seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.


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Birth of Peadar Ó Dubhda, Translator & Teacher of Irish Language

peadar-o-dubhdaPeadar Ó Dubhda, novelist, playwright, musician, teacher and translator of the Irish language, is born in Dundalk, County Louth on June 29, 1881. He is the author of many plays, stories and manuscripts over the years and in his youth is a noted high jumper competing at local events.

Ó Dubhda leaves the local primary school at the age of twelve with only the most basic of an education, but when he goes to work as a delivery boy driving around the roads of North Louth on his horse and cart he always has his O’Growney grammar book at his side, perfecting his knowledge of the Irish language. As a youth he joins the local brass band, where he is taught the cornet, but such is the depth of his intellect and his love for music he is an accomplished violinist, flautist and pianist in a very short time.

From his youth stretching into early manhood Ó Dubhda’s love of the Irish language is evident. He helps found a Gaelic League branch in Dundalk and perfects his use of the language by visiting Gaeltacht areas in the west of Ireland and Omeath. He is awarded a certificate to teach Irish by the Patrick Pearse and is a teacher in St. Mary’s College in Dundalk for over 20 years from 1915.

Ó Dubhda leaves teaching when he is offered his own children’s hour on Radio Éireann, a programme that lasts for over 30 years and through which a generation of Irish youth come to know and love his stories.

Ó Dubhda’s major work is the translation of the entire Douay version of the bible into Irish. The work takes twelve years and involves the deciphering of over three million words. The work is presented to the Irish nation in 1955 and is held in the National Museum of Ireland.

In 1950 Ó Dubhda is presented with the Papal medal, Pro Ecclessia el Pontifice by Pope Pius XII, to mark his 50th year as a member of his St. Malachy’s choir and one of his most prized possessions is a personal letter from Pope John XXIII praising him for his work for the church.

Peadar Ó Dubhda is just a month shy of his 90th birthday when he passes away in the loving care of his nieces in their Park Drive home on May 26, 1971. He is buried in Dundalk and his funeral is attended by President Éamon De Valera.


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Birth of Francis O,Neill, Music Collector & Police Officer

francis-oneillFrancis O’Neill, Irish-born American police officer and collector of Irish traditional music, is born in Tralibane, near Bantry, County Cork on August 28, 1848. His biographer Nicholas Carolan refers to him as “the greatest individual influence on the evolution of Irish traditional dance music in the twentieth century.”

At an early age O’Neill hears the music of local musicians, among them Peter Hagarty, Cormac Murphy and Timothy Dowling. At the age of 16, he becomes a cabin boy on an English merchant vessel. On a voyage to New York, he meets Anna Rogers, a young emigrant whom he later marries in Bloomington, Illinois. The O’Neills move to Chicago, and in 1873 he becomes a policeman with the Chicago Police Department. He rises through the ranks quickly, eventually serving as the Chief of Police from 1901 to 1905. He has the rare distinction, in a time when political “pull” counts for more than competence, of being re-appointed twice to the position by two different mayors.

O’Neill is a flautist, fiddler and piper and is part of the vibrant Irish community in Chicago at the time. During his time as chief, he recruits many traditional Irish musicians into the police force, including Patrick O’Mahony, James O’Neill, Bernard Delaney, John McFadden and James Early. He also collects tunes from some of the major performers of the time including Patsy Touhey, who regularly sends him wax cylinders and visits him in Chicago. He also collects tunes from a wide variety of printed sources.

O’Neill retires from the police force in 1905. After that, he devotes much of his energy to publishing the music he has collected. He dies in Chicago, at the age of 87, on January 28, 1936.

In 2000, a life-size monument of Francis O’Neill playing a flute is unveiled next to the O’Neill family homestead in Tralibane, County Cork. The monument, and a commemorative wall are erected through the efforts of the Captain Francis O’Neill Memorial Company.

