner as "an intensely passionate and intelligent record… a mile-stone in Irish harp music”. It was remastered and re-released by Old Bridge Music as OBMCD25 in September, 2023 and The Irish Echo said of the re-release: "The New Strung Harp was a game-changer in the world of harp-music... truly ground-breaking... Máire is an absolute legend. The music here is as sublime now as it was when it was released... Essential listening." Listen to it on Spotify here. Her approach has had a profound influence on three generations of Irish harpers and in 2001 she was awarded Gradam Ceoil TG4 - Irish Traditional Musician of the Year - “for the excellence and pioneering force of her music, the remarkable growth she has brought to the music of the harp and the positive influence she has had on the young generation of harpers", in recognition of her pioneering work. She remains one of only four women recipients. (For details see the side-bar on the right.)
As a solo artist, she performed throughout Europe and the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s and made many TV and radio broadcasts in Ireland. Her live performances had been attracting attention internationally since 1978, when she first took part in the hugely-influential and commercially-successful Irish Folk Festival tour of Germany. Her very first recording was made for the live compilation album released to commemorate that tour (and featured the first commercial recording of a reel played on the harp in a traditional style); other artists featured were Liam O'Flynn, Andy Irvine, Dolores Keane and John Faulkner, Mick Hanly and Máirtin O'Connor. Also in 1978, she took part in Turas na bhFilí go h-Albain (an Irish-Scottish cultural exchange programme jointly-run from 1970 until 2013 by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge and the Scottish Arts Council) in 1978 with poets Michael Hartnett and Cyril Ó Ceirín, sean-nós singer Josie Sheáin Jeaic Mac Donncha and organiser Colonel Eoghan Ó Néill. On Monday 1 October, 1979, she performed with her sisters Nollaig Casey and Mairéad Ní Chathasaigh to 400,000 people at Pope John Paul II's Mass in Greenpark Racecourse in Limerick. She, together with Liam O'Flynn, Paddy Glackin, Mícheál Ó Domhnaill and Michael Tubridy, represented Ireland in the inaugural EBU (European Broadcasting Union) Folk Festival held in Skagen, Denmark, in June 1980, performing a forty minute radio programme before a live audience, later broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1's 'The Long Note' on 17 November 1980. In 1981 and 1982 she took part in Comhaltas tours in the USA - the latter tour featured the then-unknown dancer Michael Flatley, later to go on to worldwide fame as the star and choreographer of hit shows Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. In the early 1980s she toured regularly in Ireland, the UK and the USA with Irish music legend Joe Burke and in 1983 recorded an album called The Tailor's Choice with him. At that time she also represented Ireland at a number of events in France and Spain, including a Celtic Festival in La Coruña, Galicia, in 1984, and a touring festival organised by the Maison des Cultures du Monde to celebrate the European Year of Music 1985 where she collaborated with artists from Mali, Sénégal, Congo, Haiti, Mexico, Vietnam, Morocco, Algeria, France and Italy. She first performed at the Edinburgh Harp Festival in 1984 and went on to perform there many times since then. In June 1986 she gave a private concert in Dromoland Castle, Co Clare, for then-President of Ireland Patrick Hillery and his wife Maeve, and King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía of Spain on the occasion of the latter's state visit to Ireland. She performed in Australia with Aly Bain and Alistair Anderson at the prestigious Perth Festival (Perth Concert Hall) and Melbourne Festival (Melbourne Arts Centre) in January 1987 (a press review of the performance is here).
She gave a 16-date nationwide lecture tour of the USA in March/April 2006 at the invitation of the Irish American Cultural Institute. More recently, she performed solo at the 5th World Harp Congress, Copenhagen 1993 (concert shared with Gráinne Yeats and Isobel Mieras - the first ever Congress event to feature the Irish harp), the 9th World Harp Congress, Dublin, in 2005 (opening concert in St Patrick's Cathedral and solo concert as part of Celtic Highlights series), at the 11th World Harp Congress held in Vancouver in 2011, at the Birmingam Early Music Festival and at festivals in Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, the USA, the UK and Ireland.
