OBITUARY: Remembering Paddy Moloney, founding member of The Chieftains

OBITUARY: Remembering Paddy Moloney, founding member of The Chieftains

PADDY MOLONEY was a giant of man in the world of Irish music who had a huge influence in bringing traditional music to a vast international audience.

The 83-year-old’s death was announced on Tuesday, October 12, drawing tributes from across the world of music - lead by President of Ireland Michael D Higgins, who claimed he was “at the forefront of the renaissance of interest in Irish music”.

Moloney, from Donneycarney in north Dublin, was the founding member of the six-time Grammy-winning traditional music group The Chieftains.

Having played for presidents and royalty at great occasions and toured with his group at festivals and prestige concert halls across the world, they are doubtless the most famous Irish traditional group of all time.

Indeed, they are US President Joe Biden’s favourite group, but they had also played at the White House many times for previous presidents on St Patrick’s Day as Ambassadors of Irish music and culture.

One of their biggest audiences was in 1979 when they played for the Pope in Dublin’s Phoenix Park in front of 1.3 million people, but they also played during the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011.

When we talked about those occasions, Paddy told me: “Ah yes that was a massive gig for the Pope and quite an honour for us at the time and the gig for the Queen and President Mary McAleese was very special and an historic day for Ireland.”

Paddy was the energetic driving force and primary composer and arranger with the group, and it was his selection of the musicians that he hand-picked to join the group that were able to create the unique innovative sound he had in his mind.

He also composed for many films and TV programmes, from Treasure Island and The Grey Fox to Braveheart, Gangs of New York and, most influential of all, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

Whenever a flavour of Irish music was required with the haunting sound of the uilleann pipes, Paddy was the go-to session musician for generations of rock stars - from the Rolling Stones to Mike Oldfield and including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Don Henley, Sting and even the Muppets.

Paddy grew up in a musical family and began playing a toy plastic whistle first, before moving on to the tin whistle.

When he was eight he moved on to the uilleann pipes.

He was taught by the master of this complicated instrument, Leo Rowsome, from whom Paddy persuaded his parents to purchase his first set of pipes.

It was back in the late 1950s that he met Seán Ó Riada.

He joined his group Ceoltóirí Chualann in the early 1960s.

Paddy Moloney has died, aged 83 (Pic: Gerry Molumby)

Paddy formed his own group, The Chieftains, with Sean Potts, Michael Tubridy, Martin Fay and David Fallon, in November 1962.

With his friend Garech de Brún, of Guinness fame, he spent time at the beautiful house Lugalla in the Wicklow mountains.

He went on to found Claddagh Records with him in 1959, becoming the house producer in 1968 and going on to supervise the production of 45 albums of folk, traditional, classical, poetry and spoken-word recordings.

He ran the label as Managing Director until 1975.

Over the last 52 years I ran into Paddy and The Chieftains backstage at so many concerts, festivals and TV shows – in Britain, Ireland, across Europe and even in America.

He was always great fun to be with and we always shared many a joke, as he had such a great sense of humour.

Paddy was always a very astute operator too, hence the longevity of his band.

Very early on he realised that there are only so many albums of continuous Irish jigs and reels that a wider audience could take, especially in America.

He was also aware that there was a limit to how many concerts of pure traditional music an international concert audience would sit through, no matter how well it was played, if he did not offer something more.

As a solution he pioneered the notion of collaborations by bringing in star guest musicians or singers.

For the concert shows he introduced both guest singers and Irish dancers.

His choice was impeccable and it was no accident that I once saw him introduce Michael Flatley to dance at a concert and then at a different concert at the Royal Festival Hall in about 1998 I recall him bringing on a young American Irish dancer, who astonished us all.

It was a 17-year-old Jean Butler, who Paddy had introduced at their Carnegie Hall concert earlier, a good while before she and Michael teamed up.

Paddy told me: “We found her and gave her the break and of course she went on to find fame as the lead in Riverdance. She was really great.”

The list of top international musicians who have worked with The Chieftains is like a who’s who of the great performers from all genres of Music.

Just a few of them have included: Moya Brennan, Mary Black, Rosanne Cash, Ry Cooder, Frank Zappa, Sharron Shannon, Elvis Costello, Roger Daltrey, Art Garfunkel, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Luciano Pavarotti and Imelda May.

Over the years Paddy Moloney made an enormous contribution to Irish traditional music, song and dance as an ambassador taking the joy of it all over the world and by always exploring new challenges.

He is without equal, both as a virtuoso musician and band leader of vision, having created a huge canon of work and leaving an unparalleled legacy as a towering figure of Irish culture.

At this very sad time his music is a source of celebration and pride for us all as it transcends the music of the past world, connecting that tradition with the new young musicians of modern Ireland, who he always embraced and encouraged.

Moloney leaves behind his wife Rita and children Aonghus, Pádraig and Aedín.