Mick Moloney on the roots of Irish music in America

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Mick Moloney explores the roots of Irish music in America in this Wall Street Journal video, filmed around St. Patrick’s Day 2015.

Moloney sadly passed away this week at the age of 77. The Co Limerick-born musician and historian is widely credited with making Irish music popular in America. He is best known for performing his hit songs “Green Fields of America”, “The Regular Army O”, and “Me Uncle Dan McCann”.

In this beautiful video, the late great Irish American musician, author and teacher talks about Irish music and his beloved tenor banjo during a rehearsal with musician Athena Tergis.

He notes there: “I suppose on my tombstone, I want the inscription, conductor of banjo, because the tenor banjo is my principal instrument.”

Mick Moloney was born on November 15, 1944 in Limerick, Ireland. He started playing the tenor banjo as a teenager. There wasn’t much traditional instrumental music played where he lived, but he listened to American folk singers and particularly enjoyed the music of the Weavers and Burl Ives. As he got older, he used to go to nearby Ennis, just across the River Shannon in County Clare, to listen to music in the pubs. He recorded the tunes so he could “take them home” to learn.

Growing up, he learned to sing traditional songs and play guitar as well as mandolin and tenor banjo. During his formative years in Ireland he played with the Emmet Folk Group and later with the Johnstons. His participation in these bands shaped his outlook and honed his skills in Irish music. He spent five years touring and recording with the Johnstons.

Moloney came to the United States in 1973 to pursue graduate studies in folklore at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he later earned a doctorate. Moloney was a driving force in Irish music in the United States and devoted much time to documenting and presenting traditional Irish music and musicians. By recognizing and recording talented musicians, he was very influential in bringing Irish music out of pubs and drawing rooms and onto the stage and into concert halls. In 1977 Moloney co-founded the Irish music group Green Fields of America.

By the mid-1980s the number of Irish American women involved in traditional Irish music was increasing, and in 1985 Moloney championed a New York concert series featuring female musicians. Among them was Irish traditional music group, Cherish the Ladies, whose frontman Joanie Madden received a National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA in 2021.

In 1999, Moloney received a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the United States’ highest honor in folk and traditional arts.

Folklorist, musicologist, presenter and advocate for the arts, professional musician and teacher of music and Irish studies, Maloney was a titan of music and scholarship. He has recorded and produced over forty albums of traditional music. In 2013, he received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from the President of Ireland.

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