Duo with Chris Newman:
Her “celebrated virtuoso partnership” (The Daily Telegraph) with Chris Newman, “one of the UK’s most staggering & influential acoustic guitarists” (Folk Roots), made its début on the main stage at the 1987 Cambridge Folk Festival. Their performances have been described as “music of fire and brilliance from the high-wire act in traditional music” by The Irish Times, they've made many appearances on TV and radio and their busy touring schedule has brought them to twenty-one countries on five continents. Click here for a list of some of their festival performances throughout the world and here for their latest news. Of their seven albums together, The Living Wood (1988) was the Daily Telegraph’s Folk Album of the Year, Out of Court (1991) was "stunning... one of the most refreshingly innovative releases in recent years" - Folk Roots, The Carolan Albums (1994) was “a masterpiece of virtuosity” - The Daily Telegraph, Live in the Highlands (1995) was “One of the best live albums I’ve heard for a long time... captures the essence of these remarkable performers in a rare and priceless way. Absolutely essential.“ - Folk Roots and Dialogues:Agallaimh (2001) was “Terrific: brilliant, beautiful, rich, virtuosic, delightful, classic, perfect!” Of their sixth CD, FireWire, the critics said: “An eclecticism and spirit of adventure that is quite thrilling… Virtuoso playing… bewitching string fantasies and a wonderfully clear and expressive voice" The Times "Maire... is in a class of her own" The Guardian "Takes one of the most effete instruments in traditional music and breathes a fire into its belly" The Irish Times “Brilliant, innovative harping and guitar-playing of astonishing virtuosity and versatility” Songlines “Dazzling virtuosity... guitar-playing to be marvelled at... delightful” The Daily Telegraph “Album of the Year” Live Ireland “Best Celtic Instrumental Album” 2009 Just Plain Folks Awards Nashville, Tennessee. Their seasonal CD, Christmas Lights, was released in 2013 - “A delightful... satisfyingly original, often refreshingly unpredictable take on festive favourites… Gorgeous and uplifting" THE LIVING TRADITION - and their associated new Christmas show played to sell-out audiences: “(Their) mastery and magic... produced a rapt response” THE GUARDIAN
The unique atmosphere of their live concerts as a duo continues to generate some extraordinary reviews. “Their virtuosity leads them on: Máire chomps on the bit of the harp's respectability, playing storming jigs & reels...” - The Irish Times “This celebrated duo took the place by storm. Stately Carolan tunes, jazzy Django-ish numbers, dazzling flat picking fliers, driving Irish dance tunes - this pair can nonchalantly do the lot. Guitar players applauded & went sadly home to burn their instruments!” - Belfast Telegraph “Their blinding technique and sizzling Irish reels brought an extended standing ovation...” - The West Australian “A truly electrifying combination" - The Stage "The audience were charmed and dazzled by the speed, the deftness, the emotional range of their playing... Máire's clear, warm and expressive voice... Their stagecraft was masterly and their introductions informative and funny..." - Christchurch Press (New Zealand) “Newman led us on death-defying sprints while Máire confirmed her status as one of the world’s greatest harpists” – Edinburgh Evening News "It isn't every day one gets to hear musicians whose playing and singing are so moving, so wonderfully executed with such technical brilliance and beauty, that they actually bring tears to one's eyes; they did to mine, and that evening in Tallaght will remain a lasting and unforgettable memory." - Irish Music Magazine “Managed to do things I have never heard a harp do before… The gasps from the audience, particularly from the other harp players, made one realise that here was a very special performer indeed… I was alternately astonished and delighted with the entire concert: the skills with which they interacted, and the beautiful music they performed left a lasting impression on me and surely anyone else who was privileged to witness this extraordinary event.” - Classical Guitar Magazine
In 2008 Chris and Máire recorded a quartet CD, Heartstring Sessions, with two of the most important names in Irish music, legendary guitarist Arty McGlynn and Máire's sister, virtuoso fiddler Nollaig Casey, and toured widely with it.
