Orlaith McAuliffe’s Lightning Fingers(Interview)

I have no idea where I’ll be 10 years from now! But I hope that I’ll be successful in both my music and in my medical career! I’d love to release some of my music one day and maybe even form a band! I also love the idea of working with children… so maybe pediatrics is the way forward!!! Wherever I am, I know I’ll be taking the trad with me!

The Irish traditional music scene is bursting with young talents.  Because of cultural expansion brought about by the Internet-and also aggressive promotions by record labels, Celtic music in general has  minions of  followers ready to break the barriers that pop and rock have put up. Thus there is this big new world out there, where traditional music is a thriving market with its own torch bearer’s the so- called ‘rock stars’ of traditional Irish music.

I first learned about  Orlaith McAuliffe’s awesome talent when I saw her playing the Hammy Hamilton keyless ‘D’ flute. I was like wow this nineteen-year-old musician has fast fingers and strong lungs! How does she do it? So I perused the web a bit and stumbled upon  trad forum and she’s being discussed at great lengths. She’s definitely making waves. Anyone who is involved in the traditional scene has probably heard her name. How can you not? She has won competitions all over UK and Ireland. She’s one of the in-demand artists in live shows. Orlaith has carved a name upon herself way before a solo album is to be cut. Let’s find out more in this interview. She has proven to be great to talk to and also sweet. Just look at those adorable pups!This one took place when she got back to London after attending  the musical events in Ireland and winning!



Orlaith McAuliffe playing The Mason’s Apron at Haringey Irish Centre as part of the 2010 Echoes of Erin tour organised by Comhaltas Ceoloiri Eireann.

Filmed for Comhaltas by James McDonald http://www.shanakee.org


Hi Órlaith, how are you doing today?

I’m very well today thanks! Still a little tired from all the travelling the last couple of days, but I’m resting up now!

How does it feel to win first place in the recent competition

I’m still in shock! I was competing against brilliant players from all over Ireland, Britain, America and Japan! All the competitors who make it through to the All Ireland Fleadhs are fantastic musicians, so I feel very lucky and very happy to have been picked as the winner this time!

Tell us about your current project(s)

I’ve been away in Ireland for the last month attending brilliant Trad festivals, workshops and playing in sessions! In London I play sessions around North London and enjoy doing gigs with members of the group “Ceili Max”. At the moment I’m also preparing to start University. I’ll be studying Medicine at Imperial College London. It’s a long and challenging course but I’m looking forward to it!

Amazing! Trad music and medicine! And I saw a video of you playing at a break neck speed in TradConnect and that’s when I found out about your amazing talent. Do you get to perform now with a lot of invites?

I am invited to play regularly at sessions and at gigs around London and I really enjoy doing them! I am also invited to perform at concerts and festivals throughout the year. Most recently I performed at the Main Concert at the James Morrison Festival, held in Riverstown in Co. Sligo every summer. It’s a fantastic festival and I’ve been attending it for the past six or seven years! Tomorrow, I have been invited to play as part of a Ceili Group at the Crawley Irish Festival, alongside some other brilliant players which I’m really looking forward to!

Paddy Gavin, Shauna Cullen, Conal Mccormack and Órlaith McAuliffe.
Paddy Gavin, Shauna Cullen, Conal Mccormack and Órlaith McAuliffe.

Please,tell us about your musical training as a child. Who encouraged you to get into music specifically the flute.

