Paddy Moloney: President Higgins leads tributes to Chieftains founder

The musician, composer, arranger and producer has died at the age of 83

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to Paddy Moloney, the musician, composer, arranger, and founder and leader of The Chieftains, who has died aged 83.

“The Irish music community, and indeed the much larger community throughout the world who found such inspiration in his work, will have learned with great sadness today of the passing of Paddy Moloney,” Mr Higgins said in a statement.

“Paddy, with his extraordinary skills as an instrumentalist, notably the uilleann pipes and bodhrán, was at the forefront of the renaissance of interest in Irish music, bringing a greater appreciation of Irish music and culture internationally.

“On behalf of Sabina and myself, and on behalf of the people of Ireland, I would like to express my deepest condolences to Paddy’s family and friends, and in particular his wife, Rita, and his children, Aonghus, Pádraig and Aedín.”


The acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, who was from Dublin, was a leading contributor to the revival of Irish folk and traditional music. The Chieftains became one of the best-known Irish traditional groups in the world, winning six Grammys. The Irish government formally acknowledged them as cultural ambassadors in 1989.

Moloney, who grew up in a musical family in Donnycarney, in the north of the city, played tin whistle and uilleann pipes as a child, learning from the piper Leo Rowsome.

After he left school he took a job with Baxendale & Co, a large building supplies company, where he met his future wife. He used the income from his job to help further his career in music, which in the 1960s came to include playing in Ceoltóirí Chualann, the traditional group led by the composer and musician Seán Ó Riada.

In 1962 Moloney formed The Chieftains – the name was inspired by the Irish poet John Montague – with the original line-up of Seán Potts on tin whistle, Martin Fay on fiddle, David Fallon on bodhrán, and Michael Tubridy on flute. After being released on Island Records, whose roster also included Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Dylan and, later, U2 and The Cranberries, their music reached an American audience, so broadening the reach of traditional and folk music.

Moloney recorded several award-winning albums, many at the invitation of his late friend Garech de Brún, on de Brun's label, Claddagh Records.

Moloney later became its managing director, producing, coproducing and supervising 45 albums of folk, traditional, classical, poetry and spoken-word recordings.

The President noted in his tribute that Moloney’s “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”.

Moloney also wrote film scores, appeared as a guest performer on recordings with Paul McCartney, Art Garfunkel and Dolly Parton, and collaborated with artists from The Rolling Stones to Emmylou Harris.

The Chieftains, whose line-up changed several times, performed at the National Concert Hall’s inaugural night in 1981, and Moloney later served on the Dublin venue’s board. The Chieftains were awarded the inaugural NCH Lifetime Achievement Award for their contribution to music in Ireland.

Minister for Culture, Arts and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin said: “We have lost a giant of the national cultural landscape. 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.”

The NCH’s chairwoman, Maura McGrath, also paid tribute. “Ireland has today lost a true talent, and advocate for traditional music, with the passing of Paddy Maloney. His musical achievement with The Chieftains was, and will continue to be, recognised as outstanding, transcending all musical boundaries, and connecting Irish people everywhere with their unique sound. Paddy’s contribution to, and support of, the National Concert Hall throughout his lifetime has been immense.”

The chairman of the Arts Council, Prof Kevin Rafter, said: “Paddy Moloney’s unique style of uilleann piping is one of the most instantly recognisable sounds of Ireland. From his early days with Ceoltóirí Chualann to the ground-breaking and award-winning music with The Chieftains, Paddy has been a constant in our lives for decades and has been instrumental in bringing our rich traditional music to audiences across the globe.”

The Irish Traditional Music Archive said that Moloney “made an enormous contribution to Irish traditional music, song and dance” and that “few people can lay claim to having the level of impact Paddy Moloney had on the vibrancy of traditional music throughout the world”.

James Morrissey, the chairman of Claddagh Records, said Moloney “played an enormous role in bringing Ireland’s rich cultural heritage to audiences all over the world”.

The RTÉ presenter John Creedon said: “He was a key player in Ireland’s soundtrack for over 60 years. He played with the best of them: Ó Riada, Zappa, Jagger, Stevie Wonder.”

The author Paul Howard, who wrote a biography of de Brún’s late brother, visiting the family’s Co Wicklow estate in the process, tweeted: “Spent many happy hours in Paddy Moloney’s company while I was working on the Tara Browne book, especially at Luggala. What a wonderful gent.”

The Co Clare uilleann-piper Blackie O’Connell tweeted: “Thank you for the amazing legacy you left on our music.”

Mark O’Brien, executive director of the Abbey Theatre, tweeted: “The piper of our dreams imithe. His sound cast a spell for the ages. His influence on the music and soul of this island immeasurable. A chieftain indeed. Sound eternal. His tunes will echo through this land.”

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times