GAOTH DOBHAIR musician Catriona Ní Ghribín has been awarded the coveted TG4 Gradam Ceoil Bursary Award for Traditional Music.
The successful recipients of the bursary were presented with the award at City Hall, Belfast by the Lord Mayor, Tina Black. They received a tour of the building and Catriona even got a chance to try on the Lord Mayor’s jewels.
The three recipients Catriona Ní Ghribín, Maeve O’Donnell and Ciara Maguire then performed together at the grand closing of the TG4 Gradam Ceoil ceremony at the University of Limerick. They also attended a reception where they got to experience the full hustle and bustle behind the broadcasting.
All three of the young women hail from different corners of the country but are now living in Belfast, a city Catriona described as thriving with culture and creativity. She said it is filled with plenty of opportunities for young musicians.
She fell in love with the city during her days as a student in Queens University, where she studied Music and Audio Production. Although she always looks forward to returning home to the hills she plans to stay in Belfast as this is where she feels most comfortable.
The 24-year-old musician spotted an advertisement for the TG4 bursary in The Duncairn, the biggest centre for traditional music in Belfast. A friend who had previously benefited from the bursary encouraged her to apply, as the award is limited to aspiring young musicians under 25 years old.
In her winning application Catriona outlined how she intended to use the €3,000 prize to gain mentorship from some of the musicians who inspired her growing up. She also wrote about her experience in music, most notably her time with An Crann Óg, who she described as her second family.
Although neither of her parents come from Gaoth Dobhair- her dad is from Belfast and her mum is from Northern England- Donegal is where her “second family” is from.
In her formative years she spent countless evenings practising with An Crann Óg in Derrybeg, where together they learned songs and spoke in their native language. She said this hugely influenced her music career.
“Growing up in the Gaeltacht and having that link to Donegal has shaped my personality as well,” she said.
The last time she visited Gaoth Dobhair was to say goodbye to an important member of the Crann Óg family – the late Tony McHugh who passed away last month. He helped establish the successful group and at his funeral they performed together to pay tribute to his legacy.
“We owe him a lot because he gave us music and he gave us all a lot of opportunities too,” she said.
Her hometown has even heavily influenced her education. After her undergraduate degree Catriona went on to do a Master’s Degree which focused on traditional songs from north west Donegal.
Her interest in the preservation of Irish language songs passed down by the aural tradition has had a fascinating impact on her musical career.
Earlier this year she was involved in the formation of a band called Huartan with Belfast based musicians Stephen Loughran and Miadhachlughain O Donnell. She met Stephen when she moved to West Belfast and started going to a weekly session in the Hawthorn Bar.
She told him about her Masters and how she was interested in conserving old Irish songs that were at risk.
“The most important part of the project is preserving the music and this has to be done by disseminating the songs where they started and further afield,” she explained.
Stephen, who is also a traditional musician, told her about how he was experimenting with electronic beats, and came up with the idea of recording her vocals over the tracks to help distribute the old songs to a wider audience.
He had recorded songs with Miadhachlughain too, so they decided to put them all together and create a set.
“The tradition is to keep it traditional, but who says we can’t put electronic beats to it, to target that younger audience, who will help carry the music on,” Catriona said.
They came up with the name Huartan which means the magic of the hawthorn in old Ogham language.
“So it all comes back full circle because that is where we met, in the Hawthorn Bar,” she said.
Together the trio played their first track in March and have since been asked to perform at upcoming festivals, including Féile na Gealaí, Body & Soul and the Pagan Rave.
Catriona has been busy experimenting with trad infused with electronic elements. Herself and her friend Aoife have also established themselves as a band called the Brigideens.
“The Bigideens comes from the ideology of St Brigid, and how she was bold and didn’t really care. She was a feminist and she wasn’t this perfect goddess that she is made out to be. We liked that idea for the name of the band,” she said.
Through her music career Catriona has been fortunate to meet and perform for plenty of interesting people. She recalled a recent private event in The American Bar Belfast, here she met celebrity actor Michael Fassbender. He was in the city for an exciting production with popular rap group Kneecap.
Fassbender joined in on the trad session and even had a go playing Catriona’s accordion.
In the future Catriona hopes to continue her academic studies by pursuing a PhD similar to her Masters’ research but on a much broader scale, she explained.
But for now she has her eyes set on a summer filled with fun and festivals.