seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Barney McKenna, Founding Member of The Dubliners

File source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barney_001.jpgBernard Noël “Banjo Barney” McKenna, Irish musician and a founding member of The Dubliners, is born on December 16, 1939 in Donnycarney, Dublin. He plays the tenor banjo, violin, mandolin, and melodeon. He is most renowned as a banjo player.

McKenna plays the banjo from an early age, initially because he cannot afford to buy the instrument of his choice, a mandolin. He is a member of The Dubliners from 1962 and is the only living member of the original formation at the time of his death. Prior to joining the Dubliners, he spends a few months in The Chieftains. In addition to his work on traditional Irish music, he also plays jazz on occasion.

McKenna uses GDAE tuning on a 19-fret tenor banjo, an octave below fiddle/mandolin and, according to musician Mick Moloney, is single-handedly responsible for making the GDAE-tuned tenor banjo the standard banjo in Irish music.

McKenna remains a great favourite with live audiences, and some of the loudest and most affectionate applause follows the tunes and songs on which he is the featured performer. He is well known for his unaccompanied renditions of songs such as “South Australia” and “I Wish I Had Someone to Love Me.” His banjo solos on tunes such as “The Maid Behind the Bar,” “The High Reel” and “The Mason’s Apron,” where he is usually accompanied by Eamonn Campbell on guitar, are often performed to cries of “C’mon Barney!” from audience or band members. Another featured spot in Dubliners performances is the mandolin duet that he plays with John Sheahan, again with Eamonn Campbell providing guitar accompaniment. As he often points out to the audience, “It’s an Irish duet, so there’s three of us going to play it.”

McKenna’s tendency to relate funny, and often only marginally believable, stories is legendary amongst Dubliners fans and friends. These anecdotes become known as Barneyisms, and his friend and former Dubliners bandmate Jim McCann collects them for the book An Obstacle Confusion: The Wonderful World of Barney McKenna.

McKenna dies unexpectedly on the morning of April 5, 2012 after collapsing in the kitchen of his home in Howth, County Dublin. He is buried at St. Loman’s Cemetery in Trim, County Meath, on April 9, 2012. Initially it is unclear whether The Dubliners will continue their 50th Anniversary Tour in the wake of McKenna’s death. However they soon confirm that they would “do their best to honour all the concert dates for the rest of the year [2012].”


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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 Maura O’Connell, Singer & Actress

maura-oconnellMaura O’Connell, singer and actress known for her contemporary interpretations of Irish traditional music, strongly influenced by American country music, is born on September 16, 1958 in Ennis, County Clare.

Born into a musical family, O’Connell is the third of four sisters. Her mother’s family owns Costello’s fish shop in Ennis where O’Connell works until music becomes her full-time career. She grows up listening to her mother’s light opera, opera, and parlour music records. Her father’s interest leans towards the rebel ballads. Despite the presence of classical music in the house, O’Connell gets very involved in the local folk club scene and together with Mike Hanrahan, who later fronts folk rock outfit Stockton’s Wing, they perform a country music set, as a duo called “Tumbleweed.”

O’Connell attends St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Spanish Point from 1971 to 1974, where she takes part in the school choir. She is also a member of the “Cúl Aodha Choir”, led by Peader Ó Riada, that sings at the funeral of Willie Clancy in 1973.

O’Connell begins her professional musical journey during a six-week tour of the United States in 1980, as vocalist for the traditionally-based Celtic group De Dannan. The following year, she is featured on the band’s landmark album, The Star Spangled Molly, which becomes something of a national phenomenon in her homeland. However, not long after joining the group she becomes very interested in the experimental roots music of America’s New Grass Revival when the bands’ paths cross. She moves to the United States in 1986, settling in Nashville, Tennessee. There she meets progressive bluegrass pioneers Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, with whom she works on most of her records.

O’Connell records her first solo album in 1983, however, it does not make any impact in Ireland or in the United States. She receives a Grammy Award nomination for her 1989 album, Helpless Heart, which is her first record released under Warner Bros. Records. Real Life Story (1990) and Blue is the Colour of Hope (1992) register a move toward a pop synthesis. Her versions of “Living in These Troubled Times” and Cheryl Wheeler‘s “Summerfly” become standout tracks on the 1993 album A Woman’s Heart, on four all-female overseas tours and on the 1994 follow-up album in her homeland. A Woman’s Heart Vol. 2 features her heartfelt renditions of Nanci Griffith‘s “Trouble in the Fields” and Gerry O’Beirne’s “Western Highway.” After numerous albums heavily inspired by American newgrass music, she returns to her Irish roots with the 1997 release Wandering Home.

