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Paddy Moloney, Irish music legend and Chieftains frontman, dead at 83

Paddy Moloney, the legendary tin whistle player and co-founder of the Chieftains, died Monday. He was 83.

The Irish music icon’s passing was confirmed by the Irish Traditional Music Archive. However, an official cause of death has not been revealed.

“The Irish music community, and indeed the much larger community throughout the world who found such inspiration in his work, will have learnt with great sadness today of the passing of Paddy Moloney, founder and leader of the Chieftains,” said Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a statement. “His legacy will remain with us in the music which he created and brought to the world.”

The native of Donnycarney — a suburb north of Dublin, Ireland — was famously a self-taught musician. He once said that when his mom first gifted him his signature instrument when he was 6 years old, it opened a whole new world for him.

“Because it gives you great insight into instruments and formation of scales and that kind of stuff,” Moloney told NPR in 2002. “But also the other beauty of this little tin whistle is that once you get over the mechanics of it, you can really get into improvisation, and you can start to see the music and out it comes.”

Portrait of Irish musician Paddy Moloney, one of the founding members of the band the Chieftains, as he plays a penny whistle, June 1973.
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When he co-founded the Chieftains in 1962 with Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy, he didn’t expect it to become a full-time career, he told the outlet in 1975. He merely wanted to find the right musicians to join him in using traditional techniques to get “into the guts” of Irish folk standards.

After signing to American label Island Records in 1973, the Chieftains gained substantial US fame. His group went on the earn six Grammys — out of a whopping 21 nominations — for a body of work that helped introduce the masses to the Irish diaspora while collaborating with mainstream superstars ranging from Mick Jagger to Luciano Pavarotti.

He and the Chieftains also contributed to film soundtracks, including Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York.”

At the time of his death, Moloney was the only original member of the band, racking up six decades of touring and recording. In later years, he also worked as a producer and managing director for the label Claddagh Records.

“[He] made an enormous contribution to Irish traditional music, song and dance,” the Irish Traditional Music Archive posted in tribute. “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.”

Moloney is survived by his wife, artist Rita O’Reilly, and his children Aonghus, Pádraig and Aedín.

Paddy Moloney of the Irish band the Chieftains poses with the Grammy he and the band won in the Best World Music Album catagory for "Santiago" at the 39th Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden
Paddy Moloney of the Irish band the Chieftains poses with the Best World Music Album Grammy he and the band won for “Santiago” at the 1997 award ceremony at Madison Square Garden.
Jeff Christensen
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