Wednesday 23 October 2019

'A storm ripped part of the roof from my house' - Altan's Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh


Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Photo: Colm Hogan
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Photo: Colm Hogan newsdesk

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh is the lead singer and fiddle player with the traditional Irish band, Altan. A native of the Donegal Gaeltacht of Gaoth Dobhair, she founded Altan with her late husband Frankie Kennedy.

She has also recorded with other well-known musicians such as Enya, The Chieftains and Dolly Parton.

Altan will be playing in St Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny this Friday March 15 as part of the Kilkenny TradFest. For more information, visit

What's the most important lesson about money which your career as a musician has taught you?

Try and save as you go along, as the music business is so unpredictable.

What's your favourite Irish saying about money?

Is fearr an tsláinte ná na táinte.

What's the most expensive country you ever visited?

While touring Norway, I was trying to buy my friends a drink and nearly collapsed when I got the bill. They laughed and explained that in Norway, nobody buys rounds and proceeded to pay for their own drinks - to my relief. I also noticed that Japan and Iceland are expensive. Dublin can be very expensive for a visit too.

What's the most you've ever spent on musical equipment?

On my way to the Shetland Islands a few years ago to record with The String Sisters, my fiddle was damaged and I had to get a loan of a fiddle to do the recording while my own fiddle was being repaired. I liked the replacement fiddle so much that I bought it for €3,000 - which is a good price for a rare instrument.

What's your favourite song about money?

Gaelic poetry is subtle when it comes to money - it's usually mentioned as a dowry or a reference to livestock. One which comes to mind with reference to buying things is Caide Sin Don Té Sin - which literally means what's it to you what I do. I love that sentiment in life.

Apart from property, what's the most expensive thing you have ever bought?

My first car - a Rav4 which I bought in 2004.

What was your worst job?

I've only had two jobs. One as a primary school teacher which I loved. The other being a professional musician which I love. I suppose after 30-odd years on the road, I don't enjoy the gruelling travelling in touring but playing a nice concert more than makes up for it. I was a bit intimidated by the junior infants on my first day as a teacher in St Oliver Plunkett's in Malahide but I soon got used to it!

What was your best financial killing?

Before my late husband Frankie Kennedy passed away in 1994, he and I were in talks with Virgin Records London to sign Altan, which helped bring us to a wider audience worldwide.

Are you better off than your parents?

I'm not sure about that as I'm self-employed and depend on my next job for my pay. My father was a primary teacher - and life was simpler and less expensive back then.

If you won the Euromillions, what would you do with the money?

I would make sure to secure a lifelong financial plan for my daughter Nia and give all my family a million each. I would give money to local charities, schools and voluntary organisations. I would buy a few fiddles, bows and go on a luxury holiday. Then I would live simply without a worry for the rest of my life.

Have you ever made an insurance claim?

I made an insurance claim a few years ago when one of the big storms that hit us here in north-west Donegal ripped part of the side of the roof from my house.

What's the best advice you ever got about money?

My father was one of the most generous people I ever met, always looking out for people. He always advised me to save a little for a rainy day, which I try and do when I can.

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