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 Irish Folk Singer Moya Brennan

moya-brennanMoya Brennan, born Máire Ní Bhraonáin, Irish folk singer, songwriter, harpist, and philanthropist, is born in Dublin on August 4, 1952.

After leaving secondary school, Brennan spends a few years at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin studying the harp, the piano, and singing. She has also taught music at Holy Cross College in Falcarragh, County Donegal.

In 1970 Brennan joins her two brothers, Pól and Ciarán, and their mother’s twin brothers, Noel and Pádraig Ó Dúgáin, and form the band Clannad. They are identified and introduced to television by Tony MacMahon. After enjoying a decade of being among the world’s foremost Irish musical groups, Clannad graduates to chart success in 1982 with the album Magical Ring. Brennan is at the forefront of the group’s success and her voice suddenly becomes synonymous with Celtic music and Irish music at the time. Brennan records 17 albums with Clannad and wins a Grammy Award, a BAFTA, and an Ivor Novello award with the quintet. Her sister, Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, who spends some time with Clannad, continues to pursue a very successful solo career under the name Enya.

Brennan releases her first solo album in 1992, Máire, on Atlantic Records. Misty Eyed Adventures on BGM follows three years later. In 1998, Brennan signs with Word Records and releases Perfect Time, and Whisper to the Wild Water a year later. The album is nominated for the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album in 2001.

Brennan’s autobiography, The Other Side of the Rainbow, is published in 2000 and she performs her song Perfect Time live at World Youth Day in Rome in front of crowds of pilgrims and Pope John Paul II. There are 2.1 million people present, making it the largest crowd ever gathered in the Northern Hemisphere.

In film, Brennan is a featured vocalist on King Arthur (2004), co-writing the title theme Tell Me Now (What You See) with Hans Zimmer. She also writes an additional music score for To End All Wars (2001). In 1995, she duets with Shane MacGowan on You’re the One for the movie Circle of Friends. Brennan has collaborated with many other musicians, including Chicane, Alan Parsons, Bono, Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Michael McDonald from the Doobie Brothers, Bruce Hornsby, Joe Elliott, The Chieftains, Paul Young, Paul Brady, Michael Crawford, Joe Jackson, and Ronan Keating.

In total Brennan has recorded 25 albums, and has sold 20 million records. Brennan and Clannad are credited with the creation of contemporary Celtic music and are held in high esteem for their vast contribution to bringing new life to old Irish songs. They have been compared to Seán Ó Riada, in that they brought the Irish language into popular culture through their music. One critic said, “Clannad’s music offers a terrific fusion between traditional and modern influences.” U2 front man Bono says of her voice, “I think Máire has one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced.”