Paddy Moloney: Irish president leads tributes after death of Chieftains founder

Image source, Javier Bragado

Irish President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to the founder of The Chieftains traditional Irish music group, Paddy Moloney, who has died.

Born in 1938, Mr Moloney grew up in a musical family in north County Dublin.

A piper, tin whistle player and composer, he formed The Chieftains in 1962.

President Higgins said people around the world inspired by Mr Moloney's music "will have learnt with great sadness" of his passing.

He said Mr Moloney's "extraordinary skills" were at the forefront of the renaissance of interest in Irish music.

"He brought a love of Irish music not just to the diaspora, but to all those across the world who heard his music and appreciated it for its own sake as it transcended all musical boundaries," he said.

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Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Micheál Martin thanked Mr Moloney for his "massive contribution to the life of our nation".

"The term 'legend' is regularly overused, but hard to think of any other way to describe this giant of Irish music and culture," he said.

Image source, Gettys Images/James Fraher

Musicians to pay tribute to the Chieftains founder include Colum Sands, Imelda May and Frances Black.

Grammy award winning singer-songwriter Van Morrison tweeted: "So sorry to hear of the passing of fellow Irish Musician Paddy Maloney.

"He was a great musical talent, we shared many laughs together and his legacy will endure."

Mr Moloney's first instrument was a plastic tin whistle, according to The Chieftains' official website.

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By age eight, he was learning to play the uilleann pipes under pipe master, Leo Rowsome.

The Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) said few could lay claim to the "level of impact Paddy Moloney had on the vibrancy of traditional music throughout the world".

In a statement on social media, ITMA said: "Uilleann piper, tin whistle player, composer, arranger and leader of The Chieftains, Paddy made an enormous contribution to Irish traditional music, song and dance.

"What a wonderful musical legacy he has left us."

Image source, Mark Junge
Image caption,
Paddy Moloney (centre) with fellow Chieftains Sean Keane and Martin Fay performing at Cheyenne Civic Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1988

Irish Tourism Minister Catherine Martin said Moloney's music was "a source of pride and inspiration for all of us".

"With the passing of Paddy Moloney, we have lost a giant of the national cultural landscape," she said.

Image source, Ben Gabbe
Image caption,
Paddy Moloney with daughter Aedín Moloney and wife Rita at the National Arts Club, New York, where he received the Gold Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Music, in 2011

"Through the Chieftains, he brought the joy of Irish music to a global audience. His music was a source of celebration and pride for all of us."

Singer Imelda May said Mr Moloney "made us all so proud of our heritage and brought such joyous energy.

"He was ours wasn't he. I'm honoured to have known and worked with not just a legend but a thoroughly lovely man."

'It came from his heart to theirs'

Image source, Georgina Brennan-Stynes
Image caption,
Paddy Moloney playing tin whistle at Ground Zero in 2001

A former journalist who watched Paddy Moloney perform at a memorial service at Ground Zero for a banker who was killed in the 9/11 attacks said she had never forgotten the moment rescue workers and mourners stopped to listen to him play.

Georgina Brennan-Stynes, a former reporter for Irish American magazine, interviewed Mr Moloney after his performance to remember Matthew O'Mahony.

Mr Moloney was asked to play by Mr O'Mahony's widow who had described her husband as "the Chieftains biggest fan".

"Paddy felt he had to do it - he felt he could not walk away without leaving a piece of himself there, it was so beautiful," Ms Brennan-Stynes recalled.

She said a crowd of thousands listened to his "haunting" performance the day after Mr O'Mahony's funeral.

"If there could've been any comfort, it was that the music he played on his tin whistle came from his heart to theirs," she said.

"He was giving all of those people some kind of farewell, a lament - it was almost as if he was playing in a very small graveyard in a small part of Ireland for a very loved neighbour and he did that for thousands of people and he was compelled to do it.

Writing in Irish American magazine in 2002, Ms Brennan-Stynes recalled Mr Moloney saying he hadn't rehearsed for the event and had instead been inspired in the moment.

"Then as I played I felt I saw them all - the faces, faces without images," he said at the time.

"The mechanics of the music disappeared and my heart went into it. I got the shivers up my back."

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Irish singer-songwriter Colum Sands shared his memories of Paddy Moloney on Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme.

"I can't overemphasise the sense of detail and control he had," he said.

"He was so inventive in terms of his collaborations. You could go on for a long time with the people he played with - an orchestra in China to Van Morrison."

"He was such a huge influence in Irish music in giving it international confidence."

Irish musician Frances Black posted on social media that she was "deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the Great Paddy Moloney".

"What a lovely talented gentle man. We'll miss his wonderful playing always, Sleep well Paddy," she said.

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