Paddy Moloney's Dublin

INTERVIEW BETWEEN DAVID MCGONIGAL & SAM PHILLIPS

As the chief of the traditional band the Chieftains, Paddy Moloney has done much to spread Irish culture around the world. The collabarative album with Van Morrison entitled "Irish Heartbeat", an appearance on Mick Jagger's solo album and two records with James Galway brought his efforts to a rapidly growing audience. A measure of Paddy's infectious enthusiasm is the fact that, after touring with the Chieftains, Van Morrison switched from ignoring his audiences to singing among them. The softly-spoken Maloney shows similar passion when discussing his native city, Dublin, and its venerable history. When recent convert David McGonigal met up with Paddy Maloney in Dublin several years ago he was surprised to learn that the Chieftains had released 23 albums - the most recent then had been recorded with James Galway in Australia. McGonigal asked Paddy Maloney what was the largest audience the Chieftains had played before. The answer was a mass gathering of more than a million! But, with characteristic modesty, Moloney added "That was when we appeared with the Pope when he came to Dublin. But it was really the Pope's gig - we were just the opening act."

I'm an out and out Dubliner, born on the north side. That's presently the unfashionable part of town. But it wasn't always that way: our home was only 200 yards away from where Brian Boru, the high king of Ireland, was supposedly killed in the battle of Clontarf in 1014. Still, we beat the hell out of the Danes in the fight, and that's possibly the only battle we ever won.

For all the Irish our history has a huge bearing on our words and habits and lives. In my family the link with the past is closer than most. I'm tied to my Irish roots through my music and I tried to see that my kids were interested in their heritage, too. My eldest son recently took his doctorate in the archeology of Ireland and my daughter is an actress. The theatre is an important Irish culture tradition stretching back to J. M. Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and beyond.

My youngest son is the only one following a musical career: he is a classical pianist which is great training no matter what type of music he pursues. Like most traditional musicians I picked up music by listening and playing by ear - so I know too well the advantages that formal music training provides.

Even as a local I recognise that a visitor's first view of Dublin is unlikely to impress. It's certainly not New York or London - or even Sydney, although Dublin has much in common with Sydney. To understand Dublin you have to weasel your way into the heart of the city by going to the pubs and restaurants and seeing the theatre which is brilliant. Dublin has a buzz to it that is much more than the mere bustle of its people. You can smell the history here and the scars of the 1916 rebellion against the British rule are still visible on many public buildings like the GPO and the Four Courts.

When I was in Australia, a similarity that struck me about the two countries is the strong impression the rest of the world has of us as just good times and lots of drinking. Ireland is seen as a place to come for a holiday - overlooking the concept of the Irish at work. But there has been a lot of genius to come out of Dublin over the years and that's not achieved without effort. We just don't publicise it. Rather, like Australians, we pride ourselves on our laid-back image.

I love Australia and really enjoyed working there. Once, we ended up in Studio 301 in Sydney recording with most of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. I'd like to return there for a future album - they were smashing people to work with and I think the results are great.

Dublin is a city that still has a sense of community - people will say take time out to help you if you're lost or in trouble, or, if it's not too busy or crowded, passers by in O'Connell Street will just say hello. Or you'll be offered a stool in a bar. Unfortunately this easygoing attitude doesn't include me these days. I'm a bit too well recognised to walk around the streets: everyone wants to stop for a talk and tell their life stories. So I have a house out in Glendalough, about 45 minutes away from the centre of the city in a tranquil little valley. It's a very historic place: it was the home of St Kevin and in the eighth century when Dublin and London were mud huts Glendalough was the most important settlement in Europe and children from all over Europe were sent to its monastery to be educated.

When I'm showing people around Dublin I give them a choice of viewing the city's great collection of ancient Irish silver or a tour of the royal pubs of the city. So far, they have all opt for the pubs, thank god. So we start in Ryans of Park Gate Street up by Phoenix Park then down to the Brazen Head in Wine Tavern Street that is one of the oldest taverns in Europe. From here we move to Mulligan's of Poolbeg Street by the Liffey and onto the Stag's Head on Dame Court and for traditional music you can't go past O'Donoghues. When Bob Hawke came to Dublin he visited Kitty O'Shea's and that's where I took Ted Kennedy when he was in town.

My association with the Kennedys goes back a few years now. I go to Cape Cod for holidays and I met Ted at a session in a bar there one night. He invited me back to meet his mother, Rose. The invitation was meant to be for afternoon tea only but soon after I arrived Rose brought out a set of Irish pipes (which is my instrument) that her husband had brought back from a visit to Ireland years ago. Soon we were all around the piano and the champagne and vodka and tonics was flowing. This was a few years ago and even though Rose was 91 at the time she still played "Sweet Adeline" on the piano while I accompanied her on tin whistle.

Of course, the Kennedys have an Irish link - the family came from Dunganstown. There has been so much migration from Ireland that it seems as if we have connections all over the world. And before they came to Ireland and up the Liffey River to settle Dublin, the Celts left enclaves in Brittany and northern Spain. In our music we like to explore these cultural links. We've done a Breton album called "Celtic Wedding" and the one with James is entitled "Over the Sea to Skye" because of its Scottish theme - after all, Scotland is only 14 miles away from Ireland at the closest points. And although we've recorded some Cornish and Manx music we haven't done much Welsh yet - it tends to be choral music that isn't our area.

