Obituary: Paddy Moloney, leader of the Chieftains who took Irish music to the world


Death: October 12, 2021.

PADDY Moloney, who died at the age of 83, was a master musician of enormous influence. As the leader of the Chieftains he took Irish music around the world and involved the group in collaborations with musicians such as Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton and Ry Cooder.

With Moloney at the helm, the Chieftains became Ireland’s official musical ambassadors. They were one of the first Western bands to visit China, and the first to perform on the Great Wall of China, after the Chinese Embassy in London took a box at the Royal Albert Hall for the Sense of Ireland festival. in 1980. Diplomats appreciated the performance of the Chieftains so much that they invited them to China, and Moloney, always on the lookout for an opportunity, followed her.

Moloney was born into a musical family in Dublin. His father played the flute and his mother sang and played the accordion. His maternal grandfather played the flute and his uncle Stephen was a champion bagpiper of Ireland.

One of the first songs Moloney remembered hearing was Malabar’s The Little Maid, sung by his grandmother at one of the regular family celebrations in County Laois that lasted all night. Renamed The Coast of Malabar, the song was later featured on the Chieftains’ Long Black Veil album with Ry Cooder.

One of Moloney’s great pleasures as a child was turning the handle of his father’s hand-cranked gramophone which played 78-rpm recordings of soloists and singers, including John McCormack. He and his sister Sheila used to lie in bed and listen to the RTE ceili band program coming from below and it wasn’t long before Moloney himself was playing music.

After much pleading, his mother relented and let the four-year-old try out his melodeon and almost immediately he was playing recognizable melodies. Soon after, she bought him a tin whistle. In an era when playing a traditional musical instrument drew mockery, little Moloney used his quickly developed talent on the whistle to fend off bullies from school.

Another student, Leon Rowsome befriended Moloney and upon finding out that his new pal’s dad was King of the Pipes, Leo Rowsome, whom the family listened to on RTE every week, Moloney persuaded his parents to reunite enough money to buy a set of uilleann pipes practice and let him take lessons with Rowsome senior.

Moloney quickly became Rowsome’s star pupil and at the age of nine gave his first concert, in Phoenix Park, Dublin, where the Chieftains later performed for Pope John Paul II in front of a million people. Entering his first competition around the same time, Moloney came in fourth and, horrified, began to train even harder.

He was still in short pants when he took part in sessions with master pipers, including Seamus Ennis and Willie Clancy, gaining their approval and encouragement, and receiving a standing ovation with his performance of O Carolan’s Concerto, a future Favorite of the Chieftains, at the annual Dublin College of Music Concert, he made his first radio show at the age of fourteen. The public response was such that her lunge was repeated for fourteen straight weeks.

Not thinking of playing music as anything more than a hobby, Moloney dropped out of school at age 16 and got a job as a junior accountant and bookkeeper at a building supply company. He went to night school to study accounting, but this quickly suffered as Moloney played music on every occasion with his own band, including future Chieftain Michael Tubridy, and various bands from Céilí.

He also had a skiffle group, in which he played washboard and ukulele, and took part in competitions, before retiring from these at the age of 18, having won four medals in all Ireland.

Two encounters changed the course of Moloney’s life and traditional music in Ireland. Guinness heir Garech Browne heard Moloney and became a devoted fan, before founding the specialty traditional music label Claddagh Records. Then, composer Sean O Riada’s soundtrack to the Irish War of Independence documentary Mise Eire, which featured orchestrations of traditional tunes, sparked new interest in traditional music.

Moloney and O Riada became friends and when O Riada recruited traditional musicians for an orchestra, Moloney, a born leader and shop steward, became known among his colleagues as Napoleon by Ceoltoiri Cualann. The group then recorded the music for the film version of The Playboy of the Western World and included tin whistle virtuoso Sean Potts.

Potts had also been in what Moloney considered to be the first edition of the Chieftains in the late 1950s and when Garech Browne offered Moloney a chance to record for Claddagh in 1963 the result was the Chieftains’ debut album, with Michael Tubridy (flute, concertina, pewter whistle), David Fallon (bodhran) and Martin Fay (violin) joining Moloney and Potts.

All of the musicians still had full-time jobs – before joining Claddagh as Managing Director, Moloney regularly left his office at Baxendales’ Builders Suppliers to ‘buy stationery’ when he went to play a session for RTE – and this until the 1970s.

At this point, a surge of support and enthusiastic advocacy from Radio 1 DJ John Peel led the band to sign with Island Records. Island reissued their first four albums, which opened up the United States, and their work on the Stanley Kubrick Barry Lyndon film, including their jaw-dropping version of O Riada’s Women of Ireland, brought them to mainstream audiences.

In the 1980s, the Chieftains were a major attraction for concerts around the world and admired by musicians such as Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Kate Bush. Moloney performed on sessions for Sting, Stevie Wonder, Mike Oldfield and even The Muppets and he was always keen to add illustrious guests to the Chieftains’ albums.

In 1988, they recorded Irish Heartbeat with Van Morrison, then shot the album with Morrison, and other films included The Gray Fox, Far and Away, with John Williams, and Gangs of New York.

While their albums became increasingly international and star-laden – The Long Black Veil included contributions from Marianne Faithfull, Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones and Mark Knopfler as well as Ry Cooder and Van Morrison, and Down the Old Plank Road a explored Bluegrass connections with Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck – the Chieftains concerts have remained largely (and on a large scale) celebrations of the heritage of Ireland and the Celtic nations.

Seemingly indefatigable, Moloney was an enthusiastic and reliable emcee, always ensuring that longtime conductors including flautist Matt Molloy and singer-bodhran Kevin Conneff were introduced and invariably featured dancers such as Cara Butler and Tara. Breen and, in recent years, the Isle of Lewis-born singer Alyth McCormack.

In an online tribute, Donald Shaw, creative producer of Celtic Connections, where the Chieftains were regular visitors, recalled Moloney’s response to his last invitation to appear: “If you can find us an orchestra and a band. bagpipes, we’ll be there. “A show of enthusiasm and sympathy for a great occasion that summed up Moloney perfectly.


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