Chieftain-in-chief Paddy Moloney founded Ireland’s spectacularly successful traditional music group fifty-seven years ago and the sprightly eighty-year-old is as enthusiastic about his music now as he was back when it all first started, he tells Kay Doyle.
On a quiet afternoon in the early 1940s, a six-year-old boy strolled into Bolger’s music shop on Dublin’s Chatham Street holding his mother’s hand. He picked out a little plastic tin whistle for himself, and she bought it for the princely sum of one shilling and nine pence. Neither of them could have known on that fateful day that this youngster would go on to be one of Ireland’s greatest whistle players, a master of many musical instruments, a gifted composer and the founder of one of the world’s most loved traditional music groups.
Paddy Moloney is wearing his trademark smile and is as happy as the spring day that’s in the air, as he remembers how music filled his childhood. Growing up in Donnycarney, north Dublin, he was surrounded by a hive of music. Having mastered the tin whistle at eight, he progressed to the uilleann pipes under the tutelage of the great pipe master, Leo Rowsome, who luckily lived just up the road.
“There were five pipers around the Donnycarney area at the time including Peadar Flynn and Dan O’Dowd. I’d go around the cul de sac playing like the pied piper and my pals would be following behind me,” he laughs.
Paddy’s father, John, was an army man before becoming a clerksman in Donnycarney Church. Married to Catherine (nee Conroy), they had four children, three girls and a boy.
“It was an extremely happy childhood. Actually, to me it was a kingdom. I went to Scoil Mhuire Marino and there was a Christian Brother, McCaffrey, there who encouraged the music in me a lot. That class, incidentally, had John Sheahan of The Dubliners in it too!
“I loved the hour of music every day in school. The tonic sol-fa was the scales system I used, same as the Chinese. I’d often get up and conduct the school band and because I knew the tonic sol-fa Brother McCaffery would always have me up demonstrating on the days the school inspector came in. I think it’s because he didn’t know how to do it himself!”
If his Dublin musical influences weren’t strong enough, Paddy’s rural roots surely set in stone the path this young boy would take. His grandfather was from Ballyfin in Co. Laois, and played the flute. He remembers it like it were yesterday; those six weeks he’d spend there every summer with all his aunts, uncles and his mother, playing the accordion, singing songs and telling stories.
“At home my mother would allow me to play the wind-up gramophone and I’d put on old records of céilí bands and Count John McCormack especially if I had a day off school – which I would try to manufacture as best I could. I’d come down and put on all my records, delighted with myself,” he laughs with that schoolboy charm still evident.
Around the age of ten, Paddy attended the School of Music in Chatham Street every Friday for his half-hour lesson with Leo Rowsome.
“At the annual school concert I’d always play O’Carolan’s Concerto. One year at the Feis Átha Cliath there were about 16 pipers against me, all older than me, but I won. I can still see Leo carrying me down the middle of the Round Room in the Mansion House when I got that first medal. It was so special.”
Paddy praises the encouragement of his family, teachers and other musicians for carrying him on his musical journey. But it was his own unique style of piping that he developed that would propel him to a world audience.