The Chieftains, Ambassadors of Celtic Folk In 1962, Dubliner Paddy Moloney put together a band to play traditional Irish music, and to celebrate his homeland's folk culture. More than 40 years later, The Chieftains are going strong.
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The Chieftains, Ambassadors of Celtic Folk

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The Chieftains, Ambassadors of Celtic Folk

The Chieftains, Ambassadors of Celtic Folk

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(Soundbite of music)


From NPR News in Washington, DC, I'm Neal Conan, and this is TALK OF THE NATION. In 1962, Dubliner Paddy Moloney put together a band.

Mr. PADDY MOLONEY (Musician, The Chieftains): I always felt that was something needed to be done for the music itself, traditional Irish music, and it is great folk art of ours. So I set out to spread the gospel around the world and took off and put together the Chieftains, and we pulled up the stakes and out we went. Haven't looked back since.

CONAN: After more than 40 years, 30 albums, half a dozen Grammy awards and collaborations with everybody from Ziggy Marley to the Rolling Stones, the Chieftains join us in studio 4A to play some tunes and take your calls about their art and about the importance of keeping traditional music alive. The Chieftains are the TALK OF THE NATION after the news.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, today, in NPR studio 4A in Washington.

(Soundbite of audience applause)

Since 1962 the Chieftains have fiddled and whistled and piped and danced their way around the globe. When they started, traditional Irish music was obscure and endangered. Through cycles of greater and lesser popularity, they and their allies have helped revive a musical art form that's recognized as an important strain of world music, a key component of much American folk music, and along the way, they've become an institution.

The Chieftains are with us today. We'll introduce everybody in a little bit. But if you have questions for members of the group about what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK, and our e-mail address is But first, we brought them here to studio 4A for a reason. Let's hear some music. The Chieftains.

(Soundbite of the Chieftains)

(Soundbite of audience applause and cheers)

The Chieftains with us here in studio 4A. Let me introduce the members of the band. They are Paddy Moloney on whistle and pipes, Sean Keane and John Pilatzke on fiddle, Kevin Conneff on the bodhran, Mike, uh, Matt Molloy, excuse me, on flute, Jeff White on guitar, and Triona Marshall on harp, and I want to remind our listeners if you'd like to join the conversation, it's 800-989-8255, 800- 989-TALK. The e-mail address is, and if those of you in the studio audience here in 4A have any questions, you just step up to the microphone at the front there and we'll get around to you, too.

Paddy Moloney, let me begin with you. You, as I understand it, found this group back in 1962.

Mr. MOLONEY: That's right, and, uh, in fact, during the '50s we were thinking about it and working around...

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

CONAN: Forty-four.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. MOLONEY: Forty-four, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)


CONAN: And how many members of this group were in that group?

Mr. MOLONEY: Not anybody. In fact, Sean came along about two or three years later, and, uh, but I'm the, sort of the survivor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: What if...

Mr. MOLONEY: Well, we have two founding members back home who decided after three or four years that they had enough of this traipsing around the world and, but Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Well, all that time traipsing around the world, as you put it, yes, you're spreading the gospel, but that's a difficult life, isn't it?

Mr. MOLONEY: Fairly tough and tough on family life, but it's a, it's like a vocation, you might say, and so we've stuck with it and, but it's been a very interesting, very interesting journey, one might say. And I think we've captured it all in, just recently, part of an Essentials it's called, Essentials album and sort of the first CD is of music, the early music, unaccompanied by other great artists, and then the second one is our collaborations with various artists, from Jimmy Galway to Sting and the Rolling Stones and so on.

CONAN: Mm hmm. We want to get as many listeners a chance to get in in this conversation as possible so why don't we begin, and we'll start with Patrick. What an unusual name for a caller on this program.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Patrick joins us from Statesville, North Carolina.

PATRICK (Caller): Hello, how are you, Paddy?

Mr. MOLONEY: How are you doin', Patrick?

PATRICK: How are you doin'? I'm from the Liberties.

Mr. MOLONEY: Oh, one of ours. Goodness

PATRICK: But I'm (unintelligible) to the North Carolinas. That wasn't on the map when I was growing up (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLONEY: Well, we have a Liberties man here, Kevin, Kevin Conneff...

