Co. Donegal, Ireland

Praised by Living Tradition magazine as “without a doubt among the brightest musical prospects on the horizon of traditional music,” the Friel Sisters are a trio of Irish siblings celebrated for their stellar musicianship and their captivating interpretations of a precious family song tradition, delivered in an uncommon but uniquely stirring unison style.

The Friels grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, where, like many of the Donegal community, their parents had moved for work. However, their family’s first home in Doire na Mainséar, Donegal, in the northwest of Ireland, was only a day’s journey away via ferry and backroads, so twins Anna and Sheila and younger sister Clare spent weekends learning family songs in Irish and English from their granny, Nellie Coyle Duffy.

Surrounded by music, the Friels took up instruments as well. Anna and Sheila excelled on the flute, while Clare took after Granny in mastering the fiddle. Eventually Sheila realized her dream of playing the uilleann pipes, a notoriously challenging instrument that women rarely played when she took them up as a teen. The back and forth from Glasgow sharpened their dedication—as Clare notes, “We would go to Donegal, soak up all the music we could, and bring it back with us. I think that’s made us hungrier: If we’d had the music around us all the time, things might have been different.”

Donegal legend Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, founder of Altan, was so impressed by the young sisters' playing that she invited them to join Altan on stage at Celtic Connections in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall when Clare was 12 and the twins were just 15. Now in their early thirties, the Friel Sisters have captivated audiences on stages across Europe, the U.S., and Asia, but they remain deeply rooted on both sides of the Irish Sea. Anna and Sheila serve their communities as dentists, Anna in Glasgow, and Sheila in Donegal. Clare, who was named 2018 Young Musician of the Year in the prestigious TG4 Gradam Ceoil awards for traditional music, manages the family band and tours as the newest member of Altan.

At the Lowell Folk Festival, the Friels will be accompanied by bandmates Marty Barry, a stellar guitar player and multi-instrumentalist not coincidentally descended from the renowned folk singer Margaret Barry, and bouzouki player Cathal Ó Curráin, the 2022 RTÉ Best Emerging Folk Artist who grew up in Donegal with the Friels, “just like our little brother.”

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