“Inspired... a contender for album of the year” fROOTS
“Traditional music at its very best” The Irish Times
"An amazingly eclectic mix... Astounding" The Ulster Herald
"Magnificent... Virtuosic... Outstanding" The Scotsman
“World-class” Irish Music Magazine
“Two of the mightiest pairings in current folk combine to give a tour-de-force of breathtaking order. Classic.”
The Living Tradition
"Exceptionnel… brillant…" Le Peuple Breton
"Attention - chef d'œuvre! Bravo!!!” TRAD Magazine (France)
“A dream quartet - the sweetest and most exciting music to emerge for a long time. Matching virtuosity with sheer good taste, this album of traditional and original music pours joyfully from the speakers... amazing, majestic, delightful.”
Dirty Linen (USA)
In 2015 Máire and her sisters Nollaig and Mairéad (The Casey Sisters) released their first CD together, Sibling Revelry. Co-produced, recorded and mixed by Chris Newman, Sibling Revelry was one of The Daily Telegraph’s Albums of the Year, and Album of the Week on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal (Scotland)'s "Caithreim Ciúil" from November 16 - 20. It received some wonderful reviews:
"Blissfully beautiful... channelling mythology, nostalgia and geography to bewitching effect in heartfelt music"
* * * * Songlines
"First-class musicianship... wonderfully atmospheric"
* * * * The Daily Telegraph
"Elegant and beguiling" RTÉ Lyric FM
"Stunning... a superb album" The Living Tradition
"Ils sont toutes trois des stars... très romantique... magnifique sonorité!" Le Canard Folk
"Intimacy and intuition are at the heart of this radiant collection... a treat" * * * * The Irish Times
"Superbe" * * * * TRAD Magazine (France)
"Shows the mastery that’s given them global reputations... High-end music-making, virtuosic yet geared towards rich, flowing, soulful expression... Warmth intimacy and sheer depth of feeling for the Irish tradition" The Herald Scotland
See the full reviews at The Casey Sisters website.)
Awards for Máire as a harper:
Gradam Ceoil TG4, Musician of the Year 2001: Gradam Ceoil TG4, the national Irish-language TV station’s Award for Irish Traditional Musician of the Year, was presented to Máire in 2001 “for the excellence and pioneering force of her music, the remarkable growth she has brought to the music of the harp and the positive influence she has had on the young generation of harpers” at a televised ceremony in the Cork Opera House. The Gradam is the highest, most prestigious honour for a traditional Irish musician
She received a specially-commissioned sculpture by John Coll (pictured above) plus £4000. Other recipients since the awards were instituted have included Chieftains flautist Matt Molloy, Chieftains fiddler Seán Keane, fiddler Tommy Peoples, whistle-player Mary Bergin and pipers Liam O'Flynn and Paddy Keenan—all of whom are considered to be the leading exponents of their instruments within the Irish tradition. Irish national newspaoer THE SUNDAY TRIBUNE said “Her acceptance of this major award marks her intelligent, brilliant exploration of the potential of harp. It also celebrates the creation and pursual of a heraldic professional life in music within which she plays a core traditional repertoire, but mixes in sympathetic genres.”
Senior All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil Harp Competition: Máire won this prestigious competition three times in succession, in 1975, 1976 and 1977 - a record that is still unsurpassed.
Female Musician of the Year in the Live Ireland Music Awards 2016 (details here). Máire was described in the citation as “the greatest Celtic harper of our age”.
Female Musician of the Year in the Chicago Irish American News Top TIR Awards 2016.
Awards for Máire's duo with Chris Newman:
“Album of the Year” (Live Ireland) for their 2007 album FireWire.
“Best Celtic Instrumental Album” (JUST PLAIN FOLKS AWARDS Nashville, Tennessee), 2009 for their album FireWire.
"Folk Album of the Year" (The Daily Telegraph) for their 1987 album The Living Wood.
Awards for Máire's quartet with Chris Newman, Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey:
BRAVO! Award for CD of the Year 2008 (TRAD Magazine, France) for their quartet CD, Heartstring Sessions.
