The Hanna sisters, Mary, Nuala and Breige can’t really remember when they first started playing music. Their maternal grandfather was a fine exponent of the fiddle and their father’s family is steeped in traditional music. They were immersed in music from a very early age at their home in Maghery, Co. Armagh, a stones throw from the shores of Lough Neagh. All three are classically trained and have graduated from the University of Ulster with their Music degrees. While their music career was still blossoming all three worked as music teachers having added P.G.C.E. qualifications to their CVs.

The Hanna Sisters between them play a frightening range of instruments. In their live act Mary plays keyboards although if required she can also play guitar as well. Nualas main instrument is Violin but she can also play piano, guitar, tin whistle and has been known to play the bongos. Breige fluctuates between whistles and violin on-stage but can also play uillean pipes, piano, guitar and has in the past played banjo. All three share vocals and their distinctive harmonies are certainly a key attraction of this family group.

In their teens the family group (a five piece at this stage with Frank on drums and Clare on vocals and Guitar) entertained at ceilis and local functions, primarily drawing from their vast repertoire of traditional music. The bright lights of Belfast and academia beckoned however and the band took a back seat as they set about securing their academic credentials. All three supported their student days by gigging with local bands and private tuition.

It was only a matter of time before they dipped their toes in the sometimes murky waters of the Music business and with Nuala and Breige now married they quickly established a reputation as an exciting and entertaining live act, with a heady mixture of Celtic rock, traditional and more contemporary covers mixed among some of their own fledgling compilations. They toured extensively throughout the UK, playing support to Capercailie and Westlife among others. Five had become four as Frank had left to pursue his own interests. Maiden Voyage and Oceans Apart, the girls first two albums were written in this period and gave some inkling of what the Armagh songwriters were capable of. They collected the Best Newcomer accolade at the 2001 Irish Post World Awards in London.

In 2003 touring was limited by the arrival of Nualas first child, Sarah, although at 8 weeks old she went on tour with the band to Denmark where the Hanna Sisters have established a strong following. Clare left to pursue a teaching career in England so the band took its current format. The impending arrival of Breiges twins, Jack and Tom and Nualas second, Padraig in 2005 again curtailed touring although the girls welcomed the opportunity to concentrate on their songwriting. They believe that this period has resulted in a much more mature album About Time, due for release in early 2007.

“I suppose we decided early on that this was going to be an album that reflected us, Mary, Nuala and Breige and whatever mix we bring together as the Hannasisters. We didn’t try to write or produce a clever album that was geared towards a market segment, we simply sat down as three women, three sisters, three musicians and wrote songs. This album is an honest reflection of where we’re at in all those areas of our lives.”

The album title itself is a tongue in cheek reference to the length of time the album has been in gestation, at the very least two years, but it also alludes to the fact that time itself is a theme running through most of the songs.

“We didn’t consciously set out to write songs with a common theme but were pleasantly surprised when this is what happened. When we are songwriting we often work alone before coming together as a group to thrash the ideas into a song. The biggest surprise of all is that we were all in the same place without even surprise of all is that we were all in the same place without even knowing it.”

Early critical appraisal has been favourable. Jackie Hayden of Hot Press magazine has expressed his delight with the tracks he’s heard so far, saying

"The Hanna Sisters offer us classy, intelligent pop songs, tastefully blended with their exhilarating Irish traditional musicianship, all topped off with their fine harmonies. Irish radio needs records like this."

Their new single “Princes Port" will be released on October 30th and will be followed in early spring with the release of the album. A string of Irish and Scandinavian dates is lined up for February and March 2007, but more details will follow in due course.

That’s the story so far but I’m sure that this talented group have plenty more to offer the Irish and indeed international scene.

Musical Beginnings

  • All three of the Hanna Sisters have degrees in music from the University of Ulster and followed this up with P.G.C.E. Mary continued on with Masters in Education.
  • As well as piano,violin, tin whistle and singing lessons the Hanna Sisters have Ceoltas Ceolteori na hEireann, to thank for their early musical education. Nuala and Breige have since repaid this in part by in turn teaching violin and tin whistle at their own local CCE.
  • Nuala and Briege also played in Youth Orchestra, many moons ago!
  • Between the three of them they can play an astounding range of instruments including Piano and Guitar (all) Whistle and Fiddle (Nuala and Breige) Bongos and Bodhran (Nuala) and Uillean pipes (Breige)
  • Nuala and Breige first joined a band to supplement their college funding with weekend gigging.
  • All three have been teachers with Mary and Nuala having successful careers before deciding to follow music as a full-time career. Breige had only graduated with her degree before leaping headlong into the music business.
  • “About time” is their second album. Their first was Maiden Voyage which owed a lot to their traditional beginnings and was mostly covers of songs and tunes they grew up with.
  • They have toured extensively over the past few years, particularly in Northern Europe, England and Ireland. Their live act is a thrilling medley of jigs and reels interspersed with beautiful and evocative vocal harmonies.


  • Nuala and Breige combine their songwriting and performing with their roles as mums. Nuala has a 2 year old girl Sarah and a baby boy, Padraig, while Breige recently gave birth to twin boys Jack and Tom.
  • The girls have a brother and sister, Frank and Clare. Some of their very first performances were as a five piece band with Frank on drums while Clare was a vocalist who also played guitar. Clare stayed with the band until after their first album Maiden Voyage
  • Musical talent was in the genes, their maternal grandfather was a fiddle player and their fathers family is synonymous with the Sean- Nos tradition in their local area.
  • They were raised on an island in Lough Neagh. Derrywarragh Island is a man- made Island in Lough Neagh surrounded on two sides by Lough Neagh, one side by the River Blackwater and the other by a man-made canal linking the two. They were the only human residents on the island.