As the new millennium approaches, O’Connell signs with Sugar Hill Records in late 2000 and begins working on her seventh album. Instead of working with her longtime producer Jerry Douglas, she has Ray Kennedy produce Walls and Windows, which is released in 2001, and features an eclectic collection of songs, including work by Kim Richey, Van Morrison, John Prine, Eric Clapton and Patty Griffin. Her 2004 album, Don’t I Know, contains musical textures added by everything from fiddles, to clavinets, to lap steel guitar and B-3 organ.

Naked With Friends (2009) is O’Connell’s first a cappella album. Guest vocalists include Mary Black, Paul Brady, Moya Brennan, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Tim O’Brien, Dolly Parton, Sarah Dugas, Kate Rusby and Darrell Scott. The album is nominated for a Grammy Award.

In addition to her solo work, O’Connell has collaborated with a number of Celtic, folk, pop and country artists, including Van Morrison, Brian Kennedy, Moya Brennan, Mary Black, John Prine, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, John Gorka, Béla Fleck, Robert Earl Keen, Dolly Parton and Shawn Colvin. She has also sung background vocals for a number of artists, including Van Morrison’s 1988 project with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat and Stockton’s Wing on Take A Chance.

Aside from the music world, Martin Scorsese casts O’Connell, scruffed up for the role, as an Irish migrant street singer in his 19th-century epic Gangs of New York, released in 2002.

O’Connell announces the end of her solo career in 2013.


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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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Birth of Poet John Montague

john-montagueIrish poet John Montague is born on Bushwick Avenue at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, on February 28, 1929. His father, James Montague, an Ulster Catholic, from County Tyrone, had come to the United States in 1925.

Life in New York is difficult during the Great Depression, so John and his two brothers are shipped back to Ireland in 1933. The two eldest are sent to their maternal grandmother’s house in Fintona, County Tyrone, but John is sent to his father’s ancestral home at Garvaghey, then maintained by two spinster aunts.

John studied at University College Dublin in 1946. Stirred by the example of other student poets he begins to publish his first poems in The Dublin Magazine, Envoy, and The Bell, edited by Peadar O’Donnell. But the atmosphere in Dublin is constrained and he leaves for Yale University on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1953.

A year of graduate school at University of California, Berkeley convinces Montague that he should return to Ireland. He settles in Dublin working at the Irish Tourist Office. In 1961 he moves to Bray, County Wicklow. A regular rhythm of publication sees his first book of stories, Death of a Chieftain (1964) after which the musical group The Chieftains is named, his second book of poems, A Chosen Light (1967), Tides (1970).

All during the 1960s, Montague continues to work on his long poem, The Rough Field, a task that coincides with the outbreak of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. A Patriotic Suite appears in 1966, Hymn to the New Omagh Road and The Bread God in 1968, and A New Siege, dedicated to Bernadette Devlin which he reads outside Armagh Jail in 1970.

In 1972, Montague takes a teaching job at University College Cork, at the request of his friend, the composer Seán Ó Riada, where he inspires an impressive field of young writers including Gregory O’Donoghue, Seán Dunne, Thomas McCarthy, William Wall, Maurice Riordan, Gerry Murphy, Greg Delanty and Theo Dorgan.

Montague settles in Cork in 1974 and publishes an anthology, the Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974) with a book of lyrics, A Slow Dance (1975). Recognition is now beginning to come, with the award of the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1976, the first Marten Toonder Award in 1977, and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for The Great Cloak in 1978.

In 1987, Montague is awarded an honorary doctor of letters by the State University of New York at Buffalo. He serves as distinguished writer-in-residence for the New York State Writers Institute during each spring semester, teaching workshops in fiction and poetry and a class in the English Department of the University at Albany. In 1998, he is named the first Irish professor of poetry, a three-year appointment to be divided among Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Dublin. In 2008, he publishes A Ball of Fire, a collection of all his fiction including the short novella The Lost Notebook.

John Montague dies at the age of 87 in Nice, France on December 10, 2016 after complications from a recent surgery.


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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 Singer-Songwriter Van Morrison

Sir George Ivan Morrison, best known as Van Morrison, Northern Irish singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is born on August 31, 1945 in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the only child of George Morrison, a shipyard electrician, and Violet Stitt Morrison, who had been a singer and tap dancer in her youth.

Known as “Van the Man,” Morrison starts his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands, covering the popular hits of the time. He rises to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead vocalist of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he records the garage band classic “Gloria.” His solo career begins under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records buys out his contract and allows him three sessions to record Astral Weeks (1968). Though this album gradually garners high praise, it is initially a poor seller.

Moondance (1970) establishes Morrison as a major artist, and he builds on his reputation throughout the 1970s with a series of acclaimed albums and live performances. He continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains.

Much of Morrison’s music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” “Domino” and “Wild Night.” An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream of consciousness narrative, such as the album Astral Weeks and the lesser-known Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as “Celtic soul.”

Van Morrison has received six Grammy Awards, the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, he is knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

(Pictured: Van Morrison performing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 26, 2015 | Image: Getty)