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Harp Festival Artists

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Artist-in-Residence: Gráinne Meyer

County Antrim based harpist Gráinne Meyer is the most recent winner of the “World Music Competition” following performances at Wales International Harp Festival 2023. Drawing from a background in both traditional Irish and concert harp, Gráinne’s music combines both approaches to create a distinctive sound characterised by “an evolved and multidimensional approach to melody” (Pwyll ap Siôn).

Gráinne studied at the TU Dublin conservatoire of music, with Cliona Doris, Denise Kelly and Gráinne Hambly after completing an honours music degree from the University of York, where she was awarded the Thomas Beecham scholarship for performance.

As a performer and teacher, Gráinne leads a diverse and busy schedule across Ireland and beyond. She is represented by Middle Aisle and her involvement in initiatives like the Live Music Now scheme, along with her role as the director of the Elver Harp Ensemble and Mind and Music orchestra, highlight her commitment to sharing and developing music with others.

As a composer, Gráinne’s arrangements are regularly performed by both soloists and ensembles, some of which have recently been featured on prominent platforms such as BBC Radio, Classic FM and RTÉ.

Niamh O’Brien and Aisling Urwin

Niamh O’ Brien and Aisling Urwin are a duo of harpers from the Southwest of Ireland.

Their music is rooted in the Irish tradition but has expanded throughout their careers to include world, contemporary, original, folk and electronic influences.

In 2021, after doing some performances together for Harp Ireland’s Lá na Cruite, they decided to embark upon a duo project.

Aisling and Niamh believe there is something unique and wonderful in the sound of two harps playing together. Harpers so often play solo, so it has been so exciting for them to play and arrange together. They combine their own individual styles of playing, the particular complexities of their harps which come from different makers, and their voices as they are both singers.

They are deeply passionate about the harp, its community and its rich history. They are currently working on an EP of innovative arrangements of old harping tunes and new compositions.

Eilís Lavelle

Eilís Lavelle from County Monaghan, is a recognised exponent of the Irish harp and is in great demand as a performer and teacher. Eilís began learning music at a young age and was fortunate the Armagh Pipers Club offered the opportunity to learn the harp. Eilís continued developing her musical skills with many tutors over the years. Having completed her B.Mus degree at DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama, she was awarded the Leo Rowsome award for the highest achievement in traditional music in 2013. Eilís has recently completed a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast, focusing on scribal practices found in manuscripts collected by Edward Bunting.

Eilís has been playing the harp for many years and has been fortunate to have performed around the world at various festivals, giving concerts, workshops and masterclasses. In recentyears she has gained extensive experience as a performer and teacher of the harp having travelled throughout USA, Canada and Europe. Broadcasts include Tg4, BBC Television and Radio, RTÉ, and recently recorded a documentary Beart Bunting with Dearcán Media which was aired in late 2022.

Eilís Lavelle and Dr. Robert Harvey

Eilís Lavelle (Monaghan) and Dr. Robert Harvey (Laois) have been performing together for many years. They met while studying in Dublin and have been performing together since. Both musicians have a great interest in music collected from older traditional manuscripts. Eilís has recently completed a PhD focusing on notations from the Edward Bunting manuscript. Robert has completed PhD research on Traditional Composition in the East Galway Style. Both musicians have numerous musical accolades between them. Eilís recorded several tracks on Robert’s critically acclaimed solo flute album ‘Feochán’, produced by Jiggery Pokery Productions in 2020. They have travelled worldwide with their music and have had many opportunities to perform together on some of these trips.

Dr Lauren Ní Néill

Lauren Ní Néill is a sought-after traditional harper, teacher and researcher from Glenullin, Co. Derry. She has both performed and taught at festivals throughout Ireland and Europe and is a current musical director of both the Derry Harp Ensemble and the Inishowen Harp Ensemble. In 2021 Lauren featured as one of eight young  traditional musicians on the TG4/BBC Alba production Sruth and has since featured on Seth Lakeman’s Folk Map of the British Isles, and the ILBF/TG4/BBC Gaeilge Beart Bunting (2022).

Lauren’s keen interest and passion for historical and contemporary Irish harp practices is reflected in her recently completed practice-led PhD research – Bairdne: A practice-led re-imagination of harp accompaniments to Gaelic bardic poetry. She has recently been appointed Cruit Éireann | Harp Ireland’s first CEO, and continues to lecture in Irish Traditional Music at Ulster University.

