Guinness scion who was instrumental in the renaissance of Irish traditional music

Obituary: Garech Browne (Garech de Brún) was one of the founders of Claddagh Records

Garech de Brún: the eldest son of the second marriage of Dominick, Lord Oranmore and Browne, and Oonagh Guinness, youngest daughter of Ernest Guinness of the brewing family. Photograph: Kim Haughton

Garech de Brún: the eldest son of the second marriage of Dominick, Lord Oranmore and Browne, and Oonagh Guinness, youngest daughter of Ernest Guinness of the brewing family. Photograph: Kim Haughton


Garech Browne (Garech de Brún)

Born: June 25th, 1939

Died: March 10th, 2018

Garech Browne, who has died aged 78, will be forever linked to the re-emergence of Irish traditional music and its move to a global stage with The Chieftains through Claddagh Records.

Browne’s foundation of the label, in 1959, with the young, and later renowned, Dublin psychiatrist Ivor Browne (no relation) was a seminal moment in Ireland’s cultural, economic and social renaissance.

It was extraordinary considering his background. Garech might have been expected to take his place at the heart of British high society, with his father having been an Old Etonian with service in the Grenadier Guards.

But he took a very different road. His formal education, at Institut Le Rosey, in Switzerland, and Bryanston School, in England, ended at 15, he having run away from both institutions.

On visits to Castlemacgarrett in the 1950s, from his mother’s home at Luggala, in Co Wicklow, after his parents’ divorce, a few years’ earlier, the young Garech would attend dances for the estate workers with his younger brother, Tara, which included many traditional musicians and singers. He and his brother developed a passion for Irish music and culture at this time that never left them.

In 1958 he spent six weeks touring the country with Tara, recording traditional musicians, storytellers and singers, on a state-of-the-art Grundig two-reel art recorder. These recordings, writes Tara Browne’s biographer, Paul Howard, in I Read the News Today, Oh Boy, became the “stem cells” of Claddagh Records.

Their first record was of the great uilleann piper Leo Rowsome. Paddy Moloney, of The Chieftains, who had studied the uilleann pipes with Browne and Willy Clancy at Dublin School of Music in the late 1950s, believes that this was the first solo recording of an uilleann piper, a remarkable feat in itself.

Browne and Moloney became firm friends, visiting Fleadheanna Ceoil together with their fellow musician Michael Tubridy in the company of Brendan Parsons, the present earl of Rosse, who says that Browne introduced him to Irish culture and music. “It was a whole new world for me, and I cherish the memory.”

Moloney recalled that Browne, Seán Potts , and Michael and Barney McKenna – later of The Dubliners – had great musical sessions together at Browne’s mews flat on Quinn’s Lane, off Leeson Street in Dublin, at that time.

The Chieftains, as the group was now called at the suggestion of the poet John Montague, went on to make four albums under the Claddagh label, of which Moloney himself was managing director, at Browne’s request, from 1968 to 1975. The group have since won six Grammys and an Oscar for best original score, for Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, itself shot partly at Luggala, as were films by Browne’s close friend John Boorman, including the iconic Excalibur, in 1980, and, in 1975, Zardoz.

An important part of Claddagh’s early work was the recording of Irish poets reading their own work. Among these were Patrick Kavanagh, Montague and the young Seamus Heaney. In 1981 Claddagh made the only recording by Liam O’Flaherty of the great writer reading his own work.

The Chieftains had to leave Claddagh in 1975, as they had become professional by then and needed, for financial reasons, major international labels to promote their work. Paddy Moloney says Browne, although initially upset, never became bitter. “We always remained great friends . . . When he had problems, when he felt down, he would always come to me, and he and my wife, Rita, were very close.”

The “problems” related to the other, little-known aspect of Browne’s life: his chronic lack of self-esteem. These included his mother’s chaotic emotional life – married three times, each marriage ending in divorce – and, especially, the death of his beloved Tara in a motoring accident at the age of 21. Boorman explained that “Garech felt that Tara was the golden boy, that he was inferior to his brother. He had a sense of his inadequacies and that he wasn’t up to it.”

But Boorman was at pains to stress Browne’s continuing commitment after 1980 to the arts in Ireland: he “made Luggala into a magical place, full of musicians, artists, poets” – a stellar cast, including Heaney, Brendan Behan, Anthony Cronin and the great artists Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.

Browne had a great love of Asia, which began, Brendan Rosse recalls, with his encounter with a series of “oriental muses”, in the early 1960s. This resulted eventually in his finding of happiness, at last, with his marriage to the Indian princess Purna of Morvi, in 1981. There were no children of the marriage. His widow survives him, with his two nephews, Dorian and Julian, the children of Tara’s marriage to Nicki MacSherry.