In 2008, Northwestern University Press issues Captain O’Neill’s Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago, a non-musical memoir edited by Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch, O’Neill’s great-granddaughter, with a foreword by Nicholas Carolan of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Carolan himself writes a musical biography of O’Neill, A Harvest Saved: Francis O’Neill and Irish Music in Chicago, which is published in Ireland by Ossian in 1997.

In August 2013, the inaugural Chief O’Neill Traditional Music Festival takes place in Bantry, County Cork, just a few miles from Tralibane. The 2013 event marks the centenary of the publication of O’Neill’s Irish Minstrels and Musicians. The event has taken place annually since.


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Death of Victor Herbert, Composer, Cellist and Conductor

victor-herbertVictor August Herbert, an Irish-born, German-raised American composer, cellist and conductor, dies suddenly of a heart attack on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, begins its pre-Broadway run in New Haven, Connecticut.

Herbert is born in Dublin on February 1, 1859 to Protestants Edward Herbert and Fanny Herbert (née Lover). At age three and a half, shortly after the death of his father, he and his mother move to live with his maternal grandparents in London, England, where he received encouragement in his creative endeavours. His grandfather is the Irish novelist, playwright, poet and composer Samuel Lover. The Lovers welcome a steady flow of musicians, writers and artists into their home. He joins his mother in Stuttgart, Germany in 1867, a year after she marries a German physician, Carl Schmidt of Langenargen. In Stuttgart he receives a strong liberal education at the Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium, which includes musical training.

Herbert initially plans to pursue a career as a medical doctor. Although his stepfather is related by blood to the German royal family, his financial situation is not good by the time Herbert is a teenager. Medical education in Germany is expensive, and so he focuses instead on music. He initially studies the piano, flute and piccolo but ultimately settles on the cello, beginning studies on that instrument with Bernhard Cossmann from age 15 to age 18. He then attends the Stuttgart Conservatory. After studying cello, music theory and composition under Max Seifritz, he graduates with a diploma in 1879.

Although Herbert enjoys important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiere on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I. He is also prominent among the Tin Pan Alley composers and is later a founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). A prolific composer, Herbert produces two operas, a cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 plays, 31 compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions and numerous songs, choral compositions and orchestrations of works by other composers, among other music.

In the early 1880s, Herbert begins a career as a cellist in Vienna, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, during which he begins to compose orchestral music. Herbert and his opera singer wife, Therese Förster, move to the United States in 1886 when both are engaged by the Metropolitan Opera. He continues his performing career, while also teaching at the National Conservatory of Music of America, conducting and composing. His most notable instrumental compositions are his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 (1894), which enters the standard repertoire, and his Auditorium Festival March (1901). He leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1898 to 1904 and then founds the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he conducts throughout the rest of his life.

Herbert begins to compose operettas in 1894, producing several successes, including The Serenade (1897) and The Fortune Teller (1898). Some of the operettas that he writes after the turn of the 20th century are even more successful: Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste (1905), The Red Mill (1906), Naughty Marietta (1910), Sweethearts (1913) and Eileen (1917). After World War I, with the change of popular musical tastes, he begins to compose musicals and contributes music to other composers’ shows. While some of these are well-received, he never again achieves the level of success that he enjoyed with his most popular operettas.

A healthy man throughout his life, Herbert dies suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 65 on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, began its pre-Broadway run in New Haven. He is survived by his wife and two children, Ella Victoria Herbert Bartlett and Clifford Victor Herbert. He is entombed in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Herbert and his music are celebrated in the 1939 film The Great Victor Herbert, where he is portrayed by Walter Connolly and which also features Mary Martin. He is also portrayed by Paul Maxey in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By. Many of Herbert’s own works are made into films, and his music has been used in numerous films and television shows. A Chicago elementary school is named for him. During World War II the Liberty ship SS Victor Herbert is built in Panama City, Florida, and named in his honor.


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Death of Uilleann Piper Willie Clancy

willie-clancyWillie Clancy, uilleann piper and folklorist, dies in Galway, County Galway on January 24, 1973.

