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The Chieftains

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The Chieftains

The Chieftains are a traditional Irish band formed in Dublin in November 1962, by Paddy Moloney, Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy. The band had their first rehearsals at Moloney's house, with Tubridy, Martin Fay and David Fallon. Their sound, which is almost entirely instrumental and largely built around uilleann pipes, has become synonymous with traditional Irish music and they are regarded as having helped popularise Irish music across the world.[1]

Paddy Moloney came out of Ceoltóirí Chualann, a group of musicians who specialised in instrumentals, and sought to form a new band. The group remained only semi-professional up until the 1970s, by then they had achieved great success in Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 1973, their popularity began to spread to the United States when their previous albums were released there by Island Records. They received further acclaim when they worked on the Academy Award-winning soundtrack to Stanley Kubricks 1975 film Barry Lyndon, which triggered their transition to the mainstream in the US.[2][3]

The group continued to release successful records throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and their work with Van Morrison in 1988 resulted in the critically acclaimed album Irish Heartbeat.[4] They went on to collaborate with many other well-known musicians and singers; among them Luciano Pavarotti, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Sinéad O'Connor and Roger Daltrey.[5] The band have won six Grammys during their career and they were given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the prestigious BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2002. Some music experts[6] have credited The Chieftains with bringing traditional Irish music to a worldwide audience, so much so that the Irish government awarded them the honorary title of Irelands Musical Ambassadors in 1989.[7] In 2012, they celebrated their 50th anniversary with the release of their most recent record Voice of Ages.[8]


The band's name came from the book Death of a Chieftain by Irish author John Montague.[9] Assisted early on by Garech Browne, they signed with his company Claddagh Records. They needed financial success abroad, and succeeded in this, as within a few years their third album's sleeve note section was printed in three languages.


In 2012, they celebrated their 50th anniversary with an ambitious album and tour. The album, Voice of Ages, was produced by T-Bone Burnett and featured the Chieftains collaborating with many musicians including Bon Iver, Paolo Nutini and The Decemberists. It also included a collaboration with NASA astronaut Cady Coleman playing the flute aboard the International Space Station as it orbited the earth. On March 17, The Chieftains played in Carnegie Hall with the F.O.P. Stephen P. Driscoll Memorial Pipe Band, playing "March to Battle" and "An Dro" [10]


The band have become known for their vast work of collaborations with popular musicians of many genres, including Country music, Galician traditional music, Newfoundland music, and rock and roll. They have performed with Luciano Pavarotti, the Rolling Stones, The Dubliners, Mike Oldfield, Ultravox, Carlos Núñez, Van Morrison, Ashley MacIsaac, Glass Tiger, Bela Fleck, Siobhán O'Brien, Moya Brennan, Mark Knopfler, Loreena McKennitt, Ry Cooder, Los Cenzontles, Mick Jagger, Elvis Costello, Roger Daltrey, Nanci Griffith, Tom Jones, Sinéad O'Connor, Natalie Merchant, James Galway, The Corrs, Art Garfunkel, Sting, Rosanne Cash, Jim White, Ziggy Marley, Lyle Lovett, Jackson Browne, Eros Ramazzotti, Kepa Junkera, Mike Gordon, Madonna, Paolo Nutini, The Low Anthem, The Civil Wars, and numerous country-western artists, including Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Willie Nelson, Nickel Creek and others. In May 1986, they performed at Self Aid, a benefit concert held in Dublin that focused on the problem of chronic unemployment which was widespread in Ireland at that time. In 1994, they appeared in Roger Daltrey's production, album and video of A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who.

Performed with Canadian astronaut Cmdr. Chris Hadfield in Houston, TX on February 15, 2013. Cmdr. Hadfield performed guitar and vocals on Moondance from aboard the International Space Station.

Success and legacy

The band have won six Grammy Awards and been nominated eighteen times. They have won an Emmy and a Genie and contributed tracks, including their highly-praised version of the song Women of Ireland, to Leonard Rosenman's Oscar-winning score for Stanley Kubrick's 1975 film Barry Lyndon.[8] In 2002 they were given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the UK's BBC Radio 2. Two of their singles have been minor hits in the UK Singles Chart. "Have I Told You Lately" (credited to The Chieftains with Van Morrison) reached #71 in 1995. "I Know My Love" (credited to The Chieftains featuring The Corrs) reached #37 in 1999.[11]

Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin[12] said the success of The Chieftains helped place Irish traditional music on a par with other musical genres in the world of popular entertainment. By collaborating with pop and rock musicians, they have taken Irish music to a much wider audience. They have become, in effect, musical ambassadors for Ireland. This de facto role was officially recognised by the Irish Government in 1989 when it awarded the group the honorary title of Ireland's Musical Ambassadors.[8]

Notable performances

They played in a concert for Pope John Paul II, and an audience of more than one million people in 1979 in Phoenix Park in Dublin, to mark the Papal visit to Ireland.[8]

