In Memoriam Paddy Moloney

Paddy Moloney (1938-2021) Taoiseach agus laoch ar lár. Uilleann piper, tin whistle player, composer, arranger and leader of The Chieftains, Paddy made an enormous contribution to Irish traditional music, song and dance.

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Paddy Moloney, ITMA, April 2021

At the age of eight, he began to learn the uilleann pipes from Leo Rowsome (1903-70) at a time when the making, teaching and playing of the instrument was endangered. Paddy went on to play a monumental role in popularising the instrument in Ireland and throughout the world. Today there are tens of thousands of people playing the instrument worldwide.

As a musician, Paddy had many distinguishing traits. He had an extraordinary dexterity in his fingers which was evident in the execution of intricate ornamentation on both the tin whistle and the chanter of his pipes. Most traditional musicians focus predominantly on the melody. However, Paddy was exceptional in his ability and talent for improvising harmonies. The uilleann pipes were, and to a large extent, are considered a solo instrument. However, Paddy’s creative energy explored its potential as part of ensemble arrangements. Building on his innovative work with Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann, Paddy was the driving force in arguably the most influential traditional music group in the world over the last 60 years, The Chieftains.

The effect The Chieftains had on global audiences is difficult to quantify. Multiple Grammy awards, sold-out performances in the most prestigious concert halls and collaborations with some of the finest musicians in the world all speak to the group’s global success. What is less well-documented is the effect Paddy and the sound of the uilleann pipes had on people who first encountered Irish traditional music by attending concerts by The Chieftains. There are pockets of people now playing traditional Irish music in Japan, Russia and China as a direct result of Paddy’s drive in bringing this unique music to the world.

Another important part of his legacy is his work as a producer and Director of Claddagh Records. In a dynamic partnership with Garech de Brún, he brought a new level of professionalism to the recording, production and editing of albums by Irish traditional musicians and poets. For example, albums such as The Liffey Banks by Tommie Potts would not exist only for Paddy’s skills as a producer. His ability to represent traditional music in all of its glory while collaborating with other world-renowned artists, was based on his utter conviction in its inherent beauty and worth. He instilled confidence in his bandmates, peers and followers. As Finbar Furey said: “Paddy was an amazing Ambassador for Ireland and its culture. He brought our music to places it was never heard before in China, Malaysia and India.”

Through his work with filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, he demonstrated a rare ability to arrange traditional music for films.

As a manager and leader, Paddy was outstanding. How many CEOs or managers can say they lead a world-renowned organisation for almost 60 years? Let alone managing and leading a band of artists who toured the world for over half a century!

During a recent interview in the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA), he spoke about the people and events that shaped his life in music. He brought a distinctive voice to his whistle and piping that goes far beyond any formal training: “I more or less taught myself to read music. I didn’t go to Trinity and I didn’t go to UCD. U was all be ear. You know it was all by ear, mostly. That’s how I sort of learned most of the music, and I did my own interpretations of the tunes.”

Despite an illustrious career laden with awards and honours, he lamented that traditional musicians do not get the recognition from the Irish State during their own lifetime. However, he was proud of the State formal honours bestowed upon him in Spain and Mexico.

His formative musical experiences with relations in Offaly, in school bands in Scoil Mhuire Marino and at Leo Rowsome’s piping classes, prepared him for a life on the road with The Chieftains. Few people can lay claim to having the level of impact Paddy Moloney had on the vibrancy of traditional music anywhere in the world.

Who would have thought that the young boy who refined his craft in Donneycarney would go on to shape Irish traditional music, song and dance on a global level?

Liam O'Connor, ITMA Director, 12 October 2021