Máire has perfomed at many harp festivals around the world. As the only Irish headline performer at the 11th World Harp Congress held in Vancouver in 2011, she represented both the Irish harp and Irish musical traditions. Other notable harp festival appearances have included the 2010 Istanbul Harp Encounter (part of that city’s European City of Culture celebrations), the 16e Festival "Harpe en Avesnois", (Maubeuge, France), the 7th European Harp Symposium (Cardiff, Wales), XIIes Journées de la Harpe, (Arles, France), Rencontres Internationales de la Harpe Celtique (Dinan, France), the International Festival for Irish Harp, Termonfechin, Co Louth, Ireland (on fourrteen occasions since 1985); the Edinburgh Harp Festival (on eight occasions); the O'Carolan Harp Festival, Nobber, Co. Meath, Ireland (on three occasions), the 9th World Harp Congress, Dublin, 2005 (opening concert in St Patrick's Cathedral and solo concert as part of Celtic Highlights series); the 5th World Harp Congress, Copenhagen 1993 (concert shared with Gráinne Yeats and Isobel Mieras - the first ever Congress event to feature the Irish harp); the World Harp Festival (Cardiff); HarpCon Bloomington, Indiana, the Highland Harp Festival, and Festivals held in Belfast, Dublin and Boston to commemorate the bicentennial of the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival. Recent harp event performances include concerts at the Welsh Harp School and the Cromarty Harp Village, Scotland.
Solo performances by Máire happen quite rarely, though there have been an increasing number in recent years: at the Samhain Festival, Stockholm, the 21st Swiss Harp Festival, the International Harp School, Wells, B.C., Canada, the 7th Rio Harp Festival, Brazil, the Mission Folk Festival, B.C., Canada, Harfen in Schwaben, Germany, the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland; the London Irish Centre; the International Festival for Irish Harp, Termonfechin, Co Louth, Ireland; the University of Leeds; the Southeastern Harp Weekend, Asheville, N.C., USA, and the Birmingham Early Music Festival - and of course, as mentioned above, at the 11th World Harp Congress, Vancouver.
Máire holds an honours B.A. degree in Celtic Studies from University College Cork. Two books of her harp arrangements, The Irish Harper Voume I and The Irish Harper Voume II have been published by Old Bridge Music.
Máire contributed two articles about the Irish harp and modes in Irish music to the Companion to Irish Traditional Music (Cork University Press).
She is profiled in Celtic Women in Music (Mairéad Sullivan, Quarry Music Books, Canada), The Rough Guide to Irish Music and many magazine and newspaper articles.
Máire now concentrates primarily on performance. However, she’s always placed a high priority on passing on her knowledge and techniques to the next generation, with the aim – now largely achieved - of re-integrating the Irish harp into the mainstream of the living oral Irish tradition. She has been giving masterclasses in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the USA since the mid-1970s with the result that her ideas and techniques are now very widely disseminated. When harp was included in the list of instruments taught at the Scoil Éigse before Fleadh Cheoil na h-Éireann for the very first time in 1976, it was Máire who was invited to teach the class. 2019 was her thirty-fourth year as the senior tutor at An Chúirt Chruitireachta, the Summer School / Festival organised by Cairde na Cruite (The Irish Harp Society) in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, the pre-eminent such festival, attracting harpers from all over the world. (See www.cairdenacruite.com or contact the Festival Director, Aibhlín McCrann, for further details.) She has taught in the past at the Cork Municipal School of Music (where she developed the first ever examination syllabus for non-pedal harp) and at the Leeds College of Music. Her arrangements have been featured on the Syllabus of the Royal Irish Academy of Music for a number of years. She has been a visiting harp tutor at Newcastle University, Limerick University, the University of Ulster and the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana. She has given workshops and masterclasses at the Istanbul Harp Encounter, Rencontres Internationales de la Harpe Celtique (Dinan, France), the International Festival for Irish Harp, Termonfechin, Co Louth, Ireland (every year since 1985); the Willie Clancy Summer School (every year since 2013), the Edinburgh Harp Festival; the O'Carolan Harp Festival, Nobber, Co. Meath, Ireland, Harp Weekend at Bandon Walled Town Festival, National Folk Festival, Australia, Perth International Festival, Australia, the Southeastern Harp Weekend, Asheville, N.C., Music Generation Laois Summer Camp, Ireland, HarpCon, Bloomington, Indiana, the Highland Harp Festival, the Welsh Harp School, Cromarty Harp Village, Scotland, the 21st Swiss Harp Festival, the International Harp School, Wells, B.C., Canada, the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland, Milwaukee Irish Fest Summer School, Festivals held in Belfast, Dublin and Boston to commemorate the bicentennial of the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival, and given countless workshops for harp societies in Europe, Australasia and North America.
