Paddy Moloney, Founder Of The Chieftains, Dies At 83

Their ability to transcend musical boundaries to blend tradition with modern music has notably hailed them as one of the most renowned and revered musical groups to this day.

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Paddy Moloney - Photo: Javier Bragado/Redferns
Paddy Moloney - Photo: Javier Bragado/Redferns

Paddy Moloney, the multi-instrumentalist who co-founded and led the folk music group the Chieftains, has died at the age of 83.

As one of the longest running outfits in music, the Chieftains helped to popularize traditional Irish folk music around world.

The Irish Traditional Music Archive announced the news. Irish President Michael D Higgins reflected on Moloney’s life, writing, “The Irish music community, and indeed the much larger community throughout the world who found such inspiration in his work, will have learnt with great sadness today of the passing of Paddy Moloney, founder and leader of the Chieftains.”

“Paddy, with his extraordinary skills as an instrumentalist, notably the uileann pipes and bodhran, was at the forefront of the renaissance of interest in Irish music, bringing a greater appreciation of Irish music and culture internationally. Not only as a consummate musician himself, but as a founder member of Claddagh Records together with Garech de Brun, 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.

“His work as a producer was a contribution of great integrity, undertaken to promote the music itself at a time when the commercial benefits of doing so were limited. His legacy will remain with us in the music which he created and brought to the world.”

The Dublin native first began playing music at the age of six,  mastering a plastic tin whistle his mother bought him. “I knew money was scarce for us back then and every shilling seemed like a fortune, but she got it for me anyways,” he told The Guardian last year. “I grew up in a family of musicians in this little cottage that seemed like a palace at the time. We would sit around and tell stories and play music every night. Music became everything to me, even more important than eating.”

Originally formed in 1962 with Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy, the Chieftains helped introduce a wider audience to Irish traditional music, collaborating with artists such as Mick Jagger,Van Morrison, Sting. Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Linda Ronstadt, Roger Daltry, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and many more. With the band, he won six Grammy awards from 18 nominations.

Moloney remained the only original member of the group, touring and recording for almost six decades with the band. The Chieftains also contributed to film soundtracks, including Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, The Year of the French and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, and Moloney also worked as a producer and managing director for the label Claddagh Records.

The band was beloved by massive rock acts like the Stones and The Who, as evidenced in the group’s 1992 concert, An Irish Evening. The band invited Roger Daltrey and Nanci Griffith on stage for a number of songs.

As cultural ambassadors, their performances have been linked with seminal historic events, such as being the first Western musicians to perform on the Great Wall of China, participating in Roger Water’s “The Wall” performance in Berlin in 1990, and being the first ensemble to perform a concert in the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

Moloney is survived by his wife Rita O’Reilly and their three children: Aonghus, Padraig and Aedin.

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