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 Garech Browne, Irish Arts & Music Patron

garech-domnagh-browneGarech Domnagh Browne, art collector and notable patron of Irish arts and traditional Irish music, is born in Chapelizod, Dublin on June 25, 1939. He is often known by the Irish designation of his name, Garech de Brún, or alternatively Garech a Brún, especially in Ireland.

Browne is the eldest of the three sons of Dominick Browne, 4th Baron Oranmore and Browne and his second wife, Oonagh Guinness, daughter of Arthur Ernest Guinness and wealthy heiress to the Guinness fortune. His father has the rare distinction of sitting in the House of Lords for 72 years, until his death at the age of 100 in August 2002, without ever speaking in a debate.

As both his parents are married three times, Browne has two stepmothers and two stepfathers, as well as a number of older half-siblings. His only full brother, Tara Browne, is a young London socialite whose death at the age of 21 in a car crash in London’s West End helps inspire John Lennon when writing the song “A Day in the Life” with Paul McCartney. Browne is educated at Institut Le Rosey, Switzerland. Although a member of the extended Guinness family, he takes no active part in its brewing business.

When in Ireland, Browne lives at Luggala, set deep in the Wicklow Mountains in County Wicklow. The house, which he inherited from his mother, has been variously described as a castle or hunting lodge of large proportions. He once states he would rather have not been born, calling it “frightful to bring anyone into this world.”

Browne is a leading proponent for the revival and preservation of traditional Irish music through his record label Claddagh Records which he founds with others in 1959. His former home, Woodtown Manor near Dublin, is for many years a welcoming place for Irish poets, writers and musicians. The folk-pop group Clannad makes many recordings of their music there.

Browne is instrumental in the formation of the traditional Irish folk group The Chieftains. In 1962, after setting up Claddagh Records, he asks his friend, the famed uileann piper Paddy Moloney, to form a group for a one-off album. Moloney responds with the first line-up for the band, which goes on to achieve international commercial success.

Browne is interviewed at length for the Grace Notes traditional music programme on RTÉ lyric fm on 18 March 2010. He is a friend and patron of British artist Francis Bacon and in January 2017 is featured in the BBC documentary Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence.

Garech Browne dies at the age of 78 in London on March 10, 2018. In his will and testament, he bequeaths to the city of Galway the granite remains of a medieval “bow gate.” The location of this gate, which had otherwise gone unmentioned by Browne, remains a mystery for over a year following his death. It is discovered on the grounds of the Luggala estate in 2019. According to a Galway historian, the gate may have formed part of the city’s defences in the 17th century, and was later removed from the city by Browne’s father, when it was probably taken to the Browne family home at Castle MacGarrett, just outside Claremorris in County Mayo. The gate is one of a number of items left to the Irish State by Browne.


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Birth of Martin Fay of The Chieftains

martin-fay-1Martin Joseph Fay, Irish fiddler and bones player and co-founder of the Irish traditional music ensemble The Chieftains, is born in Cabra, Dublin on September 19, 1936.

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.


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Birth of Paddy Moloney, Founder of The Chieftains

paddy-moloneyPaddy Moloney, musician, composer and producer who is the founder and leader of the Irish musical group The Chieftains, is born at Donnycarney, Dublin on August 1, 1938. He has played on every one of The Chieftains albums.

Moloney’s mother purchases him a tin whistle when he is six years old and he starts to learn the Uilleann pipes at the age of eight. In addition to the tin whistle and the Uilleann pipes, he also plays button accordion and bodhrán.

In the late 1950s Moloney meets Seán Ó Riada and joins his group, Ceoltóirí Chualann, in the early 1960s. Along with Seán Potts and Michael Tubridy, he forms the traditional Irish band The Chieftains in Dublin in November 1962. As the band leader, he is the primary composer and arranger of much of The Chieftains’ music, and has composed for films including Treasure Island, The Grey Fox, Braveheart, and Gangs of New York.

Moloney has done session work for Mike Oldfield, The Muppets, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Sting and Stevie Wonder.

Together with Garech de Brun (anglicised to Garech Browne) of Luggala, Moloney founds Claddagh Records in 1959. In 1968 he becomes a producer for the label and supervises the recording of 45 albums.

Moloney is married to artist Rita O’Reilly and has three children, Aonghus Moloney, Padraig Moloney and actress producer Aedin Moloney. He is a fluent speaker of the Irish language.

On September 13, 2012, Moloney receives Mexico‘s Ohtli Award, the country’s highest cultural award.


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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.