The Chieftains

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The Chieftains
The Chieftains performing in 2008
The Chieftains performing in 2008
Background information
OriginDublin, Ireland
Years active1962–present
LabelsCladdagh, Island, RCA
MembersKevin Conneff
Matt Molloy
Past membersPaddy Moloney
Seán Potts
Michael Tubridy
David Fallon
Martin Fay
Peadar Mercier
Seán Keane
Derek Bell
Ronnie McShane

The Chieftains are a traditional Irish folk band formed in Dublin in 1962, by Paddy Moloney, Seán Potts and Michael Tubridy. Their sound, which is almost entirely instrumental and largely built around uilleann pipes, has become synonymous with traditional Irish music. They are regarded as having helped popularise Irish music around the world.[1] They have won six Grammy Awards during their career and they were given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2002 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Some music experts[2] 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 'Ireland's Musical Ambassadors' in 1989.[3]


The band's name came from the book Death of a Chieftain by Irish author John Montague.[4] Assisted early on by Garech Browne, they signed with his company Claddagh Records. They needed financial success abroad, and succeeded in this.[citation needed]



Paddy Moloney was a member of Ceoltóirí Chualann, a group of musicians who specialised in instrumentals, and sought to form a new band. Their first rehearsals were held at Moloney's house, with David Fallon and Martin Fay joining the original three. The group remained only semi-professional until the 1970s. By then, they had achieved great success in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Rise to international fame[edit]

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 Kubrick's 1975 film Barry Lyndon, which triggered their transition to the mainstream in the US.[5][6]

Successful career[edit]

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.[7] They went on to collaborate with many other well-known musicians and singers; among them Luciano Pavarotti, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Sinéad O'Connor, Roger Daltrey, and Van Morrison.[8]

50th anniversary[edit]

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 Catherine Coleman playing the flute aboard the International Space Station as it orbited the earth. The Chieftains performed at Carnegie Hall on March 17, 2012.[9]

The Irish Goodbye Tour[edit]

In February 2019, The Chieftains embarked on an extensive farewell tour entitled the "Irish Goodbye Tour", including a 2019 European leg, a 2020 Canadian leg and two 2019 and 2020 US legs.[10]

On 13 March 2020, the band announced that a few tour dates of their "Irish Goodbye Tour" had been postponed (until further notice) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[nb 1]

2021: Paddy Moloney's death[edit]

The Chieftains' co-founder and leader Paddy Moloney died suddenly on 12 October 2021,[12][13][14][15] leaving the band's future uncertain.

2022: Live in San Francisco 1973 & 1976[edit]

On 23 July 2022, in celebration of the band's 60 years, it was announced the forthcoming release on 2 September 2022 on vinyl, CD, and digital downloads of Bear's Sonic Journals: The Foxhunt, The Chieftains Live in San Francisco 1973 & 1976 featuring the Chieftains performing live in San Francisco in 1973 and 1976. The 2CD & Digital editions of the album feature the recordings of two entire shows in San Francisco: on October 1, 1973 at The Boarding House during their first tour in the U.S. (an unscheduled gig which occurred at Jerry Garcia's invitation to open for his bluegrass band, Old & In the Way) and on May 5, 1976 at The Great American Music Hall, while the vinyl release features 2 sides containing (only) the performance from October 1, 1973.[16][17]


Paddy Moloney pictured with Bob Dylan, who is a fan of the band's work

The band has 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. Their widespread work as collaborators resulted in the Irish Government awarding the group the honorary title of Ireland's Musical Ambassadors in 1989.[18]

They have performed with (in alphabetical order):[citation needed]

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. They performed with Canadian astronaut Cmdr. Chris Hadfield in Houston, Texas, on 15 February 2013. Hadfield sang and played guitar on "Moondance" from aboard the International Space Station.

Success and legacy[edit]

The band has 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.[18] 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 No. 71 in 1995. "I Know My Love" (credited to The Chieftains featuring The Corrs) reached No. 37 in 1999.[21]

Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin[22] 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.[18]

Notable performances[edit]

They played in a concert for Pope John Paul II, before an audience of more than one million people in 1979 in Phoenix Park in Dublin, to mark the Papal visit to Ireland.[18]

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.[23] 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.[18]

In 2011, they performed at a concert in Dublin attended by President Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II of Britain during her first ever official trip to the Republic of Ireland.[24]

On 14 April 2023, they reunited for one last time to play for president Joe Biden who was visiting his ancestral home of Ballina, County Mayo in a historical tour of the Island. [25]



