Eddie Moloney - the 'gentleman of Irish trad'

Frankie Gavin remembers a trad great who will be celebrated with Town Hall concert

Eddie Moloney and his son Seán pictured in The cottage Bar, Salthill, in 1977.

Eddie Moloney and his son Seán pictured in The cottage Bar, Salthill, in 1977.

FRANKIE GAVIN'S first taste of performing in front of an audience was in Corrandulla Town Hall, playing tin whistle, and standing beside him was the man who saw the potential in the youngster - the fiddler and flautist Eddie Moloney.

That performance started Frankie on the road that would lead to De Dannan, working with the Rolling Stones, and his position as one of Irish trad's greatest musicians, but Frankie is in no doubt about the debt he owes to Eddie Moloney, a man he describes as "the giant at my shoulder".

Among trad musicians Eddie Moloney (1920-1980 ), originally from Ballinakill, Loughrea, and who live in Salthill from 1956, is considered to be the best traditional flute player of his time and a formidable violinist. He was also a member of the Ballinakill and Mulhairecéili céili bands, and Shaskeen.

Despite this, Eddie is also one of trad's most overlooked and underappreciated practitioners. However a serious attempt to rectify the situation will be made when a double album of music by Eddie, compiled by his son Seán, is launched at a major concert in the Town Hall Theatre this Saturday at 8pm, featuring performances by Frankie and Sean Gavin, members of Shaskeen and the Mulhaire Ceili Band, Joe Burke and Anne Conroy, Carl Hession, Donal Standun, Ballinakill's Fahy family, and the Moloney family.

"Eddie Moloney was very significant to me from an early age, he was the first big influence in my life," Frankie tells me during our Wednesday afternoon interview. "When I was about six I met him. He came out with the Mulhaire Céili Band, to play Corrandulla Town Hall. They called into my parents' pub for a pint and my mum and dad asked me to play a tune on the tin whistle for them. Eddie then asked them if I could come with him and play at the show. That was my first public performance, standing on a stool at the town hall with Eddie beside me."

Eddie would also be instrumental in the next stage of Frankie's development. "There was a pub in Forster Street called O'Reilly's," recalls Frankie. "It was the first trad music pub of sorts. How I got a job as piano player with Eddie and Vincent Keegan I will never know as I wasn't much of a piano player, I'd just vamp. I was 13/14. I'd be out playing a few nights a week. I was in The Bish with Eddie's son Seán, and I said to Seán, 'When your dad gets home leave out a tape recorder, a tin whistle, and a drop of something,' and from that he has lots of recordings of Eddie playing. We'd have great nights. Eddie would play the fiddle mostly, but also flute - I recorded a number of tunes I learned from Eddie for my flute album Up and Away. Joe Burke often came along to those sessions, it shows you the respect in which Eddie was held."

So what kind of place does Eddie hold in Irish trad? "His playing captured East Galway flute and fiddle music, as he played both and played them very well," says Frankie. "His versions of tunes were second to none. He had the best - whether they were his own, or variants of tunes, or someone else's. His timing, punctuation, and phrasing were also second to none. There was a warmth to his style that swept you into his world. Eddie was a gentleman of Irish music. He was charming as a man, and as a musician. With that combination you couldn't go wrong."

The new compilation album of Eddie's music is drawn from solo recordings for radio and TV, as well as music from the National Folklore Collection; the RTÉ, Raidio na Gaeltachta, and Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann archives; the Irish Traditional Music Archive, and from collections by Mick O'Connor and Shaskeen's Tom Cussens.

"I got goosebumps listening to it," Frankie says. "The material is beautiful, it is seriously brilliant. Eddie put a lot of thought into his playing. This is deep traditional Irish music. I think people who will hear Eddie's music for the first time will hear his significance and feel the warmth from him. The album is now a legacy we can access, a source we can draw from, and it is time to celebrate Eddie's music. I would say to younger musicians, learn how to play that style so you will have it in your system. There are a lot of trad musicians out there today performing music in non-Irish time signatures, playing tunes not in 4/4, 6/8, or 12/8 time, losing that link to what the real thing is, and the real thing is studying and listening to Eddie as a guide to deep Irish trad. If people learn from him, Irish trad is safe and sound."

Proceeds of the concert and CD launch will be directed to a cancer care charity. Tickets are available from the Town Hall through 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie

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