Bláithín Mhic Cana

Bláithín Mhic Cana is a Sean Nós singer and teacher, born and reared at the foot of Slieve Gullion County Armagh, and now living close by, in the small town of Crossmaglen.

Mentored in her younger years by the acclaimed Sean Nós singer and researcher Padraigín Ní Uallacháin, Bláithín has a particular interest in the rich singing tradition of her home in South-East Ulster – a region once known as Oriel- and in the revival of these songs through practice, transmission and performance. She is passionate about language and community revival through the traditional arts, and divides her time between teaching, promoting arts and language in the community, and performing. She is also currently studying for an MA in the Traditional Arts and Irish in NUI, Maynooth.

Bláithín has won many awards for her singing, including several national awards at Oireachtas na Samhna, and has been invited to perform and tutor all over Ireland and overseas at many cultural centres, festivals and music venues including The Frank Harte Singing Festival, the Pipers Club, Féile na Tána and Electric Picnic Music Festival. As well as drawing from the well of traditional songs from her native South Armagh, and the Oriel music tradition, Bláithín also composes songs in both Irish and English, largely inspired by the beautiful landscape and rich history of her native home.

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Zoë Conway and John Mc Intyre

“Simply one of the best folk duos on the planet” (BBC)

“Folk Instrumentalist of the Year 2020” RTE Radio 1 Folk Awards (Zoë)

“Featured Composer 2021” ITMA Irish Traditional Music Archive (Zoë)

With an exciting blend of eclectic fiddle and guitar music, Zoë Conway and John Mc Intyre bring to the stage sympathetic arrangements of traditional Irish music, compositions and songs, old and new.  The husband and wife folk duo possess a rare facility to draw pieces into their repertoire from other genres such as classical, jazz and world music and express this material in way which not only displays the sheer range and knowledge of both instrumentalists but also exhibits the wonderful versatility of their instruments.

They have released two recordings to date – one is a superb collection of live European performances, Live in Concert, released in spring 2017.  The album showcases their mesmerising musical interaction on-stage, and also reveals some of their more virtuosic repertoire outside of the Irish traditional genre.  Relaxed and atmospheric, the respect and understanding that they have of traditional Irish music and song also shines through.

Their debut duo album, entitled Go Mairir I Bhfad (Long Life To You), received a glorious 5 stars from national paper, The Irish Times.  For this unique album, they commissioned twelve leading Irish composers to each compose a piece specifically for Zoë and John, for fiddle and guitar, with the aim of collectively presenting a snapshot of traditional Irish music alive today.  The renowned composers who took part in the project were Liz Carroll, Steve Cooney, Frankie Gavin, Andy Irvine, Charlie Lennon, Donal Lunny, Máirtín O’Connor, Peadar Ó Riada, Mícheál Ó Súilleabhán, Tommy Peoples, Niall Vallely and Bill Whelan.

The release of these albums has brought international attention to the duo, and so they are increasingly in demand in Ireland and abroad for performances, talks and workshops.

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Simon Chadwick

Simon Chadwick is a musician, researcher and educator, specialising in the old Irish harp traditions. He researches and studies the lives and works of the harpers, their tunes and playing techniques, and the design and setup of their harps.

Simon’s work started when he made a harp with wire strings. He learned to play it by working through Ann Heymann’s books, but at every stage he asked himself difficult questions about his instrument, its stringing and setup, the tunes, the style, the playing techniques, the contexts, the cultural background… He applied his formal training in archaeology and physics to try and answer these questions, often spending more time on research than on playing, and usually generating more new questions than answers.

From the very beginning of his studies, Simon was asked to teach the harp. He worked with piper Barnaby Brown on developing pioneering online video lessons and website publishing over 20 years ago, and he collaborated with Siobhán Armstrong to help create a thriving scene of playing wire-strung Irish harps in Ireland. Originally from the south of England, Simon relocated to Scotland where he became involved with the Scottish traditional music scene in Dundee, working with Sheena Wellington to organise events and classes there. Since 2018 Simon has been living in Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Simon’s other musical love is change ringing on tower bells. He learned the art from his mother when he was a young boy; now he is Northern District Ringing Master in the Irish Association of Change Ringers.

Séamus & Caoimhe Uí Fhlatharta

Winners of the RTÉ Folk Awards 2024 – Best Emerging Artist

Born into a musical family, siblings Séamus & Caoimhe Uí Fhlatharta hail from the village of An Áird Mhóir in the Gaeltacht region of Connemara, County Galway.

They are noted for their sean nós singing (unaccompanied traditional Irish vocal performance in the Irish language) and their unique arrangements of both Irish and English language songs.

