Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill: No Dowry

The 8th in the series revisiting classic albums and old favourites.

Irish music went through a mini-boom in Japan during the 1990s with a large number of releases on CD mostly licensed from record companies in Ireland. As a reviewer I was sent several of these, and compilations with titles such as Celtic Countdown, Celtic Love, and Emerald Eyes started arriving from Victor Entertainment in Tokyo as well as albums by important artists such as folk band Altan and singer Mary Black. But nothing quite prepared me for Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill’s album Gan Dha Phingin Spre: No Dowry (to give it its full title) which to my ears seemed the best of the lot. It remains a superb collection of traditional songs sung by a wonderful singer.

Maighread Ni Dhomnaill is from Dublin and grew up in a musical family where she developed into a strong and clear-voiced singer with a wide knowledge of traditional music. On No Dowry she is accompanied by her sister Triona and brother Micheal who also helped with some of the arrangements. Other musicians include Philip Begley, Donal Lunny and Liam O’Flynn. The whole project was produced by Donal Lunny and his name in the credits virtually ensures the results will be interesting at the very least. He is a master of the bouzouki and a fine keyboard and bodhran player. However, it’s as a producer that he has become well-known around the world over the past three decades. His ability to empathise with singers and to get the very best out of them has surely never been better displayed than here.

There are ten songs on the album and six of them are sung in Irish, the other four in English. The CD booklet contains English and Japanese translations of the Irish language songs but it’s hardly necessary to consult them as the emotions generated by the singing and playing are enough to transfix the listener. This is most fully realised on two amazing performances ‘A Mhaithrin Dhileas’ (Dearest Mother) and ‘Is Fada Liom Iaim I’ (She’s Far Away, I Miss Her) but the entire album is a tour de force. The musicians just glide along beside the vocalist like a ship setting sail on the ocean. There is also one unaccompanied song in English ‘The Green Wood Laddie’.

No Dowry was originally released in Ireland by Gael-Linn and later in Japan by Victor in 1997. Maighread Ni Dhomnaill came to Japan around this time to perform and I met her for the first time in Osaka. She came back again not long after that to sing some of the songs from her album as a guest vocalist in Donal Lunny’s regrettably short-lived big band project Coolfin. In 1999 she made another album Idir an Da Sholas (Between the Two Lights) with her sister Triona.

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