Paddy Moloney, the founder of the Chieftains died on Monday, October 11, at the age of 83. Moloney acted as an ambassador for traditional Irish music, carrying it around the world with him and introducing its sounds to cultures such as China—where he played a concert at the Great Wall of China—and collaborating with artists—Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger, Emmylou Harris, Luciano Pavoratti—from across a wide range of musical landscapes. Although Moloney might be best remembered for his spirited playing of the Uillean pipes, he also played tin whistle, button accordion, and bodhrán. He founded the Chieftains in 1962, though he once told NPR that he never thought he’d play music full-time. He was more interested in taking traditional techniques and getting “into the guts of a song” and inventing new directions in which the music might go. His innovation enabled the Chieftains to bring Irish traditional music into classical and country and rock settings.
Condolences from around the Irish music world have been pouring in. On her Facebook wall, the Irish musician Imelda May wrote: “I’m so sad to hear of the passing of our dearest Paddy Moloney. He was ours wasn’t he! He made us all so proud of our musical heritage and brought it to the world with such joyous enthusiasm, grace and energy. He had good humoured mischief in his eyes, divilment in his laugh and warmth in his heart. He was a lot of fun. I’m so glad to have known and worked with not just a talented legend but a thoroughly lovely man. I send love and condolences to his family, friends and band.” Flautist James Galway wrote on his Twitter of his close friend Paddy: “A man with a vision and passion on bringing traditional Irish music to the masses for which we are forever indebted to. Such wonderful memories for which I shall always cherish.”
Moloney touched Ireland deeply with his music, his vision for community, and his infectious laugh and smile. President of Ireland Michael Higgins issued a statement on his official website:
“The Irish music community, and indeed the much larger community throughout the world who found such inspiration in his work, will have learnt with great sadness today of the passing of Paddy Moloney, founder and leader of the Chieftains.”
“Paddy, with his extraordinary skills as an instrumentalist, notably the uileann 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.”
“Not only as a consummate musician himself, but as a founder member of Claddagh Records together with Garech de Brún, he brought a love of Irish music not just to the diaspora, but to all those across the world who heard his music and appreciated it for its own sake as it transcended all musical boundaries. His 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. His legacy will remain with us in the music which he created and brought to the world.”
Born in 1938, in Donnycarney, north of Dublin, Paddy Moloney taught himself to play the tin whistle when he was 6. He never learned to read music and played by ear, offering his own interpretation of most of the tunes.
Moloney’s quietly extraordinary musicianship lay in his ability to layer melody and harmonies in his playing of the pipes and to explore new musical territories even as he remained in the sonic boundaries of traditional Irish music. His inventive playing changed the flavor and direction of Irish traditional music, and we’ll miss his sly smile, his twinkling eyes, his dexterous playing, and his musical vision.