Altan: Blackwater
  1. Johnny Boyle’s/King of the Pipers (Jigs)
  2. Dark Haired Lass/Biddy from Muckcross/Sean Maguire’s (Reels)
  3. ‘Stór, a Stór, a Ghrá (Song)
  4. Strathspey/Con McGinley’s/The Newfoundland Reel (Strathspey & Reels)
  5. Tá Mé ‘Mo Shuí (Song)
  6. An Gasúr Mór/Bunker Hill/Dogs Among the Bushes (Hornpipe & Reels)
  7. Molly na gCuach Ní Chuilleanáin (Song)
  8. Jenny Picking Cockles/Farewell to Leitrim/John Doherty’s (Reels)
  9. Ar Bhruach na Carraige Báine (Song)
  10. The Dance of the Honeybees (Hornpipe)
  11. Blackwaterside (Song)
  12. A Tune for Frankie (Jig)

“”BLACKWATER” is the first album of new music from Altan in three years, but it almost didn’t happen at all. The husband-and-wife team of flutist Frankie Kennedy and fiddler Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh had founded the Irish folk band in 1987, but when Kennedy died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 38, Ni Mhaonaigh had to decide whether to keep the group going or not. On the one hand, Kennedy’s lilting flute parts had been crucial to Altan’s dizzying dance tunes from northern Ireland. On the other hand, the success that Kennedy had struggled so hard to achieve had begun to materialize with high rankings on Billboard’s world-music charts and major-label contract offers.

After much soul-searching, Ni Mhaonaigh finally decided to keep Altan going but without a new flutist. Instead she promoted accordionist Dermot Byrne from part-time session guest to full-fledged member. “Blackwater” begins as if nothing much has changed except the substitution of Byrne’s reedy squeezebox for Kennedy’s mellow wooden flute. The tunes mostly come from the northwestern County Donegal, home to Ni Mhaonaigh, Byrne and second fiddler Ciaran Tourish, a place where Irish and Scottish traditions mix more easily than anywhere else. The twin fiddles soar above the driving rhythms of guitarist Daithi Sproule and bouzouki player Ciaran Curran.

Hints of the band’s sorrowful loss gradually make themselves felt, however. Ni Mhaonaigh sings both the Gaelic love song, “Ta Me ‘Mo Shui,” and the English love song, “Blackwaterside,” in a pure soprano filled with a harrowing sense of loss. And the album concludes with the instrumental, “A Tune for Frankie,” which features a slow fiddle part that seems to hover between mourning and fond affection. -Geoffrey Himes


Track 12: A Tune for Frankie

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, fiddle, vocals
Ciaran Tourish, fiddle, whistle, backing vocals
Dermot Byrne, accordion, single row melodeon
Ciarán Curran, bouzouki, guitar-bouzouki
Mark Kelly, guitar, backing vocals
Dáithí Sproule, guitar, vocals.

With: Máire Bhreathnach, Annette Cleary, Steve Cooney, Conan Doyle, Jimmy Higgins, David James, Tommy Kane, Dónal Lunny, Maighréad Ní Dhomhnaill, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Anna Ní Mhaonaigh, Brendan Power

Brian Masterson – Producer, Engineer
David Scheinmann – Photography
The Design Corporation – Design

More recordings

  • Altan Donegal cd cover
  • Altan: The Gap of Dreams
  • Altan: The Widening Gyre
  • Altan: The Poison Glen
  • Altan 25th Anniversary Concert CD
  • Altan: Local Ground
  • Altan :The Blue Idol
  • Altan: Another Sky
  • Altan: Runaway Sunday
  • Altan: Island Angel
  • Altan: Harvest Storm
  • Altan: The Red Crow
  • Altan: Horse with a Heart
  • Altan: The First Album
  • Altan: The First Ten Years
  • The Best of Altan: The Songs