Máire Ní Chathasaigh is "the doyenne of Irish harp players" (The Scotsman), “the great innovator of modern Irish harping, a player of outstanding technique and imagination” (The Rough Guide to Irish Music) and one of Ireland’s most important and influential traditional musicians. She was described by the late Derek Bell as “the most interesting and original player of the Irish harp today” and is the sole harper recipient to date of Irish music's most prestigious award, Gradam Ceoil TG4 - Irish Traditional Musician of the Year. She grew up in a well-known West Cork musical family who were active in the Cork Pipers' Club and was already proficient in a variety of other instruments by the time that she began to play the harp at the age of eleven. Using her knowledge of the idiom of the living oral Irish tradition, she developed a variety of new techniques, particularly in relation to ornamentation, with the aim of establishing an authentically traditional style of harping - “a single-handed reinvention of the harp”. This sharply diverged from the established norms of 20th century Irish harping up to that point - the instrument was associated in the public mind almost exclusively with song accompaniment and performance of the music of the old Irish harpers was confined to a select few. Máire's originality was quickly recognised and she made a number of TV and radio broadcasts as a teenager, going on to win the All-Ireland and Pan-Celtic Harp Competitions on several occasions. (Her three Senior All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil wins were in 1975, 1976 and 1977 - a record that is still unsurpassed.) Her live performances had been attracting attention internationally since 1978, when she first toured Germany as part of the hugely-influential and commercially-successful Irish Folk Festival tour. Her very first recording was made for the live compilation album released to commemorate that tour (and featured the first commercial recording of a reel played on the harp in a traditional style) ; other artists featured were Liam O'Flynn, Andy Irvine, Dolores Keane and John Faulkner, Mick Hanly and Máirtin O'Connor. In 1985 she recorded the first harp album ever to concentrate on traditional Irish dance music, The New-Strung Harp, described by The Irish Examiner as "an intensely passionate and intelligent record… a mile-stone in Irish harp music”. Her approach has had a profound influence on three generations of Irish harpers and in 2001 she was awarded Gradam Cheoil TG4 - Irish Traditional Musician of the Year -“for the excellence and pioneering force of her music, the remarkable growth she has brought to the music of the harp and the positive influence she has had on the young generation of harpers”- a recognition of her pioneering work. She remains the sole harpist recipient of this prestigious award. (For details see the side-bar on the right.)
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