My mum grew up in Killarney in Co. Kerry and learnt to play the Tin Whistle and Button Accordian with renowned teachers Nicky and Anne McAuliffe (of no relation to me!!!). She started me off on the Tin Whistle when I was 7 years old and I fell in love with the music myself listening to the wonderful Irish Trad CDs my mum had playing around the kitchen – particularly the playing of Mary Bergin springs to mind! I then joined a local Comhaltas class and began learning tunes there under the guidance of box player Joe Searson. A year or so later, I was at an All Ireland Fleadh in Listowel having qualified on the Whistle, and I came across the Flute for the first time. I picked one up and tried it – and that was it! I wanted a Flute! A couple of months later a present arrived for me from my aunt Siobhan who lives in Macroom, Co. Cork – it was my first flute, a keyless Hammy Hamilton flute. I loved it instantly and I was fortunate that I found no trouble in blowing it! I began transferring tunes I was learning on the Tin Whistle and with the help of new albums, particularly of Matt Molloy, Kevin Crawford, Seamus Tansey, Sean Ryan and Carmel Gunning, I began to teach myself the flute! Later on when I was 11 years old I joined Sinead Linane’s music classes (fiddle player, sister of Maureen Linane from the London Lasses group) and continued to pick up tunes there and at sessions across London. I joined Sinead and her Family regularly at the Sunday Night Session in The Auld Triangle in Islington and also spent many Sundays and Wednesday nights joining in the Mick Banjo O Connor and Mick Bailey sessions soaking up the pure trad!!! Now I am still teaching myself tunes and developing my own style of playing, but I attend different festivals, workshops and summer schools throughout the year across Ireland and England, to pick up tips from some of the greatest players around and to meet new friends with similar interests and involved in the trad scene!

 How do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I have no idea where I’ll be 10 years from now! But I hope that I’ll be successful in both my music and in my medical career! I’d love to release some of my music one day and maybe even form a band! I also love the idea of working with children… so maybe pediatrics is the way forward!!! Wherever I am, I know I’ll be taking the trad with me!

During your experience onstage. What’s the best advice you can give to people who are just starting and want to join competitions? And also performing in concerts?

I think the best advice I could give to anyone starting out in competitions or in stage performances, would be to enjoy what your playing and chose tunes you are confident with! I’m a nervous wreck when I’m about to perform on stage or take part in competition – but I think a little bit of nerves can be a good thing! It shows you care about what you’re playing and you want to get it right. Just get up there feeling confident and happy and enjoy the music you’re playing – that’s all that counts at the end of it all!

recorded live at Studio Slim on 13.07.11 with Colman Connolly on uilleann pipes, and Orlaith McAuliffe on whistle.

How is the Trad scene in London nowadays? I am sure the Brits do love the Irish homegrown style.And please tell us more about ‘ Ceili Max’, your group.

It’s brilliant – that’s why I’m not worried about losing touch with the Irish Trad scene once I start University here! There are a variety of great sessions held all across London each week and there are concerts and workshops taking place all the time too. The Return to Camden Town Festival is also a highlight of my year taking place in October each year, in the Irish Centre in Camden. They provide a fantastic selection of concerts and workshops – open to all players and lovers of Trad. ‘Ceili Max’ was set up a couple of years ago – all the musicians and dancers involved are extremely talented and I really enjoy performing with them! Any information on the group can be found on our website: http://www.ceilimax.com/
Céilí Max – London’s All-Star Ceili Band – Home
This ceili band is the most popular ceili band in England, based in the heart of London and offering superb music for all occassions.

We would love to get a recording from you. So what is your message to lovers of traditional Irish music around the world?

Haha! That’s a tough question…. I hope all Trad lovers out there, like myself, will continue to enjoy and get in involved with the Trad scene. Music is a great unifier and if we all continue to spread our love of Traditional Irish Music, Song and Dance and pass on the tradition to future generations, we should keep it alive and kicking- all over the world! I love being involved in Irish music – playing, listening and meeting new friends at sessions and events all over the world. It’s a very, very small world within the Trad scene, and I love how connected everyone is within it! It’s like a Trad Family.

2 thoughts on “Orlaith McAuliffe’s Lightning Fingers(Interview)

  1. She’s really something on that flute, AND on the tin whistle! I hope she does put out a CD soon!

    Oh, and there was one person who combined music and medicine, and rather successfully too in classical (not traditional) music! Alexander Borodin was a composer and a doctor-chemist!


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