Altan Robert McKenna photo

Acclaimed traditional Irish band Altan arrives in Maine on the first night of its long-awaited US tour on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Their only Maine performance will be on stage at Boothbay Harbor’s historic Opera House.

The spirit and sound of Altan comes from the deep and rich musical tradition of their native County Donegal. On one of his many visits to the Donegal Gaeltacht of Gaoth Dobhair, Belfast-born flute player Frankie Kennedy met fiddler and singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, sparking off a deep musical connection, marriage in 1981, and a journey that took them all over the world.

In the mid ’80s, Mairéad and Frankie recruited bouzouki player Ciaran Curran from Fermanagh, whose intricate counterpoint is at the center of the Altan sound, and guitarist Mark Kelly from Dublin, whose mastery of a wide palette of guitar styles and harmonic vocabulary add a breadth and depth of color. As a band, Altan played their first concert in 1985 in St. John’s Church in Listowel, Co. Kerry at the famous Listowel Writers Week.

One of the band’s finest hours came with the release of Island Angel in 1993, which was recognized by Billboard World Music Charts as the second biggest selling world music album globally in 1994. In the same year, Altan performed for Bill Clinton at the White House. The band would play for U.S. presidents over the course of their career as well as accompanying Irish presidents on their state visits.

A record deal with Virgin Records followed in 1996, which catapulted the band on an extensive touring schedule over the subsequent decade. This period saw them working with many American performers including Dolly Parton, recording on her album Heartsongs (1994) and its follow up, Little Sparrow 2001; she returned the favor on the band’s record The Blue Idol in 2002 by dueting with Mairéad on the song The Pretty Young Girl.

Altan has traveled with Ireland’s President Mary MacAleese and President Michael D. Higgins on state visits abroad to Japan, North Korea and Italy. President Higgins invited them to join him in his residence, Áras an Uachtaráin in 2018 to celebrate their 30 years as a band. The Donegal County Council held a civic reception in their offices to mark the occasion in May 2018. In 2006 the Irish Government also honored Altan by putting them on an official postal stamp to celebrate their contribution to the Irish culture one of the highest honors to be bestowed on an Irish citizen.

Martin Tourish, a past TG4 Young Musician of the Year, took the accordion seat in late 2013 and the band recorded their album The Widening Gyre in Nashville with awarded performers including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jerry Douglas and Alison Brown. This album explored the connections between Irish and Bluegrass music, a particularly special moment of which was performing at The Grand Ole Opry with Ricky Skaggs in 2016.

Altan’s founding member and leader, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh was awarded Donegal Person of the Year in 2008 and the coveted TG4 Gradaim Ceoil (Music Award) 2017, for her musicianship and singing. These are the highest accolades which a traditional musician can receive in Ireland.

Tickets for this evening of traditional Irish music are available by contacting the box office at 86 Townsend Ave., open Wednesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or by calling (207) 633-5159. Tickets and information are also available at The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., doors for seating open at 7 p.m.

Comments are not available on this story.