seamus dubhghaill

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


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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 Liam Clancy

William “Liam” Clancy, Irish folk singer and actor, is born in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary on September 2, 1935. He is the youngest and last surviving member of the influential folk group The Clancy Brothers, who are regarded as Ireland’s first pop stars. They record 55 albums, achieve global sales of millions and appear in sold-out concerts at such prominent venues as Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Clancy is Robert Joseph Clancy and Joanna McGrath’s ninth and youngest surviving child. He receives a Christian Brothers education before taking a job as an insurance man in Dublin. While there he also takes night classes at the National College of Art and Design.

Clancy begins singing with his brothers, Paddy and Tom Clancy, at fund-raising events for the Cherry Lane Theatre and the Guthrie benefits. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, begin recording on Paddy Clancy’s Tradition Records label in the late 1950s. Liam plays guitar in addition to singing and also records several solo albums. They record their seminal The Rising of the Moon album in 1959. There are international tours, which include performances at Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. The quartet records numerous albums for Columbia Records and enjoys great success during the 1960s folk revival. In 1964, thirty percent of all albums sold in Ireland are Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem records.

After The Clancy Brothers split up, Liam has a solo career in Canada. In 1975, he is booked to play a festival in Cleveland, Ohio, where Tommy Makem is also playing. The two play a set together and form the group Makem and Clancy, performing in numerous concerts and recording several albums together until 1988. The original Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem line-up also get back together in the 1980s for a reunion tour and album.

In later life, Liam maintains a solo career accompanied by musicians Paul Grant and Kevin Evans, while also engaging in other pursuits. In 2001, Clancy publishes a memoir titled The Mountain of the Women. He is also in No Direction Home, the 2005 Bob Dylan documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. In 2006, Clancy is profiled in a two-hour documentary titled The Legend of Liam Clancy, produced by Anna Rodgers and John Murray with Crossing the Line Films, which wins the award for best series at the Irish Film and Television Awards in Dublin. His final album, The Wheels of Life, is released in 2009. It includes duets with Mary Black and Gemma Hayes as well as songs by Tom Paxton and Donovan.

Liam Clancy dies from pulmonary fibrosis on December 4, 2009, in Bon Secours Hospital, Cork. He is buried in the new cemetery in An Rinn, County Waterford, where he spent the last number of years of his life, owning a successful recording studio.


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Birth of Francis Fowke, Engineer & Architect

francis-fowkeFrancis Fowke, engineer, architect, and a Captain in the Corps of Royal Engineers, is born in Ballysillan, Belfast, on July 7, 1823. Most of his architectural work is executed in the Renaissance style, although he makes use of relatively new technologies to create iron framed buildings, with large open galleries and spaces.

Fowke studies at The Royal School Dungannon, County Tyrone, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He obtains a commission in the Royal Engineers, and serves with distinction in Bermuda and Paris. On his return to England, he is appointed architect and engineer in charge of the construction of several government buildings.

Among his projects are the Prince Consort’s Library in Aldershot, the Royal Albert Hall and parts of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, and the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. He is also responsible for planning the 1862 International Exhibition in London. The Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 being a hard act to follow, the International Exhibition building is described as “a wretched shed” by The Art Journal. Parliament declines the Government’s proposal to purchase the building. The materials are sold and used for the construction of Alexandra Palace.

Before his sudden death from a burst blood vessel on December 4, 1865, Fowke wins the competition for the design of the Natural History Museum, although he does not live to see it executed. His renaissance designs for the museum are altered and realised in the 1870s by Alfred Waterhouse, on the site of Fowke’s Exhibition building.

Francis Fowke is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.

A medal is issued by the Royal Engineers in 1865, as a memorial prize for architectural works carried out by members of the corps. With the demise of great architectural works, the prize has transformed into the prize awarded to the top student on the Royal Engineers Clerks of Works course.


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Birth of Tenor John McCormack

john-mccormackJohn McCormack, an Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires and renowned for his diction and breath control, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on June 14, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone, and later attends Summerhill College in Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peters church in Athlone under choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by composer Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan. In 1906, he makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor.