PATRICK: All right.

Mr. MOLONEY: ...and Sean Potts we used to have as well and (unintelligible).

PATRICK: I remember seeing you all, I remember seeing you guys in the Chariot(ph) in Renla(ph).

Mr. MOLONEY: Oh, good lord.

PATRICK: The Chariot Hayes(ph).

Mr. MOLONEY: A few of us, yes, it was three of us at that time.

PATRICK: That's right.

Mr. MOLONEY: Three of us in that group, yeah.

PATRICK: And I met Brandon O'Duel(ph) there a little while ago. I was home in Dublin there a couple of...

Mr. MOLONEY: Yeah.

PATRICK: ...last year, and I met Brandon.

Mr. MOLONEY: Right.

PATRICK: He's (unintelligible).

Mr. MOLONEY: That's right. He's in, with the RTE Irish Radio.

PATRICK: That's right...

Mr. MOLONEY: That's nice to hear.

PATRICK: ...That's right, Brandon.

Mr. MOLONEY: Well, it's great to hear from ya.

PATRICK: Great to talk to you and the best of luck.

Mr. MOLONEY: Thank you very much, Patrick.

PATRICK: Good luck for another 40, at least.

Mr. MOLONEY: Oh, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

We're just startin', you know.

PATRICK: Just startin,' there you go. Take care.

Mr. MOLONEY: Thank you.

PATRICK: Bye bye.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Patrick. Let's try another caller, and this will be Joe, and Joe's with us from Kansas City in Missouri.


JOE (Caller): Hello, Paddy.

Mr. MOLONEY: Joe, how are you doin'?

JOE: I'm doin' very well. I've seen ya, followed you for years and years. I want to say, go raibh míle maith agat (thank you, very much).

Mr. MOLONEY: tá fáilte romhat (you're very welcome).

(Soundbite of laughter)

And, also, I, the question for you. Are you an open-fingered piper or a closed- fingered? I've never been able to tell from watching.

Mr. MOLONEY: I'm kind of a mixture and, you know, I sort of developed my own style between closed and open style. But Leo Rowsome, the king of the pipers as he was, he taught me, and he was more of an open style piper. But as years went on, I think there's a bit of closeness came into my style of piping as well.

CONAN: Now, what's the difference?

Mr. MOLONEY: Well you know if you are playing the chanter, which is the melody instrument here, the open would be...

(Soundbite of music instrument)

Mr. MOLONEY: And the closed side would...

(Soundbite of music instrument)

Mr. MOLONEY: Sort of the, pippin out the notes.

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

Mr. MOLONEY: Instead of playing them openly.

CONAN: And when you...

JOE (Caller): Very well, very well done. And also I want to tell Matt Molloy, that, Matt, you blow James Galway's doors off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOE: He tongues all his notes and you play like a piper and I can hear it in everything you do. You're brilliant all together.

Mr. MATT MOLLOY, (The Chieftains, Flute): Oh, thank you, very much for that.

JOE: Yeah, well no thank you and thank you again for all your years of brilliant work. Thank you.

Mr. MOLONEY: You're very welcome, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Joe. One of the questions, Paddy, about the pipes. We think of the pipes, everybody thinks of the big, the big Scottish bagpipes, the war pipes. Those are the Uilleann pipes.

Mr. MOLONEY: In pipes and a few hundred years old; unlike the bagpipes, which we gave to the Scotts many years ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Mm hmmm. And look and see what they did to it.

Mr. MOLONEY: ...inside joke. But these ones are a little more sophisticated. They, the chanter has two full octaves on it in comparison to, the bagpipes is compliant to the nine notes. So this allows you to play with symphony orchestras as we do on and off and with other musicians. So you have much more flexibility in pieces of music that you choose.

And, of course, the music that we play, going back hundreds of years, the reels and jigs and slowers and horn pipes and hop jigs and slides and polkas. There's a huge variety; this is one of the things, I think, about Irish music that makes it so popular, the tremendous range of variety of the pieces and themes.

