Derek Bell, accidental Chieftain, remembered

They eulogised his talent, they told yarns of the craic with him, but most of all they played their music in tribute to Derek…

They eulogised his talent, they told yarns of the craic with him, but most of all they played their music in tribute to Derek Bell of the Chieftains in Belfast yesterday.

Several hundred people gathered at St Anne's Church of Ireland Cathedral in his native city for a service of thanksgiving for his life. Bell (67) died suddenly last month after minor surgery in the US. Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains said the group would never be the same again without "old ding-dong".

The Chieftains played together and then each played his own lament for their former harpist. The chair, where Bell would have sat, was draped with a tartan rug. The singer Brian Kennedy, who has worked with the Chieftains, sang his own lament, I Wonder What is Keeping My True Love Tonight.

The harpist Loreena McKennitt travelled from Vancouver for the service. "There are people in this business whom you really connect with when you meet and that happened with myself and Derek," she said.


The pianist Barry Douglas; former snooker player Alex Higgins; Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners; the Ulster Unionist MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon; and a representative of the President, Mrs McAleese, were also present.

Van Morrison didn't make it, but a tribute from him was read out. Morrison said Bell had been "a wonderful human being, a true friend and a fine musician". He would live on in his "exceptional music".

In her message, the singer Joni Mitchell spoke of Bell's "warm spirit and playful sense of humour". Jazz singer Diane Krall remembered how the "warm embrace of his gentle music" had protected fellow musicians on a New Year tour of the Antarctic.

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Dr Houston McKelvey, said: "Derek Bell's immense musical talent and his personality touched innumerable people around the world. He was an ambassador for Belfast and the entire island of Ireland."

Paddy Moloney said Bell was infamous for his "slagging". "He could never be serious, he was a wonderful character. We had 30 wonderful years together. He had no enemies," he said.

He recalled how Derek Bell never formally joined the Chieftains but just started playing with them and ended up a full-time member.

Bell had seven cats and the congregation heard that, on receiving an MBE two years ago, he had suggested to Queen Elizabeth that his feline collection would be keen to take a stroll on her front lawn with her corgis.

Derek Bell's widow, Stefani, his mother and sister, attended the service.