But the Irish connection goes further than the obvious patterns of immigration and emigration. The city of Valparaiso in South America is a straight Gaellic word and one of their voodoo gods, Dombala, is St Patrick - they even depict him with his foot on a snake. This came about through Irish migration centuries ago. Ireland is such a cultural stronghold with a very solid continuing tradition and it's quickly spreading again. We have people coming here from all over the world to learn the Irish language that is a beautiful language - and more like music than it is like English. Ironically, this upsurge in interest in the Irish language took place at the same time as the authorities decided it was no longer a compulsory school subject.

The renewed interest in Irish culture has certainly been good for the Chieftains. When we made our first record in the mid 1960's it was meant to be a one-off. We took our name from the old chiefs of Ireland - the Irish Prime Minister is still known as the Taoisearch and that's the Gaelic word meaning "chief". But we stayed together because people like the Rolling Stones and Peter O'Toole heard of us and we were asked to perform at lots of festivals and the like. Then when the group Fairport Convention made jigs popular, the Irish crowds discovered what they had on their own doorstep and we continued to play to ever-growing crowds.

Our music was not always as well regarded as it is today. Before I became a full time musician I used to be an accountant and there was one character in the office who always gave me a slagging with "diddly eye, diddly eye" and the like. But times have changed. These days I get calls from him saying "Paddy, I hear you're going to Canada for a concert. My brother and his family are in Toronto. Can I get tickets for them?"

The appeal of Irish traditional music is certainly spreading and the sales of our records show it's a worldwide trend. We have worked on several overseas films including the score for the Canadian film "The Grey Fox". And we won an Oscar for "Barry Lyndon", I wrote the music for Richard Burton's "Tristam and Isolde" and not long ago completed a beautiful National Geographic film called "Ballad of the Irish Horse". More recently, we finished a remake of "Treasure Island" with Charlton Heston and Oliver Reed. On that soundtrack we use all sorts of instruments including African drums and a didgeridoo that sounds great and fits in very well. Yet, at the same time, Derek Bell who is classically trained and our resident musical genius plays a form of dulcimer mentioned in the Book of Leinster that was written in the fourth century.

Derek is our Belfast connection but we seem to be infested by Belfast musicians lately: both James Galway and Van Morrison are from Belfast, too. Working with Van was certainly an experience - he has very strong ideas on what he wants but he was prepared to let me look after the musical "shape" as he called it. The end result was largely improvised and not without difficulties but there's no denying that he's a genius the way he sings. He found it was a learning experience too and coming back to his musical origins has changed his approach to recording and performing. He was here in June and we discussed making another record together.

The Chieftains are travelling about seven months of the year. After being on the road for long periods, it's great to get back to Dublin. My daughter has just spent a year in London and said that she didn't realise how much she loved Dublin until she went away. Sometimes when it's all going crazy I have the fleeting thought that it would be nice to take a breather at home - sit down with a lump of brown bread, some butter and cheese and look at the view. But you have to keep going and I still love the music.

The little things about Dublin can provide the strongest memories when you are away - like the smell of hops along the Liffey from the Guinness brewery. As a city, we learnt the lesson late that you have to battle to keep your buildings alive. There were terrible things done in the past and the speculators are still around, ready to put up those glass towers I hate. A lot of our Georgian tradition was destroyed in the fifties and sixties but now there are people of integrity who are defending what we have left.

Recently Dublin Corporation wanted to pull down the whole Temple Bar area to put up a big bus garage. But that place is alive with little shops and crowded with young people and there was a great outcry. Fortunately the authorities came to their senses and are now proceeding to renovate the buildings that are already there.

It's impossible for a visitor to get a feeling for Dublin without exploring some of its churches - they aren't hard to find as the place is overrun with them. Each has a different character and some of the architecture is unique. Religion is a big part of Ireland's tradition and is still very important. In the sixties and seventies interest in religion declined among young people but it's currently making a big comeback, especially in colleges.    

On the other hand, there is no denying that the bitterness in the north exists but fortunately it doesn't affect the arts. We play in Belfast a lot and many of our songs have elements of both the orange and the green. Both communities come to our concerts and love what we do.

In the forties there was a fear that traditional Irish music was dying out. In fact it remained kindling in houses and little communities around the country. For example, there were five pipers in my neighbourhood and they used to meet in each other's houses, not the pubs. People think that you have to go to the pubs to find the real music because it was the pubs that kept it alive in the past. That's not so: it was meeting in homes and swapping tunes.

Hospitality remains a vital part of the Irish character. Every New Year we have a party at my house just outside Dublin. One year we expected about 40 and about 80 turned up. A lot of the Guinness family was there and Angelica Huston was singing songs at one point of the proceedings. The champagne was running low as the night progressed and my wife finally came to the last bottle in the house. She was just pouring it when a character in dark glasses walked in. Taking him to be one of the chaffeurs who had decided to come inside, she introduced herself and poured him a drink. He told her his name was Jack. It was only an hour later she discovered that our new guest was Jack Nicholson. Like most of them, he ended up staying for dawn and some breakfast.

I think this story is typical of Ireland in general and Dublin in particular: sooner or later everyone arrives here and chances are someone will immediately offer them a drink.

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David McGonigal © David McGonigal Pty Ltd