In 1983, they were invited by the Chinese Government to perform with the Chinese Broadcasting Art Group in a concert on the Great Wall of China, becoming the first western musical group to do so.[13] They were the first group to perform in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., invited by Senator Edward Kennedy and the former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.[8]

In 2011, they performed at a concert in Dublin attended by President Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II of Britain during her first ever trip to Ireland.[14]


Current members
  • Paddy Moloney  uilleann pipes, tin whistle, button accordion, bodhrán (1962present)
  • Seán Keane  fiddle, tin whistle (1968present)
  • Kevin Conneff  bodhrán, vocals (1976present)
  • Matt Molloy  flute, tin whistle (1979present)
Former members
  • Martin Fay  fiddle, bones (1962-2002; died 2012)
  • Seán Potts  tin whistle, bones, bodhrán (1962-1979; died 2014)
  • Michael Tubridy  flute, concertina, tin whistle (1962-1979)
  • David Fallon  bodhrán (1962-1966)
  • Peadar Mercier  bodhrán, bones (1966-1976)
  • Derek Bell  Irish harp, keyboard instruments, oboe (1975-2002; died 2002)
  • Ronnie McShane  percussion (1975-1976)


  • The Chieftains (1963)
  • The Chieftains 2 (1969)
  • The Chieftains 3 (1971)
  • The Chieftains 4 (1973)
  • The Chieftains 5 (1975)
  • The Chieftains 6: Bonaparte's Retreat (1976)
  • The Chieftains 7 (1977)
  • The Chieftains Live! (1977)
  • The Chieftains 8 (1978)
  • The Chieftains 9: Boil the Breakfast Early (1979)
  • The Chieftains 10: Cotton-Eyed Joe (1980)
  • The Year of the French (1982)
  • The Grey Fox (1982) (soundtrack to The Grey Fox)
  • Concert Orchestra (1983)
  • The Chieftains in China (1985)
  • Ballad of the Irish Horse (1986)
  • Celtic Wedding (1987)
  • In Ireland (1987) (with James Galway)
  • Irish Heartbeat (1988) (with Van Morrison)
  • The Tailor Of Gloucester (1988)
  • A Chieftains Celebration (1989)
  • Over the Sea To Skye: The Celtic Connection (1990) (with James Galway)
  • The Bells of Dublin (1991)
  • Reel Music (1991)
  • Another Country (1992)
  • An Irish Evening (1992)
  • The Best of The Chieftains (1992)
  • The Celtic Harp: A Tribute To Edward Bunting (1993) (with The Belfast Harp Orchestra)
  • The Long Black Veil (1995)
  • Film Cuts (1996)
  • Santiago (1996)
  • Long Journey Home (1998)
  • Celtic Wedding (1998)
  • Fire in the Kitchen (1998)
  • Silent Night: A Christmas in Rome (1998)
  • Tears of Stone (1999)
  • Water From the Well (2000)
  • The Wide World Over (2002)
  • Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions (2002)
  • Further Down the Old Plank Road (2003)
  • Live From Dublin: A Tribute To Derek Bell (2005)
  • The Essential Chieftains (2006)
  • San Patricio (2010) (with Ry Cooder)
  • Voice of Ages (2012)


Glatt, John (1997). The Chieftains: the Authorized Biography, New York: Da Capo.

  1. The Chieftains... out of this world!,, 2012-03-03. URL accessed on 2013-02-14.
  2. Ratliff, Ben, Stones, Chieftains, Beach Boys and El Gran Combo Turn 50, The New York Times, 2012-02-03.
  3. Articles about Chieftains - Chicago Tribune, URL accessed on 2013-02-14.
  4. Sean Michaels, Chieftains team up with Bon Iver and the Decemberists | Music |, Guardian, 2011-11-22. URL accessed on 2013-02-14.
  5. The Chieftains: For 50 Years, Irish Music For The World. NPR (2012-02-14). Retrieved on 2013-02-14.
  6. Stephen D. Winick - The Chieftains. (1975-03-17). Retrieved on 2013-02-14.
  7. [1]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 McCarthy, John Patrick (2006). Ireland: a reference guide from the Renaissance to the present, Infobase.
  9. the Chieftains - A Musical History
  10. The Chieftains - out of this world, independent. Ireland, March 3, 2012. URL accessed on March 6, 2012.
  11. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums, 19th, London: Guinness World Records Limited.
  12. Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music, pub The O'Brien Press, Dublin, p155
  13. Lannert, John, An Irish Tradition For 29 Years, The Chieftains Have Been Entertaining Audiences And Attracting The Admiration Of Fellow Performers, Sun-Sentinel, 6 March 1992. URL accessed on 27 February 2011.
  14. Queen Elizabeth IIs historic visit a century in the making. Retrieved on 2013-02-14.

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