They take a particular interest in vocal arrangement and harmonization with their performances benefitting from the vocal tones that only families share.

Their Late Late Show performance in 2022 of the soulful lament Anach Cuain captured the mood of the nation and went viral around the world.

Séamus and Caoimhe are both accomplished multi instrumentalists, Irish dancers and All Ireland winning performers who keep the Irish language and their heritage at the heart of all their musical endeavors.

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Gerry Cullen and the Drogheda Singers

Gerry Cullen has been a stalwart of the in-accompanied traditional music scene for the past 50 years. He first came to national prominence as a member of the acclaimed harmony trio Voice Squad. Gerry possesses a wonderful resonant, rich voice and includes many local Drogheda songs in his repertoire.

The Drogheda Singers have had weekly singing sessions in Drogheda for many years and the regular singers have all sung at different festivals and sessions throughout the country. Some have researched local songs , singers and song-writers and, in line with one of their main aims, have brought many old songs back to life, many from the nineteenth century.

Méabh McKenna

Méabh McKenna is a multidisciplinary artist from Moynalty Co.Meath. In 2018 she graduated from DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama with a performance degree specialising in pedagogy, where she studied with mentor Denise Kelly MacDonald. She is currently completing postgraduate studies in the National College of Art and Design focusing on performance, community collaboration, ritual, and pedagogical practices.

She was awarded a scholarship in 2018 to attend the International Harp Foundation Jazz Immersion Programme in Brazil. She is a regular collaborator with RTÉ Choice nominated artists Maija Sofia and Aoife Nessa Frances, recording on albums such as Bathtime (2019) and Protector (2022). In 2022 she was a featured artist on ‘Le blogotheque’ live video sessions in collaboration with Aoife Nessa Frances. She has opened the RTÉ Folk Music Awards, and performed as a band member at the RTÉ Choice Awards in 2020 and 2023. She has supported artists such as Villagers, Sharon Van Etten, the Charlatans, John Francis Flynn, Iarla O Leonard, and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. She has performed with John Sheahan of the Dubliners, Colm Mac Ionmaire, Lisa Hannigan, and Radie Peat of Lankum.

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Alannah Thornburgh

Alannah Thornburgh is an award-winning instrumentalist and composer from the wild west of Ireland with a focus on traditional Irish harp. Alannah’s music explores her family heritage, reimagining melodies from the Irish harping and American folk & jazz traditions. This cross-genre interaction and juxtaposition of old melodies with contemporary harmonies and technique is interwoven throughout her music, described as being ‘unforced, fluid and utterly at home in her own sound’ (The Irish Times).

Alannah is currently working on her debut solo album, due for release in 2024. The album features a volume of compositions inspired by fairy folklore & mythology in Co. Mayo.

Seosaimhín Ní Bheaglaoich

Seosaimhín Ní Bheaglaoich, a traditional singer from Corca Dhuibhne,West Kerry Gaeltacht graduated with a B.A in Early and Modern from Irish Trinity College Dublin and a H.Dip in Ed. from TCD, Diploma in Folklore University College Galway. She lectures in Amhránaíocht at TU Dublin Conservatoire where she was appointed Adjunt Professor in 2015. She is a founder member of MACALLA, an all women’s traditional band with two albums, ‘Mná na hÉireann’ and ‘Macalla 2’. She has also released her own solo album, ‘Taobh na Gréine/Under the Sun’ Gael linn and ‘Suailcí Sona’, an album with her sister Caitlín, and brother Seamus. Seosaimhín has travelled widely and has a special interest in Scots Gaelic traditional songs.

Suntou Susso

Suntou Susso is a multi-instrumentalist: Kora player, percussionist, singer and composer from The Gambia. Born a Griot in a 700-year old tradition, the Kora – harp-lute with 22 strings – is unique to the Griots of the Mandinka people. Griots have a unique societal role as oral historians, transmitting and preserving a people’s culture through the generations in song, music and poetry.  Suntou’s family includes some of the world’s most well-respected West African musicians. His musical abilities are outstanding, perhaps unique for his generation. An in-demand and charismatic performer, he attracted attention as soon as he arrived on the UK music scene.

Collaborations to date

Celebrated jazz singer Sarah-Jane Morris, Guitarist Tony Remy – Ronnie Scotts, Ghazalaw -Indian-Welsh fusion project on BBC Radio 2, 3 and 6, Davide Mantovani, Kora and Modern Jazz fusion, Opera singer Pumeza Matshikiza – performing on ITV’s This Morning.

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