  1. The Chieftains (1964)
  2. The Chieftains 2 (1969)
  3. The Chieftains 3 (1971)
  4. The Chieftains 4 (1973)
  5. The Chieftains 5 (1975)
  6. The Chieftains 6: Bonaparte's Retreat (1976)
  7. The Chieftains 7 (1977)
  8. The Chieftains Live! (1977, live)
  9. The Chieftains 8 (1978)
  10. The Chieftains 9: Boil the Breakfast Early (1979)
  11. The Chieftains 10: Cotton-Eyed Joe (1980)
  12. The Grey Fox (1982) (soundtrack to The Grey Fox)
  13. The Year of the French (1983, with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra)
  14. The Chieftains in China (1985)
  15. Ballad of the Irish Horse (1986)
  16. Celtic Wedding (1987)
  17. In Ireland (1987) (with James Galway)
  18. Irish Heartbeat (1988) (with Van Morrison)
  19. The Tailor of Gloucester (1988) (with Meryl Streep)
  20. A Chieftains Celebration (1989)
  21. Over the Sea To Skye: The Celtic Connection (1990) (with James Galway)
  22. The Bells of Dublin (1991)
  23. Reel Music (1991)
  24. Another Country (1992)
  25. An Irish Evening (1992, live)
  26. The Best of the Chieftains (1992, compilation)
  27. Far and Away original motion picture soundtrack (with John Williams) (1992)
  28. The Celtic Harp: A Tribute to Edward Bunting (1993) (with The Belfast Harp Orchestra)
  29. The Long Black Veil (1995)
  30. Film Cuts (1996)
  31. Santiago (1996)
  32. Long Journey Home (1998, with the Irish Film Orchestra and Elvis Costello)
  33. Fire in the Kitchen (1998, compilation)
  34. Silent Night: A Christmas in Rome (1998, live)
  35. Tears of Stone (1999)
  36. Water From the Well (2000)
  37. The Wide World Over (2002, compilation)
  38. Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions (2002)
  39. Further Down the Old Plank Road (2003)
  40. Live from Dublin: A Tribute to Derek Bell (2005, live)
  41. The Essential Chieftains (2006, compilation)
  42. San Patricio (2010) (with Ry Cooder)
  43. Voice of Ages (2012)
  44. Bear’s Sonic Journals: The Foxhunt, The Chieftains Live in San Francisco 1973 & 1976 (2022)[16][17][26]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Five shows scheduled for mid-March 2020 in the US had to be postponed due to the coronavirus situation in the US: on 13 March at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts; on 14 at the UConn Jorgensen Center in Storrs, Connecticut; on 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey; on 17 at The Town Hall in New York City; on 19 at the George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. All tickets will be honoured for the soon-to-be-rescheduled dates.[11]


  1. ^ "The Chieftains... out of this world!". 3 March 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  2. ^ "The Chieftains". Stephen D. Winick. 17 March 1975. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  3. ^ "The Chieftains". Archived from the original on 30 March 2012.
  4. ^ "Shaw Communications". Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  5. ^ Ratliff, Ben (3 February 2012). "Stones, Chieftains, Beach Boys and El Gran Combo Turn 50". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "Articles about Chieftains". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  7. ^ Michaels, Sean (22 November 2011). "Chieftains team up with Bon Iver and the Decemberists". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  8. ^ NPR Staff (14 February 2012). "The Chieftains: For 50 Years, Irish Music for the World". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  9. ^ "Chieftains Celebrating 50th Anniversary With Carnegie Hall Concert". CBS New York. 16 March 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  10. ^ "Tours". The Chieftains. 13 March 2020. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
  11. ^ "It is with great sadness that we announce the following tour dates on The Chieftains 'Irish Goodbye Tour' have been postponed until further notice". Facebook. 13 March 2020. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
  12. ^ "Chieftains founder Paddy Moloney laid to rest". The Irish World). 18 October 2021. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  13. ^ Crowley, Sinéad (12 October 2021). "Paddy Moloney, The Chieftains founder, dies aged 83". Raidió Teilifís Éireann. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  14. ^ Finn, Melanie (12 October 2021). "Ireland has lost a 'true talent and advocate for traditional music' – warm tributes for legendary musician Paddy Moloney (83)". Irish Independent. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  15. ^ Burke, Céimin (12 October 2021). "President leads tributes to 'extraordinary' Chieftains founder Paddy Moloney". The Journal. Dublin: Journal Media Ltd. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  16. ^ a b "Celebrating 60 years of The Chieftains, we are thrilled to announce the 9th Chapter of Bear's Sonic Journals: The Foxhunt, The Chieftains in San Francisco! Vinyl, CD, and digital downloads will be available everywhere on September 2..." Owsley Stanley Foundation. 22 July 2022. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  17. ^ a b "The Chieftains in San Francisco (The Boarding House, October 1, 1973 / The Great American Music Hall, May 5, 1976)". July 2022. Retrieved 24 July 2022.
  18. ^ a b c d e McCarthy, John Patrick (2006). Ireland: a reference guide from the Renaissance to the present. Infobase. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-8160-5378-0.
  19. ^ "Nolwenn Leroy to join The Chieftains in Paris!". The Chieftains. 20 June 2012. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  20. ^ Clerk, Carol (9 October 2006). Kiss My Arse: The Story of the Pogues. London: Omnibus Press.
  21. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 104. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  22. ^ Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music. Dublin: The O'Brien Press, p. 155
  23. ^ Lannert, John (6 March 1992). "An Irish Tradition For 29 Years, The Chieftains Have Been Entertaining Audiences And Attracting The Admiration of Fellow Performers". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  24. ^ "Queen Elizabeth II's historic visit a century in the making". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  25. ^ "The Chieftains to reunite one last time for Biden event on Friday in Ballina". Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  26. ^ Broerman, Michael (1 September 2022). "Ireland's The Chieftains Land on U.S. Soil in Latest 'Bear's Sonic Journals' Release". Live for Live Music. Retrieved 3 September 2022.

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