Clancy is born into a musical family in the outskirts of Milltown Malbay, County Clare on December 24, 1918. His parents, Gilbert Clancy and Ellen Killeen, both sing and play concertina, and his father also plays the flute. Clancy’s father has been heavily influenced by local blind piper Garret Barry and passes much of Barry’s music on to Willie.

Clancy starts playing the tin whistle at age five, and later takes up the flute. He first sees a set of pipes in 1936 when he sees Johnny Doran playing locally. He obtains his first set of pipes two years later. His influences include Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis, John Potts and Andy Conroy. Clancy wins the Oireachtas competition in 1947. Unable to earn a living from music he emigrates to London where he works as a carpenter.

Returning to Milltown Malbay in 1957 he records some influential 78 rpm recordings for the Gael Linn label, among them the classic reel selection “The Old Bush/The Ravelled Hank of Yarn.” The next decades he stayed in Milltown Malbay. He marries Dóirín Healy in 1962.

Willie Clancy dies suddenly at the early age of 55 on January 24, 1973, leaving a great void. Cór Cúl Aodha sings at his funeral mass, just as Clancy had played at Seán Ó Riada’s funeral only a year earlier. Others who take part include Seán Ach Donnchadha, John Kelly and Séamus Ennis. His funeral cortege to Ballard Cemetery is led by pipers from the Tulla Pipe Band.

The Willie Clancy Summer School is established in his honour in 1973, by Clancy’s friends Junior Crehan, Martin Talty, Seán Reid, Paddy Malone, Paddy McMahon, Frankie McMahon, Jimmy Ward, JC Talty, Harry Hughes, Michael O Friel, Séamus Mac Mathúna and Muiris Ó Rócháin. He is also the subject of a major television documentary “Cérbh É? Willie Clancy” on TG4, first broadcast in November 2009. In this programme, one of a series in which major figures in contemporary traditional music, profile and pay homage to a master of their craft from a bygone age, Peter Browne traces the life and legacy of Clancy.

(Photo courtesy of Mick O’Connor, flute player and friend of Willie Clancy)


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Death of Martin Fay, Founding Member of The Chieftains

Martin Fay, Irish fiddler and bones player, and a former member of The Chieftains, dies on November 14, 2012. The Chieftains collaborate with musicians from a wide range of genres and cultures and bring in guest performers such as Mick Jagger, Van Morrison and James Galway. Yet traditional tunes lay at the heart of the band, with Fay’s fiddle a vital part of their distinctive sound.

Fay is born in Cabra, Dublin, where his mother teaches him to play the piano. As a boy, he is captivated by the music in the film The Magic Bow (1946), about the life of Niccolò Paganini, and he changes instrument. He progresses well in his classical violin lessons and at fifteen is playing in a Butlins holiday camp orchestra. After leaving school at eighteen, Fay works in an office by day and in the evenings plays in the Abbey Theatre orchestra, where he meets the Abbey’s musical director, Seán Ó Riada.

In the 1950s, traditional music is regarded as distinctly old-fashioned in Ireland, but Ó Riada’s success with a film score, and a play at the Abbey, encourage him to establish a folk orchestra which includes Fay, piper Paddy Moloney and the tin whistle player Seán Potts. Instead of all the musicians playing together in unison, as in the established cèilidh bands, Ó Riada wants to create a chamber orchestra, playing arrangements of folk music. Fay’s classical music background is essential for this approach. The resulting ensemble, Ceoltóirí Cualann, enjoys radio success and, in 1961, plays the soundtrack for a film of The Playboy of the Western World. Fay was soon earning more playing traditional music than in his day job.

Garech Browne, a member of the Guinness family and founder of Claddagh Records, asks Moloney to record some traditional Irish music. Moloney brings in Fay, Potts and Michael Tubridy on flute, and uses a similar approach to arranging the tunes. Their eponymous album, The Chieftains, is released in 1964, before they first perform in public. The success of this new approach to traditional Irish music leads to radio and television work, and they attract celebrity fans. Browne is a great thrower of parties, where the guests included Jagger, Princess Grace of Monaco, Peter O’Toole and Sean Connery, with The Chieftains invariably playing through the night.

