Altan (@Gwen Orel)

How It’s New York: Altan played at a sold-out Lower Manhattan venue, the City Winery.  And the band love coming to New York, and have performed at large venues and teensy ones like Puck Fair.
How It’s Irish: The concert was performed by celebrated traditional Irish band, Altan, and many of the songs are sung in the Irish language.

John Kearns goes to see Altan at City Winery and feels as though St. Patrick’s Week has truly begun

The legendary traditional Irish band, Altan*, brought its Donegal-style music to the City Winery for two beautiful and energetic sets on March 8th. The occasion, other than the big holiday that’s fast approaching, was the release of the band’s new CD on Compass Records, Gleann Nimhe – The Poison Glen (which can also be translated, “The Heavenly Glen.” Truly, as singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh said in her interview with Gwen Orel, speaking Irish is “a different way of thinking.”)

To hear Mairéad directly, and some of the music on The Poison Glen, you can also download the Feb. 26 podcast!

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh started the show by expressing her delight with the unusually warm weather in New York. She is used to the wind and rains of Donegal, which don’t really matter much.

“It doesn’t rain in the pubs,” she explained.

Both sets featured lively jigs and reels interspersed with songs which, except for a few, were sung in Irish.

One of the highlights of the first set was “Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó,” or “The Beautiful Girl Milking a Cow” a very old song in which a poet falls for the pretty girl and expresses how dark his life would be without her. Another was “Caitlín Triall,” in which a man falls in love with Caitlin but is despondent when he finds her with another.

“Desperate men in Ireland,” quipped Mairead.

During the second set, Mairéad sang a beautiful song of the sear. “Seolta Geala,” or “White Sails” expresses the joy of heading out to sea on a sailboat and leaving your troubles behind. Mairéad even succeeded in getting much of the audience to join in on the chorus in Irish.

Dáithí Sproule, Dermot Byrne, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (@Gwen Orel)

Guitarist/singer Dáithí Sproule described the journey taken by the song. “Lily of the West,” which was written in Ireland, became part of the American song tradition, and then traveled back across the Atlantic to become part of the Irish tradition again. He sang and played a lovely rendition of the song. He also played an impressive instrumental composition of his own on guitar, which Mairéad said she first heard as the band was singing and playing at 5 in the morning.

Mairéad sang a song about her hometown, Gweedore, written by her father, Proinsias Ó Maonaigh.Gleantain Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair,” has the same melody as “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore.” Then, Altan ended the show with the lively tune, “Drowsy Maggie,”which surely woke up any sleepy patrons of the City Winery.

Altan’s songs, jigs, and reels filling the City Winery made it seem as though the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day, though more than a week ahead of time, had truly begun. It was a treat to hear Altan in such an intimate setting, but it also made me yearn to hear the renowned traditional band in a place a little less regimented, where we might be able to keep listening, if the mood struck us, until 5 in the morning.

* Altan is Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh on fiddle and vocals, Ciaran Tourish on fiddle, whistle, and vocals, Ciarán Curran on bouzouki and mandolin, Mark Kelly on guitar, bouzouki, and vocals, Dermot Byrne on accordion, and Dáithí Sproule on guitar and vocals.

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    MW Butler / March 13, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Terrific article! Makes me want to pour myself a Guinness!

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