That you, when we visited China for instance, I know they have 200 folk instruments over there. But a lot of their themes and songs that they sang and performed wasn't too unlike our, the story behind what we do. Maybe not the tunes, but the, you know they had events that took place and songs of love and songs of love and songs of war and misery and everything like that. It wasn't too far away from what we do ourselves.

CONAN: I've heard the Uilleann pipes described as sort of a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a whoopee cushion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLLOY: Whoopee cushion, I must remember that one. I mean I know there was a, there was a circus man said it's like an octopus, you know it's wrapped around you there.

But just to describe it to the listeners, Uilleann is the Irish, the Gaelic for elbow, elbow pipes or union pipes have often been called. You have a bellows under the right arm and you pump the wind into the bag on the left and you squeeze the bag and hopefully out she comes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're going to have to take a short break. We're here with The Chieftains live in Studio 4A.

If you'd like to join our conversation, our phone number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK, you can also send us e-mail,

I'm Neal Conan and this is TALK OF THE NATION, we'll be back after a short break and this is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION; I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're here today in Studio 4A with the Grammy award-winning group The Chieftains.

(Soundbite of applause)

Our guests are Paddy Moloney, Sean Keane, Kevin Conneff, Matt Molloy, Jeff White, Triona Marshall and John Pilatzke on fiddle.

If you have a question for us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK; the e-mail address is If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, you can also hear The Chieftains tomorrow night at the Kennedy Center here in Washington D.C.

Let's get another caller on the line and this will be, oops, that's not the right number.

This will be Craig; Craig's calling us from Waterford Connecticut.

CRAIG (Caller): Good afternoon gentlemen.

Mr. MOLONEY: Good afternoon Craig, how are you doing?

CRAIG: Very well thank you. I've enjoyed your music for years. My quick question is, I remember from the liner notes of Long Black Veil, that when The Stones showed up to play Rocky Road to Dublin with you folks, they brought a traveling bar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

I'm just curious as to how well you guys were able to hang with them or was it a case where they had trouble hanging with you?

Mr. MOLONEY: I think you nailed it there when you said hanging out with us, because we thought at one stage they weren't going to turn up. But they did come at seven o'clock in the evening. And they had their entourage and people and a bottles of whatever, whatever. We also had a, it was a big party in the studio you might say.

And Jean Butler was there; she was dancing with The Chieftains at the time. And so the party was going on. About one o'clock in the morning I was getting very nervous. Nothing was on tape because we were all just going for it and said lads, do you mind if I press the button.

And, so away they went. And so it was a great party or a great session that we had. I had to do a mechanical fade on it because I couldn't get them to stop. They just kept going and going. So and afterwards, of course we returned to the 30 Man, a pub around the corner that stayed open and had a few pints of Guinness until six in the morning. But great occasion was had by all let's put it that way.

CRAIG: Well, thank you so much for years of pleasure and I look forward to further years of pleasure.

Mr. MOLONEY: Thank you very much, Craig.

CRAIG: Take care.

CONAN: I wonder, do you get grief sometimes from other people in the traditional community, the music community, for doing things like playing with the Rolling Stones?

Mr. MOLONEY: I think that, I think after even when we'd made our first album there was a little bit of that from the purist and that. But they overcame, you know, they got over it all and began to do the same thing themselves, a lot of them.

But I think we did, we did get a lot of grief until we made that album. And when they realized, my heavens that we have Sting and we have Rye Cooter and Marianne Faithfull and Van the Man and Sinead O'Connor and people like that on this album. And that, the penny dropped and said well fair play to you lads, I think that's when it really happened, that we were totally accepted then.

CONAN: Let's talk now with Paul, Paul's calling from Denver in Colorado.

PAUL (Caller): Hello.


Mr. MOLONEY: Paul how are you doing? Good.

PAUL: I was just calling, if you guys were aware in the past 15 years or so any punk rock kind of a movement with fusing punk and Irish Folk music. There's a couple of relatively well-known bands in the punk seen like Dropkick Murphys, or the Flogging Mollys, if you guys were aware of that and kind of what you thought of it if it was...

CONAN: If you could see a couple of the hairstyles here in 4A.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLLOY: Well I don't think we'll ever get into the punk scene, but or the rap stuff either. That's a bit too much for me. I had enough of it at the Grammies this year.

