AFL at the Titanic Drawing Rooms in Belfast May 2012

The Story so far

In 2001 ‘Lúnasa’ founders John McSherry and Michael McGoldrick, put their creative energies to good use with what would become a critically acclaimed collaborative recording. The album, ‘At First Light’, became an instant top-seller worldwide and was acclaimed by Irish American News as ‘Best Traditional Album of the Year 2001’.Ewan Vernal, John, Mike, Donal & Paul McSherry, (Donald Shaw not in pic). Launch of At First Light Cd. The Shelter, Vicar St. Dublin. 2002.

The duo were instantly in demand for festivals and venues and called upon the services of ‘Dundalk fiddle prodigy’ Dónal O’Connor and John’s brother Paul McSherry formerly of Tamlin to complete the line up. Suffice to say, a hefty touring schedule ensued for the quartet.

Garry O' Brien, Donal, John, Mike McGoldrick & Tony Byrne. Dranouter folk festival 2004.

In 2004 Michael left the band to pursue his own projects and a short while later the Uilleann piping and bodhrán skills of Francis McIlduff (of the famous McPeake clan) were brought into the mix. It was at this time that the name ‘At First Light’ was adopted. Duelling pipes now became a feature of the band at live gigs thus bringing a new dimension to the sound, not heard since the heady days of Moving Hearts.

At First Light at Sligo LIve (Photo by Colin Gillen)

In 2006, the critically acclaimed album ‘Tripswitch’ was released. Described as ‘Acoustic Perfection’ by Living Tradition magazine, the album featured the talents of two relative newcomers; Dublin’s Tony Byrne on guitar and Ruben Bada from Asturias on Bouzouki.

Throughout the Ulster band’s life, various guitar and bouzouki players have passed through the ranks, including Tony and Ruben and Paul McSherry, Alan Burke and more recently Michael McCague. While the band has always remained constant with John, Dónal and Francis at its core, these fine string players have, in a way, become associate members, performing and recording with the trio when the opportunity arises.

Donal, John & Bob Brozman. Recording in Downpatrick. 2010

2010 saw At First Light collaborate with another great guitar player, the world renowned Bob Brozman, to produce the critically lauded album ‘Six Days in Down’. Influential BBC broadcaster DJ Ritu described the album as ‘one of the most impressive CDs to fly through my letter-box this year’, whilst Irish Times journalist Siobhán Long gave the album a four-star rating, heralding it a ‘Strapping collection of tunes’.

That same year, At First Light introduced guest singer and fiddle player Ciara McCrickard to enthusiastic audiences at concerts throughout Ireland and Europe. Ciara is considered to be one of Ireland’s finest young singers and carries the pedigree of the great Ulster song tradition into the new millennium having learned at the feet of many of the masters.

The group released their latest album, ‘Idir’ on 20th August 2011.

“At First Light are surely one of those special pioneering acts who push the boundaries and redraw the map. And that can’t be a bad thing. For these experienced and knowledgeable artists are at the peak of their creativity, the future looks bright. And given that we are witnessing the birth of something special, something exciting and exceptionally vigorous, we would be wise to take heed.” – Irish Music Magazine

“The rhythmical power of At First Light would cause the most reluctant of feet to tap.” – Scottish HeraldFrancis, John, Tony, Ciara, Donal & Michael. Belfast May 2012


“equal parts grace and danger” – The Irish Times


“Traditional music that feels at home in the 21st century” – Folkworld


“Proof that contemporary traditional music can keep its heart.” – Scotland on Sunday

“This is glorious. Spearheaded by three musicians who represent three of the most prominent families in Ulster traditional music circles” –  Scottish Herald

“At First Light’s wildly-blazing and gently-contemplative aspects prove equally compelling” ABC Australian National Radio

“At First Light is a group at once rich in tradition and keen to carry the music forward. There’s real joy in their playing of fiddles, whistles and duelling uilleann pipes, and a certain roguish swagger that transmits their enthusiasm for the music directly to the listener with irresistible impact” –  Scottish Herald