Tony MacMahon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Tony MacMahon ( Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland, 1939) is an Irish button accordion player and radio and television broadcaster.

Tony MacMahon with his accordion

Tony MacMahon's chief early inspiration, accordionist Joe Cooley, was a frequent caller at the MacMahon home from 1949 until 1954, when Cooley emigrated to the USA. MacMahon has described the memory of Cooley's music as being "embedded in his DNA.".[1] Other influences from the locality were piper Willie Clancy and fiddler Bobby Casey.

In 1957 MacMahon moved to Dublin to train as a teacher, where he came into contact with accordionist Sonny Brogan and fiddler John Kelly. Travelling in North America in 1964, in both New York and Dublin, he shared a flat with piper and singer Seamus Ennis, whom he credits as an important influence on his playing of slow airs.[2]

“There is a big difference between playing notes and playing music, millions of people play instrument and make the same sound like a cat that presses its paw against a note in a piano but only the person who feels for music and has a high understanding can play soulfully.”[3]
— Tony MacMahon on Music, Interview during his stay at Madurai

MacMahon plays the accordion in the "press-and-draw" style of his mentor Joe Cooley. He is regarded as an exceptionally powerful performer, particularly of slow airs, and has been described as an "iconic figure in traditional music circles".[4] His own attitude to his music, and his chosen instrument,[5] can be ambivalent, however: "I wouldn’t regard my own music either as traditional or indeed anything to write home about. [...] For longer than I care to remember, I have hacked my way through tunes of beauty and tenderness on stage."[6]

In 1974 he was a founder member of the band Seachtair, which later became The Bothy Band.

MacMahon enjoyed a long career with RTÉ, first as a presenter of traditional-music TV programmes, then as a radio producer (he initiated the long-running programme The Long Note), and returning to television with The Pure Drop and Come West Along the Road. The Green Linnet was a 1979 television series documenting MacMahon's travels through Western Europe with banjoist Barney McKenna in a green Citroën 2CV van (nicknamed The Green Linnet).[7] MacMahon retired from RTÉ in 1998.

MacMahon has frequently voiced strong criticism of modern trends in the performance of Irish traditional music, and of growing commercialism in particular.[8] His address to the 1996 Crossroads Conference provides a summary of his views.[9]

In 2014 MacMahon announced that he was unable to continue public performances as a result of Parkinson's disease.[10] However, in a November 2015 interview on RTÉ radio, MacMahon stated that after further tests, the diagnosis of Parkinson's had been found to be incorrect.[11]


  • Traditional Irish Accordion. 1972 - CD re-release 2005.
  • I gCnoc na Grai (In Knocknagree) (with Noel Hill, concertina). 1985 - CD re-release 1992.
  • Aislingí Ceoil (Music Of Dreams) (with Noel Hill, concertina, and Iarla Ó Lionáird, voice). 1993.
  • MacMahon from Clare. 2001.
  • Scaoil Amach an Pocaide - Live in Spiddal (with Steve Cooney, guitar). 2014.
  • Farewell to Music. 2016.


  1. ^ "The Beat of a Big Heart". The Journal of Music. 1 August 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Master". The Journal of Music. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "MacMahon's Ghosts". The Journal of Music. 1 November 2005. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "Player on the Black Keys". The Journal of Music. 1 January 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "The Beat of a Big Heart". The Journal of Music. 1 August 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  7. ^ "RTÉ Player - Catch up with your favourite TV programmes online". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "Editorial: MacMahon from Clare". The Journal of Music. 1 January 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Language of Passion". Tony MacMahon. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  10. ^ "Kitchen Concerts". Tony MacMahon. 2014. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  11. ^ "RTÉ - Liveline". RTÉ. 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2015. 

The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, ed. Fintan Vallely, New York University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8147-8802-5.

External links[edit]