President leads tributes following death of traditional musician Séamus Begley

Originally from west Kerry, Begley was regarded as one of the country’s finest accordion players

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to traditional musician and singer Séamus Begley, who has died aged 73.

Originally from west Kerry, Begley was regarded as one of the country’s finest accordion players, having hailed from a family that was steeped in traditional music.

The President said it was “with sadness” that lovers of Irish music across the world learned of the musician’s death.

“Séamus will be remembered as one of Ireland’s finest accordion players as well as a beautiful singer,” Mr Higgins said.


“Growing up in a family rich in traditional Irish music in Baile na bPoc in the west Kerry Gaeltacht, his recordings and performances captured not only the music of his upbringing but also a knowledge of music far beyond these shores.”

While paying tribute to Begley, Mr Higgins recalled hosting the musician for performances in Áras an Uachtaráin, including a State dinner held for the King and Queen of the Netherlands in 2019.

“As with all those who knew Séamus, we will remember him for his talent, his warmth and his sense of fun, that lasting impression which he left on all those who he met. He will be deeply missed.”

Mr Higgins expressed his condolences to Begley’s family and “wide circle of friends and musical colleagues”.

When Begley left school at the age of 12, his musical skills led to playing at the céilithe in local halls, including his father’s in Muirioch in Dingle.

“It was great for us, because there were no pubs in those days, not for young people, and there were céilis seven nights a week during the summer, and we learned the Irish dances from these strangers, or Gael Linns as we called them, na scolairi,” Begley previously said.

“We didn’t even know the Kerry set, the old fellas knew them, but my mother and father would do a set and a waltz, that was it.

“I used to sit halfway down the hall, tearing the arse out of a tiny little button accordion to have any hope of being heard with all the laughing and screaming, and the fella calling the dance, ‘isteach agus amach’. That was the style the old fellas had as well. There was no emphasis on grace notes – in my case, it’s more like disgrace notes. Volume was the main thing, if you hadn’t volume, you weren’t worth listening to.”

Begley recorded his first album, with his sister Máire in 1973, and was a native Irish speaker. He collaborated with Australian guitarist Steve Cooney and produced the award-winning album ‘Meitheal’ and would later partner with Jim Murray and Tim Edey.

American actor and musician John C Reilly also paid tribute to Begley on Tuesday, describing him as “a legend of a man” and a “virtuosic” musician.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, John C Reilly recalled “spending time with Séamus in Dingle” and playing music together in Los Angeles for an Irish Christmas show.

“We struck up a great friendship. He even had me over to a shebeen out there - he taught me what a shebeen was. He was just a legend of a man, it’s such a big loss for everybody,” he said.

“There’s something really moving about a gentle giant like that, when you hear the sweetness of a man like that who’s so strong. The loss for his family is great and the loss to the music world is hard to calculate right now,” Reilly said.

“It’s a shock, I think the last time I was on Seamus’ farm with him, he was literally hand lifting boulders, he was someone so strong. We had a direct connection as men and as musicians,” he said.

“He was virtuosic, not only was he easy to play with but songs would just flow out of him like water, it was incredible”.

Waterboys musician Mike Scott paid tribute to Begley on Twitter. “The finest of all Irish musicians, and perhaps the most beautiful singer I’ve ever heard, the great Séamus Ó Beaglaoich, known in the other tongue as Seamus Begley, has passed away,” Scott said. “He was a friend, a king and a god. Travel on well, great spirit.”

Broadcaster John Kelly remembered Begley as “a truly magnificent musician and singer”.

“Whether on stage or at home in Kerry, something life-affirming and beautiful always happened when Séamus was in the room. Comhbhrón ó chroí do mhuintir Uí Bheaglaoich uilig,” Kelly said.

RTÉ broadcaster John Creedon also took to Twitter to pay tribute to Begley.

“Mo comhbróin le chlann agus le chairde Séamus Begley,” Creedon wrote. “We had so much ceol, craic agus downright pléicaíocht i rith na mbliana. I’m genuinely going to miss this giant of a man. What we wouldn’t give for one last encore, ach tá sé ar shlí na firinne anois. Slán a chara.”

Minister for Culture Catherine Martin paid tribute to Begley, describing him as a “traditional music icon”.

“I am deeply saddened by the news this evening of the death of Séamus Ó Beaglaoich,” Ms Martin wrote on Twitter. “A traditional music icon for over fifty years, his music was deeply rooted in his beloved home place of Corca Dhuibhne. Suaimhneas síoraí dá anam uasal.”

Begley is survived by his wife Mary and children.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times