The New Strung Harp (1985, Temple Records)
As a duo with Chris Newman:
The Living Wood (1987, Green Linnet / Black Crow; reissued by Old Bridge Music)
Out of Court (1991, Old Bridge Music)
The Carolan Albums (1994, Old Bridge Music)
Live in the Highlands (1997, Old Bridge Music)
Dialogues / Agallaimh (2001, Old Bridge Music)
FireWire (2007, Old Bridge Music)
Christmas Lights (2013, Old Bridge Music)
As a quartet with Chris Newman, Nollaig Casey and Arty McGlynn:
Heartstring Sessions (2008, Old Bridge Music)
Heartstring Sessions 2, (2015, Old Bridge Music)
As a trio with her sisters The Casey Sisters:
Sibling Revelry (2015, Old Bridge Music)
Recordings with other musicians:
Chris and Máire are featured on the major BBC 2 TV series on Irish music Bringing it All Back Home - the associated BBC book features a large photograph of Máire on the front cover (see picture on the right)– and on Polygram USA’s major 1998 Celtic harp album and associated PBS TV special Celtic Harpestry. They’re also featured on Irish rock legend Rory Gallagher’s posthumous 2003 album on BMG, Wheels within Wheels. Máire is harp and voice soloist with the New English Chamber Orchestra and the Choir of New College Oxford on John Cameron's major work Missa Celtica, released by Erato Disques, Paris. (Further information at www.johncameronmusic.com) The Goldcrest film Driftwood features her singing, and her harping and compositions feature with Dónal Lunny, Sharon Shannon, Máire's sister Nollaig Casey and other luminaries of the Celtic music world on Dan ar Braz's Gold Disc-awarded album for Sony France Finisterres. (Listen to Finisterres on Spotify here.)
The 5th Irish Folk Festival (1978, Wundertüte, Germany)
The Best of the Irish Folk Festival (1988, Wundertüte, Germany)
The Best of the Irish Folk Festival Volume 2 (1989, Wundertüte, Germany)
Bringing It All Back Home (1991, Hunmmingbird Records / BBC)
A Celtic Treasure (1996, Narada Media / Universal, USA)
L’Imaginaire Irlandais (1997, Keltia Musique, France)
Celtic Harpestry (1998, Imaginary Road Records / Warner, USA)
Masters of the Irish Harp (2011, RTÉ Lyric fm, Ireland)
The Tailor's Choice with Joe Burke (1983, Green Linnet)
Finisterres: Dan ar Braz et l’Héritage des Celtes (1997, Sony, France)
Missa Celtica (Érato Disques, France / Warner Classics)
Wheels within Wheels with Rory Gallagher (2003, BMG)
Links to makers of Máire's harps:
Máire plays an Aberdeen harp made by William Rees Harps of Rising Sun, Indiana and an electro-acoustic Mélusine harp made by Camac Harps, France: she iss grateful to both companies for the sponsorship which enables her to play their wonderful, sweet-toned but powerful instruments.
An Chúirt Chruitireachta International Festival for Irish Harp (Ireland)
Edinburgh International Harp Festival (Scotland)
Harpe en Avesnois (France)
Somerset Folk Harp Festival (USA)