The Chieftains are credited with reviving worldwide interest in traditional Celtic music. Fay performs as the group’s fiddler and bones player for some 40 years.
Fay develops an early interest in the violin and takes music lessons at the Municipal School of Music in Dublin. He joins the orchestra of the Abbey Theatre during his teen years and is introduced to Irish folk music by the theatre’s musical director Sean O’Riada.
It was through O’Riada’s folk band, Ceoltóirí Chualann, that Fay meets the other original Chieftains members, Paddy Moloney, Seán Potts, and Michael Tubridy. The foursome releases their first album, Chieftains 1, in 1964. The Chieftains perform on local radio and television programs and in pubs throughout the British Isles, but it is not until the 1970s that they begin touring overseas.
The Chieftains gain international acclaim when their music is used in the Academy Award-winning sound track for the film Barry Lyndon (1975). In 1989, The Chieftains are officially designated Ireland’s musical ambassadors. Although the quartet’s membership changes over the years, Fay records more than 30 albums with The Chieftains.
In 2001, Fay decides to stop touring with The Chieftains, limiting his appearances with the group to events in Ireland. He subsequently retires in 2002. After a lengthy illness, he dies at the age of 76 in Cabra on November 14, 2012.