Donegal's Glasgow connections and Scotland's influence on the county's rich musical heritage were celebrated in no little detail as Altan retraced some of their own steps from their 25-plus years as one of Ireland's most cherished bands and welcomed a steady, well stage-managed procession of special guests.
It turned out, in fact, to be something of a greatest hits package as not only did the hosts, swelled by the voices of Glasgow's Friel sisters and Donegal's Henry Girls, deliver a superb reading of an old favourite, the Rathlin Island wedding song Dónal agus Mórag, but fiddler Paddy Glackin arrived to play the fascinatingly eerie air, Paddy's Rambles in the Park from his classic In Full Spate album, and the wonderful Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill sang the beautiful, desolate Is Fada Liom Uaim Í from her standard-setting 1990s CD, No Dowry, with her sister, Triona, whose unshowy, apposite piano playing proved a terrific asset.
Imagine the McGarrigles singing in Irish Gaelic and you get some idea of the spiritual depth and familial connection these two voices create together. It was a stand-out on a night of music that was all good and much of it great. From the opening slip jigs, Altan showed what makes them special: superbly unified melody instrument playing – on two fiddles and Dermot Byrne's ripely phrased melodeon – and absolute rhythmical assurance allied to sheer appetite for the music. Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh's singing in English and Gaelic remains a delight and while large full-cast ensembles are no novelty at Celtic Connections, this finale managed to be both spirited and wholesome enough for McGrory's in Culdaff and fit to grace Carnegie Hall.
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