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'We're living the dream'


Music of the heart: Ciaran O Maonaigh says Caitlin Nic Gabhann played hard to get when they first met, but she eventually succumbed to his charms. Photo: David Conachy

Music of the heart: Ciaran O Maonaigh says Caitlin Nic Gabhann played hard to get when they first met, but she eventually succumbed to his charms. Photo: David Conachy

David Conachy

Music of the heart: Ciaran O Maonaigh says Caitlin Nic Gabhann played hard to get when they first met, but she eventually succumbed to his charms. Photo: David Conachy

When dancer and musician Caitlin Nic Gabhann first met her fiance Ciaran O Maonaigh 10 years ago, two weeks after her 18th birthday, she formed a very definite impression of him. "I thought he was a chancer," she smiles," but he was great fun and a real laugh a minute."

Caitlin was out celebrating the results of her mock Leaving Certs exams with a group of musician friends, and they bumped into Ciaran's gang. He laments that she played very hard to get, and it was a year and a half before she agreed to go out with him. Caitlin says that this was because she had a strong feeling early on that if they got together, it would be a long-term thing, and as she was only 18, she wasn't sure if she was ready for that level of commitment. So what attracted Ciaran to the vivacious concertina player? "Ah Jesus, sure she's good-looking," he says, in his distinctive Donegal accent. "And after that, I was impressed with her talent."

Actually, Ciaran and Caitlin say that they couldn't go out with a fellow musician if they didn't like their style of music! They kept meeting up at music festivals, and the following year, Caitlin went to America to dance in a summer show. She realised that she missed Ciaran, so they met up the day she returned and have been together ever since.

The fact that he was a very talented fiddle player was a real bonus for Caitlin, 28, as her dad, Antoin, is a retired civil servant who has always taught fiddle at their Ashbourne home, while her mum Bernadette was a dancer who ran a playschool for many years. Caitlin's siblings are 10, 12, and 14 years older than she is, and they all danced and played instruments. Caitlin studied music and Irish at UCC, and then toured as a dancer with Riverdance for two years. For her, the most memorable show was when they performed the first half of an outdoor show in Egypt with the pyramids as a backdrop, and Mariah Carey was the second half. She and Ciaran missed each other a lot during this time.

After two years, Caitlin went back to Cork and completed a master's in music, which is where she got into composing. Then she did the HDip in Trinity to become a teacher, although she has never actually taught.

Ciaran, 31, thought he might become a teacher too, but the fatal flaw was that he detested college. He was probably always destined to become a musician, as he comes from a very musical family in Gaoth Dobhair in Donegal. Ciaran learned to play fiddle from his late grandfather Francie, who also taught his aunt, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, lead singer with Altan. Actually, Ciaran's godparents are Mairead and her late husband, Frankie Kennedy, who passed away from cancer in 1994 aged 38. It was a case of two brothers marrying two sisters, as Mairead is his dad's sister, while Frankie was also his mum's brother. Although he was an only child, he swears he wasn't spoilt and claims that his parents, Gearoid and Anne, had to go out and buy a dishwasher two weeks after he left home to go to college.

While he always knew he wanted to be a professional musician, Ciaran, an avid Donegal football fan, thought it might be best to study to be a teacher first. He came to Dublin as that was where the fun was, in his eyes. College, however, didn't prove to be quite as much fun. "I failed spectacularly," he laughs. "It took me about two and a half years to get one year of college done as as my heart wasn't in it. I just wanted to play music."

Ciaran decided to leave college and started working part-time in Claddagh Records, while playing music six nights per week. He knew he was on the right track when he won TG4's Young Musician of the Year award, when aged 20, and made his first solo album. He later did a TV production course, and has since produced music documentaries for TG4 and RTE.

One of the things that Caitlin found attractive is that Ciaran has a great attitude towards life, and believes that we are here for a good time, rather than a long time. This, he says, was reinforced in him at an early age when his uncle Frankie passed away so young. "Ciaran's family have such an amazing outlook about seizing the day and not getting bothered by small things," she says. "We are living the dream life now, getting to work and perform music and dance together and I'm loving it. We get to travel around the world performing and recording, and people ask us to do things and it's amazing."

Life is busy these days for the smiley musical pair, who have just released their debut album, Caitlin & Ciaran. It has a range of new and old tunes, lots of unusual versions of tunes and three of Caitlin's compositions. They say they can put pressure on one another working together at times, but they love it and wouldn't have it any other way.

In addition, as part of the forthcoming Bealtaine festival, which celebrates creativity in older people, the musical pair will perform at theatres and arts centres around Ireland during May. They will also be running intergenerational workshops to encourage younger and older people to play music together, as well as visiting care homes - a Bealtaine tradition.

These days, Ciaran and Caitlin live in Spiddal and are busy planning their wedding, which will take place later this year - although they have been too busy to actually plan anything. Ciaran asked Caitlin's dad's permission, and then proposed on Easter Sunday last year in her family's back garden. Actually, he had planned to bring her to the Hill of Tara to propose, but her parents' Easter egg hunt for the grandchildren scuppered that particular plan.

"The wedding will probably be a brilliant three-day party in Donegal," says Ciaran, "as we plan to have lots of sessions with all of our family and friends."


The Bealtaine Festival runs from May 1 to 31. Details of Caitlin & Ciaran's tour and workshops and the full programme can be found on www.bealtaine.com

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