Elvis Costello on the loss of Irish music legend Paddy Moloney


By Elvis Costello

There are few words or original thoughts that I might add to the many erudite compliments about musical and cultural achievement that have been published in the hours since the sad passing of the great Paddy Moloney.

The very name of “The Chieftains” assumed a nobility sometimes denied musicians and artists. In taking up this title, Paddy was in the company of Duke Ellington and Count Basie; band leaders and virtuoso musicians who gathered unique and singular talents together under a standard or banner, and saw them thrive and speak with their individual voices in a common purpose. 

Since I first found a Chieftains record among my father’s collection, I was struck by the ability to tell a larger story through the accumulation of beautifully played airs and dance tunes. The narrative of these records did not have to venture into outer space – although there is a record called “The Chieftains In Orbit” with a contribution from an astronaut, recorded on the ISS. It can have only been the matter of a pressing engagement elsewhere that meant that Paddy did not make the journey himself.

Elvis Costello, Diana Krall and Paddy Moloney

Paddy was like a man in possession of a map plotting all the old undersea telegraphic lines that once connected continents. Long after the flicker of our imaginations had ceased to tap out our thoughts across such wires and words were carelessly squandered to some distant satellite, Paddy was tracing the connection of Irish traditional music and human kinship across the hemispheres. The Irish got everywhere and he had the musical evidence.

These were all occasions for song, for tunes, for travel, for hard work, for laughter and for the craic. For if any of the above endeavours sound dusty or pedantic, such a notion would have been dismissed by an evening in Paddy’s mischievous company. 

My own small part in this was to write a text for an air Paddy had adapted with view to bringing one slightly more jaundiced – and some would say, horribly truthful – Christmas song to a Chieftains collection of festive numbers. I tried to sing “The St. Stephen’s Day Murders” with relish, it being about feeding poisoned turkey to unwelcome seasonal visitors and family members with The Chieftains baying in the background.  

A second collaboration, the title track for Philip King’s television series “The Irish In America: The Long Journey Home” was a song that Paddy referred to as “The Anthem”, a suitably noble air to which I wrote a lyric about both migration and the eventual return with the cautionary footnote to each immigrant: “But as you ascend the ladder, lookout below where you tread.” 

Today, I read my friend and teacher, Michael McGlynn recalling the part played by his vocal ensemble, Anuna, in this recording and to this memory, I add the thrill of singing “The Long Journey Home” with The Chieftains on a St. Patrick’s Night at Carnegie Hall.

My wife, Diana and I both had our adventures with Paddy but his finest gift to us was in playing a set of tunes at our wedding with such joy and verve that a Musical Knight from Liverpool was seen to dance a nimble jig to the tune of Paddy’s tin whistle.  

It seems no time at all since we spent a beautiful evening around a supper table, telling tales, tall and otherwise. Of course, it is more time ago than one imagines and that time has turned out to be in much shorter supply than anyone could have dreamed. I will miss Paddy very much. We send our love and deepest condolence to Rita and to the family and all this great man’s many colleagues and friends.

Paddy Moloney, founder of The Chieftains, dies

Moloney created group with original lineup of Seán Potts, Martin Fay, David Fallon and Mick Tubridy

Paddy Moloney, the founder of The Chieftains, has died.

Originally from Donneycarney, in north Co Dublin, Moloney was from a musical family and began playing the tin whistle and uilleann pipes when he was young.

After he left school he took a job with Baxendales, a large building firm, to support his musical hobby, and it was here he met his future wife, Rita O’ Reilly.

He formed several groups with other musicians in duets and trios, and in 1962 he founded The Chieftains alongside the original lineup of Seán Potts, Martin FayDavid Fallon and Mick Tubridy.

The Chieftains went on to become one of the best-known Irish traditional groups in the world, winning six Grammys as well as a number of other awards.

The Chieftains pictured on September 20th, 1975 (L-R): Sean Potts, Sean Keane, Michael Tubridy, Martin Fay, Paddy Moloney, Peader Mercier and seated in front Derek Bell. Photograph: The Irish Times
The Chieftains in 1975: Sean Potts, Sean Keane, Michael Tubridy, Martin Fay, Paddy Moloney, Peader Mercier and (seated in front) Derek Bell. Photograph: The Irish Times

In 1968, having recorded a number of albums with The Chieftains, Moloney decided to leave Baxendales to work full time in the music industry as the managing director of Claddagh Records.

He ran the label for seven years, until 1975, during which time he helped to develop Claddagh’s catalogue and also a market for it. During this time he also produced, coproduced or supervised 45 albums for the Claddagh label in folk, traditional, classical, poetry and spoken-word recordings.

Source: Paddy Moloney, founder of The Chieftains, dies