By 1968, Moloney is working full time for Claddagh Records, and when he, Potts and Fay are offered a recording contract by a rival company, Gael Linn, Moloney refuses to sign. Potts and Fay believe that their future lay with Gael Linn and they leave The Chieftains, only to return a year later. In the meantime, Seán Keane has joined to play fiddle, but on Fay’s return the pair work well together.

The Chieftains’ popularity is extending far beyond folk enthusiasts but they are still playing only in their spare time. That changes in 1975 when they provide music for the Oscar-winning score of Stanley Kubrick‘s film Barry Lyndon and the promoter Jo Lustig books the group into the Royal Albert Hall in London on St. Patrick’s Day. The sell-out concert is a triumph, and Fay and his fellow Chieftains finally give up their day jobs.

The relentless international touring takes its toll on band members with young families, and Tubridy and Potts leave, to be replaced by the flautist Matt Molloy. Fay is happy to continue. A reserved and modest man with a great sense of humour, he is unfazed by the pressures of extensive touring. He is the only Chieftain not to be racked by nerves when playing to well over a million people at Phoenix Park during Pope John Paul II‘s visit to Dublin in 1979.

Although he has a classical training, Fay has a natural understanding of traditional music. He is a master of changing the mood at Chieftains concerts from the lively onstage parties to a more tranquil atmosphere, through his emotional interpretations of the slow airs. In total, Fay records more than 30 albums with the group before he withdraws from touring in 2001 and retires altogether in 2002.

Martin Fay dies in Cabra, Dublin, on November 14, 2012 after a lengthy illness.


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Birth of Uilleann Piper Willie Clancy

willie-clancyWillie Clancy, an Irish uilleann piper, is born into a musical family at Islandbawn near Milltown Malbay, County Clare, on December 24, 1918.

Clancy’s parents, Gilbert Clancy and Ellen Killeen, both sing and play concertina, and his father also plays the flute. Clancy’s father has been heavily influenced by local blind piper Garret Barry and passes much of Barry’s music on to his son.

Clancy starts playing the whistle at age five, and later takes up the flute. He first lays eyes on a set of pipes in 1936 when he sees Johnny Doran playing locally. He obtains his first set of pipes two years later. His influences include Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis, John Potts, and Andy Conroy. Clancy wins the Oireachtas competition in 1947. Unable to earn a living from music he emigrates to London where he works as a carpenter.

Returning to Milltown Malbay shortly after the death of his father in 1957, Clancy records some influential 78 rpm recordings for the Gael Linn label, among them the classic reel selection “The Old Bush/The Ravelled Hank of Yarn.” He develops a highly distinctive and individual style of piping. From 1957 until 1972 the Summer music sessions in the West Clare town become widely renowned, with Clancy as one of the main attractions. Pipe-making, reed-making, and all things connected with the instrument are explored and advanced by the Clancy influence. He gives many performances on both radio and television as well as live sessions in his local area.

He lives out the remainder of his life in Milltown Malbay. Clancy marries Dóirín Healy in 1962. He dies suddenly in a hospital in Galway on January 24, 1973, and is widely mourned among friends and musicians alike. He is buried in Ballard Cemetary just outside Miltown Malbay.

Later that year the Willie Clancy Summer School is established in his honour by his friends Junior Crehan, Martin Talty, Sean Reid, Paddy Malone, Paddy McMahon, Frankie McMahon, Jimmy Ward, JC Talty, Harry Hughes, Michael O Friel, Séamus Mac Mathúna, and Muiris Ó Rócháin. He is also the subject of a major television documentary “Cérbh É? Willie Clancy” on TG4, first broadcast in November 2009. In this programme, one of a series in which major figures in contemporary traditional music, profile and pay homage to a master of their craft from a bygone age, Peter Browne traces the life and legacy of Clancy.

A statue of Clancy is unveiled on November 9, 2013 on the Main Street in Miltown Malbay.