Paddy Moloney performing in Denmark in 2014.

Multi-instrumentalist who helped to re-popularise traditional Irish folk music hailed for ‘enormous contribution’ to his country’s culture

Paddy Moloney, the Irish musician who co-founded and led the globally successful folk music group the Chieftains, has died aged 83.

The Irish Traditional Music Archive announced the news, saying he “made an enormous contribution to Irish traditional music, song and dance … Few people can lay claim to having the level of impact Paddy Moloney had on the vibrancy of traditional music throughout the world. What a wonderful musical legacy he has left us.”

Formed in 1962 with Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy, Moloney played Irish instruments including the uilleann pipes and bodhrán. Signed to Island Records who connected them with a US audience, the group helped to re-popularise their country’s traditional music, collaborating with everyone from Mick Jagger to Luciano Pavarotti, and winning six Grammy awards from 18 nominations.

Moloney remained the only original member, touring and recording for nearly six decades with the group. He and the band also contributed to film soundtracks, including Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, and Moloney also worked as a producer and managing director for the label Claddagh Records.

Born and raised in Dublin, Moloney began playing music aged six, starting out on a plastic tin whistle his mother bought him. “I knew money was scarce for us back then and every shilling seemed like a fortune, but she got it for me anyways,” he said in 2020. “I grew up in a family of musicians in this little cottage that seemed like a palace at the time. We would sit around and tell stories and play music every night. Music became everything to me, even more important than eating.”

He later married artist Rita O’Reilly, with whom he had three children: Aonghus, Padraig and Aedin.

In 2010, the astronaut Cady Coleman – a friend of Moloney’s – performed flute and tin whistle on board the International Space Station for the album The Chieftains in Orbit, the first time album recordings have been made in space.

Ireland’s arts minister, Catherine Martin, also paid tribute to Moloney, calling him “a giant of the national cultural landscape … His music was a source of celebration and pride for all of us”.

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