Sunday 18 March 2018

The siblings in tune with one another

Former Celtic Woman star Mairead Nesbitt is an inspiration to her younger brother Karl, and he keeps her calm

Mairead Nesbitt and her brother Karl are accomplished musicians. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mairead Nesbitt and her brother Karl are accomplished musicians. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Musician Karl Nesbitt says that although he lives in Cork and his sister Mairead lives in Boston, music is the glue that connects them. That, and food, as they're both fans of good Irish food. "Our love of Irish porter and potatoes connects us," he jokes.

Mairead and Karl grew up on a small farm a mile outside Loughmore in Tipperary. They have four siblings, Frances, Sean, Michael and Noel, and while Mairead is second-eldest of the family, Karl is the youngest. "There's a 10-year age gap between us," says the petite Mairead. "I was delighted when he was born because it was lovely having a new little one around the place. I was a terror and the rest weren't far off, but Karl was always the lovely little golden boy."

Mairead and Karl lived with their parents, John and Kathleen, and late grandparents, May and Martin. As the elder family members were all musicians, it's unsurprising that all of the Nesbitt children are also accomplished. Mairead played piano at four and violin at six, with a bit of tin whistle and flute thrown in.

"I loved the fiddle, and grew up playing classical and traditional music side by side," she says. "My mother is an amazing fiddle player and she lectured in TTCT at Comhaltas, which is the only traditional music course in the world. She teaches music at the Ursuline Convent in Thurles, which is where I went to school. My dad is fantastic too and he also plays the fiddle, but mainly the box or button accordion."

Karl says Mairead wasn't a bossy older sister, and all of his memories of her are to do with music. She was always very encouraging, warm and positive, he says, and is one of the principal reasons he plays music today. Mairead began playing with the RTE Concert Orchestra at 14, and studied music at Waterford RTC, Cork School of Music, and Trinity College London. She joined Lord of the Dance, did some recording work for Riverdance, and after releasing her first solo album, Raining Up, she joined Celtic Woman and toured with the show for 12 years.

She loved her time with the smash-hit show, and it was where she met her husband Jim Mustapha, Jr., who was the show's light and design director. They got married on a beach in Maui, Hawaii, by themselves in 2011. The family watched the ceremony via a live wi-fi link.

"It was amazing watching it at the kitchen table in Loughmore," says Karl. "We were looking at them on a beach and the rain was pelting down here. Playing music for a living isn't the most stable route, but Mairead had blazed a trail and that inspired me to try it out. We saw her play with Celtic Woman in Carnegie Hall in New York, and I got to travel all over Europe in her band when she was doing her own gigs, which was a brilliant experience. Even as a child, I remember going to see her perform with the RTE Concert Orchestra, which had a big impact on me."

Karl is a multi-instrumentalist whose main instrument is flute, and he studied music at Colaiste Stiofain Naofa in Cork. He still lives there, with one of the main attractions being that he met his Cork girlfriend Blaithin, a musician and music teacher, there.

Karl is a full-time musician and does a lot of teaching with Comhaltas and outreach programme, Music Generation. He is writing his own material, and will be recording an album of tunes by Captain O'Neill from Bantry and a collaborative album with different people, including Mairead. He is also the producer of the Nesbitt family's forthcoming album, The Devil's Bit Sessions, which will be released in May.

The album was recorded in their family home, and 14 family members play on it, including nieces and nephews. "I can procrastinate, but Mairead is brilliant at getting the ball rolling as she just goes straight for things," says Karl. "We all had great ideas, but you need someone like Mairead to put it all in motion. She was the spark to start it all."

Mairead says Karl is extremely modest about his considerable talents, and she loves that he's so calm and the voice of reason. "I can get nervous before a performance, but when I look over at him on stage and see how relaxed he is, it helps me," she says. "He is also very caring and a very warm person, and when the four brothers get together, the antics they get up to are hilarious. They're great at taking each other off."

Mairead left Celtic Woman last July and now lives in Boston with Jim - a native of the city. "I have a base in Dublin city centre so I come home a lot," she says. "I'm a real homebird and I get very homesick, which is not the best way to be in this career."

She has just released her fantastic new album, Hibernia, a fusion of original trad and classical music that was recorded with a full orchestra. She has launched it globally with a performance with the Hong Kong Symphony Orchestra. Karl is one of the featured musicians, and her parents and brother Sean also feature. "I'll be touring Hibernia, probably in 2018, and am touring with a big new sensational show for PBS for six weeks, which will shortly be announced," she says. "I loved Celtic Woman, but am enjoying being in charge of my own destiny now and making my own schedule."

Hibernia is available from music stores nationwide and from

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