In less than three years he is singing opera in the United States, as well as beginning a career on the recital stage that makes him one of the most successful singers of all time. In 1917 he becomes a citizen of the United States, his adopted country, where his concert appeal has proven to be nearly universal and unrelenting.

McCormack originally ends his career in 1938 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. However, one year after that farewell concert he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He concertizes, tours, broadcasts, and records in this capacity until 1943 when failing health forced him to permanently retire.

Ill with emphysema, he purchases a house near the sea at Booterstown, County Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, just south of Dublin. After a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, McCormack dies on September 16, 1945. He is mourned by his countrymen, his English public who had taken him to their hearts as well, a vast number of his fellow citizens in the United States, and music lovers all over the world. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.


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Birth of Irish Blues & Rock Guitarist Rory Gallagher

rory-gallagherWilliam Rory Gallagher, Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader, is born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, on March 2, 1948.

Both Rory and his brother Dónal are musically inclined and encouraged by their parents. At age nine, Gallagher receives his first guitar from them. After winning a talent contest when he is twelve, Gallagher begins performing with both his acoustic guitar and an electric guitar that he purchases with his prize money. It is, however, his purchase three years later of a 1961 Fender Stratocaster for £100 that becomes his primary instrument and most associated with him for the span of his lifetime.

Gallagher is initially attracted to skiffle after hearing Lonnie Donegan on the radio. While still in school, playing songs by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, he discovers his greatest influence in Muddy Waters. He begins experimenting with folk, blues, and rock music.

While still a young teenager, Gallagher begins playing after school with Irish showbands. In 1963, he joins one named Fontana, a sextet playing the popular hit songs of the day. The band tours Ireland and the United Kingdom, earning enough money for Gallagher to make the payments on his Stratocaster guitar. Gallagher begins to influence the band’s repertoire and successfully moulds Fontana into The Impact, changing the line-up into an R&B group. The band plays gigs in Ireland and Spain until it disbands in London, with Gallagher and the bassist and drummer continuing to perform as a trio in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1966, Gallagher returns to Ireland and forms Taste, a blues rock and R&B power trio. Initially, the band is composed of Gallagher and Cork musicians Norman Damery and Eric Kitteringham. However, by 1968, Damery and Kitteringham are replaced by Belfast musicians John Wilson on drums and Richard McCracken on bass. Performing extensively in the UK, the group supports both Cream at their Royal Albert Hall farewell concert and the blues supergroup Blind Faith on a tour of North America.

After the break-up of Taste in 1970, Gallagher tours under his own name. He hires former Deep Joy bass player Gerry McAvoy to play on his self-titled debut album, Rory Gallagher. This is the beginning of a twenty-year musical relationship between Gallagher and McAvoy. The 1970s are Gallagher’s most prolific period, producing ten albums in the decade. In 1971 he is voted Melody Maker’s International Top Guitarist of the Year, ahead of Eric Clapton. However, despite a number of his albums reaching the UK Albums Chart, Gallagher does not attain major star status. Though he sells over thirty million albums worldwide, it was his marathon live performances that win him the greatest acclaim.

In the 1980s he continues recording and embarks on a tour of the United States. In addition, he plays with Box of Frogs, a band formed in 1983 by former members of The Yardbirds.

In the later years of his life, Gallagher develops a phobia of flying. To overcome this he receives a prescription for a powerful sedative. This medication, combined with his alcohol use, results in severe liver damage. Despite his condition he continues touring. By his final performance on January 10, 1995 in the Netherlands, he is visibly ill and the remainder of the tour is cancelled. Gallagher is admitted to King’s College Hospital in London in March 1995. His liver is failing and the doctors determine that a liver transplant is the only possible course of action. After 13 weeks in intensive care, his health suddenly worsens when he contracts a Staphylococcal infection. Gallagher dies on June 14, 1995, and is buried in St. Oliver’s Cemetery just outside Ballincollig near Cork City, Ireland.