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Fathers of Tradition: The Chieftains

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

If you, dear reader, have already been scouring the world of Irish music, you have certainly come across this name or heard something, even if at a glance. I bet even those who never got interested in the matter have heard, without noticing, the tin whistle or the uilleann pipes of the brilliant Paddy Moloney and his troupe of chiefs.

This article opens a series of articles that will be launched now and then about these distinguished gentlemen who are in fact fathers of the Irish musical tradition. It couldn't be different, as relevant, influent and broad productive they developed in the almost 60 years of work.

Musical Ambassadors of Ireland (honorary title granted to the band by the irish government in 1989), The Chieftains began their journey in 1962 from Paddy's ideas. Whistler and piper since childhood, he had bigger musical ambitions than playing solo, at home or in a pub, as it was usually done in that time. It was after participating in the innovative group of visionnaire Seán O’Riada, the Ceoltóirí Chualann, that his ideas began to take shape. This group held several founding members of The Chieftains.

The first album - The Chieftains

At the request of Hon. Garech Browne, an aristocrat, patron and art collector, and his newly founded label, Claddagh Records, the first album was released bearing the same name as the group. Inspired by a poem of John Montague, Chieftain means a leader of a tribe or clan.

This album had Seán Potts on tin whistle, Michael Tubridy on the irish flute and concertina, Martin Fay on fiddle e David Fallon on bodhrán besides Paddy Moloney.

The Chieftains in the 70's: Paddy Moloney, Peadar Mercier, Martin Fay, Derek Bell, Michael Tubridy, Seán Potts and Seán Keane

The line-up has changed over the years, first with Peadar Mercier replacing David Fallon on bodhran and the addition of Seán Keane on fiddle, then the addition of picturesque genius Derek Bell on harp, piano and dulcimer, and finally, Peadar, Michael and Seán Potts leaving the group and the entrance of Kevin Conneff on bodhrán and voice and Matt Molloy on the Irish flute, closing the nomination of new Chieftains.

The Chieftains between 80's-2000's: Matt Molloy, Paddy Moloney, Kevin Conneff, Seán Keane, Martin Fay and Derek Bell

The first album was followed by other 43 and many concerts around the globe, accomplishing what they have always done the best, spreading the Irish music in every way they could. Besides the albuns, they were awarded with 6 Grammys, played for the Pope, for the Queen Elisabeth, they were the first non-american group to play in the Capitol Building, the first western band to play on the Great Walls of China, were part of the openings of the show that is given to be the biggest of the musical history, the Roger Water’s “The Wall” in Berlin in 1990, they composed soundtracks (Barry Lyndon, Far and Away, Rob Roy, Braveheart and others) and have collaborated with a multitude of artists, such as: Michael Flatley, James Galway, Van Morrison, Sinéad O’Connor, Sting, Frank Zappa, The Corrs, Rolling Stones, Mark Knopfler, Emmilou Harris, Carlos Nuñez, Madonna, Luciano Pavarotti, Mario Frisina, Ziggy Marley, Joni Mitchell, Loreena McKennitt, Mike Oldfield, Bela Fleck many others! And because this world is not enough, they sent Paddy Moloney’s tin whistle and Matt Molloy’s Irish flute to the International Space Station in 2010!!!

It’s impressive to see a traditional music band reach that point!

It might be a little awkward for our today's ears to listen to their first albuns, and certainly was not less for that time’s ears. The tone of the instruments would be too little refined for usual orchestra listeners and curiously avant-garde for the more traditional ones, for whom the accompaniment of the melody just didn’t exist, nor in harmony nor in counterpoint.


The arrangements, fairly simple on the first albuns, became more elaborate with time, establishing the classic Chieftains’ sound specially on Boil The Breakfast Early (The Chieftains 9), when the final and longer lasting line-up was fixed.

Even on projects pointing out the irish music, such as Celtic Wedding, Over The Sea to Skye, Fire in The Kitchen and Santiago, dedicated to breton, scottish, Cape Breton’s (Canada) and galician music respectively; Another Country, Down The Old Plank Road e Further Down The Old Plank Road dedicated to american music; the albuns featuring musicians from other genres, The Long Black Veil and Tears of Stone; and even the most bold as the trip to China, The Chieftains in China, and San Patricio, which brings a curious relationship between Ireland and Mexico; Paddy Moloney’s outstanding personality, clearly expressed through his instruments, Matt Moloy’s fluidity, Kevin Conneff’s precision and charisma, Seán Keane’s rich style, Derek Bell’s virtuous versatility, Martin Fay’s sweetness and clarity and the legacy that the former Chieftains left on the group, all those features remain.

In 2019, they started an extensive farewell tour called “Irish Goodbye Tour”, but it was suspended by the pandemic. This goodbye became unconcluded with the death of Paddy Moloney, announced on the very day this article was scheduled to be launched, fact that personally touched all the members of O Pint Diário’s staff.

We pay homage to these strongholds of Irish traditional music, especially to The Chieftain of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney.

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