Paddy Moloney, Ireland’s greatest traditional musician, died Monday night in Dublin at the age of 83. He was a legendary musician who inspired generations of Irish people to get involved in the revival of Irish music.
But for many Americans, Moloney’s greatest performance wasn’t in a crowded Carnegie Hall, which the Chieftans regularly sold out, but a few miles south of Manhattan at Ground Zero after 9/11.
No one could hear it; very few paid attention when he pulled a tin whistle out of his jacket. The background noise was deafening with cranes, excavators, men wielding shovels, all trying to clear the pile.
In the middle of it all was Paddy Moloney. He stood on the ruins of the World Trade Center as the desperate search for bodies continued, his whistle in his mouth.
Then he started playing this beautiful Irish language ballad “Taimse Im ‘Chodladh is Na Duisigh Me” (I’m asleep, don’t wake up). As the Irish Times’ Conor O’Clery reported: “Some time after 9/11 Paddy Moloney from the Chieftains came to New York and I took him to Ground Zero, where he wanted to play a lament for the dead on his whistle. The haunting strains of ‘Taimse Im’ Chodladh ‘and’ Dóchas’ (Hope) were almost drowned in the harsh cacophony of mechanical excavators and cranes.
The fact that Moloney takes this trip and shares a moment with everyone who suffered and died there says a lot about the man. He understood better than anyone the ability of music and song to move people.
Photo of Paddy Moloney playing music at Ground Zero in the aftermath of September 11. He came to New York for the funeral of Matthew O’Mahony, a fan of his band who was killed in the attacks. He performed Táimse i mo Chodladh (I am asleep) and Dochas (Hope) in front of the crowd. pic.twitter.com/fYzuImNJFR
– Irish heritage (@legacy_irish) October 13, 2021
Born in Dublin, throughout his long career, Moloney restored a sense of pride and knowledge in old traditional Irish music which was swept away by the pop culture generation.
It is no fancy to say that men like Moloney saved traditional Irish music from extinction. Certainly, with the great composer Sean O Riada who wrote a landmark work, Mise Eire (“I am Ireland”), they did a Herculean job bringing Ireland back to the brink of the death of its traditional music.
Moloney was not a conventional traditional musician. He grew up in the working class of Dublin and learned the tin whistle and then the uileann pipes, a much neglected instrument at the time.
In 1962 Moloney formed a group to play traditional Irish music, and to celebrate and broaden the appreciation of Irish music. Thus were born The Chefs.
Six Grammy Awards later and famous collaborations with artists like Mick Jagger, Elvis Costello and Sinéad O’Connor gave the group worldwide success.
The Chieftains are perhaps best known for their 1987 album Irish Heartbeat with Van Morrison. Their music has been used in films like Gangs of New York and the hit series The Year of the French.
Na Píobairí Uilleann (NPU), the Society of Uilleann Pipers, described Moloney as “a giant figure in Irish life”.
“Paddy Moloney was a tremendous flute player, an incredibly creative musician and a powerful artist,” said Gay McKeon, CEO of NPU.
“He helped popularize Irish music around the world and in doing so brought the sound of uilleann pipes to the attention of so many people. We have lost one of the country’s most prominent artists whose legacy is invaluable at this point. “
May the great Paddy Moloney rest in peace.
* This editorial first appeared in the October 13 edition of the weekly Irish Voice, sister publication of IrishCentral.