But anyway, I mean it's there for somebody. A lot of people obviously love it, but I think it would be a step down the ladder for The Chieftains to go down that road and...

PAUL: Yeah.

Mr. MOLLOY: And I, you know there, we are aware of them, The Dropkick Murphys, but I only heard about them last week. But I'm sure they're great fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

But bands come and bands go but The Chieftains, we live on forever, that's my motto.

I think music tells to say in the end and you know, there's always an audience out there and during the 1970s and when they're was a decline in the folk rock scene, we seemed to be going up and getting more popular. So I think the secret is in what we actually do that people love. And we seem to be building an audience all over the world. It seems to be getting bigger.

Right now, we're trying to slow down a bit after all of these years; they're not letting us at all, you know. You know, the tours and the concerts and all that seem to be going really extremely well.

CONAN: Mm hmmm. Thanks for the call, Paul.

PAUL: You're welcome.

CONAN: How about another tune?

Mr. MOLONEY: Right. This is a piece of music called, "Caroline's Concerto," the great harper of the 17th century, Irish harper. Triona was going to get us going on this.

(Soundbite of "Caroline's Concerto")

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: The Chieftains here in studio 4A and let's get a question from the studio audience.

MARGE (Audience Member): Hi, I'm Marge from Maryland and my husband occasionally threatens to take up the Uilleann pipes, and is there, how would you get started with that. Is there such a thing as a starters set?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLONEY: (unintelligible) Yes there's the practice, the practice set, which is just the bag bellows and chanter, without the drones or regulators attached to it. And that would be my advice. In fact, start up with the practice set first.

MARGE: All right, thank you very much.

Mr. MOLONEY: You're very welcome.

CONAN: I do notice that something is missing from what you see in front of a group of musicians ordinarily, and that's the sheet music.

Mr. MOLONEY: Yeah, it's all up here. Even when we play with orchestras, we do quite a few orchestral concerts and of the music that we've done for films a lot of pieces and that.

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

Mr. MOLONEY: But the odd or the orchestras are amazed, in fact there's nothing out there, it just happens without the music.

So, I think we only refer to the music when we perhaps learning tunes at the beginning or whatever. But it's mostly, most of this tradition is passed on by ear. You know, my grandfather was a flute player and Sean's parents and Matt's of course and all that.

And so a lot of the music is picked up just by listening to tunes. Maybe Triona, of course, Triona played with the Radioland Orchestra. She was the lead harper with the orchestra. But she's now, she now got the message and she's seen the light...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLONEY: ...and she's gone on to the traditional harp and very well to, let me tell you.

CONAN: Mm hmmm. Let's get another caller on the line and this is Bill, Bill calling us from Madison in Wisconsin.

BILL (Caller): Yes, a couple of questions, the first one is it true that a bodhran player does that because he isn't capable of being trained for anything useful?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KEVIN CONNEFF (The Chieftains, Bodhran): Bodhran players come in for all the drummer jokes and Shamus Hennas, who was a great piper, once said the best way to play a bodhran was with a pen knife.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONNEFF: So yeah, we come in for a lot of sticks. I just plow on regardless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BILL: I was also wondering if it was true that the music for the American National Anthem was written by Turlough O'Carolan.

Mr. MOLLOY: No definitely I only heard that recently. I think that's another joke or something, but...

BILL: All right, thank you very much.

Mr. MOLONEY: I don't think, no, O'Carolan didn't write it, definitely not.


And who was he?

Mr. MOLONEY: The person who, oh, O'Carolan was the great harper, the blind harper of the 17th century who traveled around Ireland on a horse and he'd come and stay with you for a week or a year, depending on how you treated him, and so for the guests that might attend the--he would compose pieces of music in their honor. So there's two volumes of O'Carolan music to be had.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is William, William in Louisville, Kentucky.

WILLIAM (Caller): Hello.

Mr. MOLONEY: How are you doing William?

WILLIAM: I'm just terrific now, thanks. How are you?

Mr. MOLONEY: Oh, fair to middling, could be worse.

WILLIAM: Great. I wanted to--I've always wanted to talk to you guys and I wanted to say to Kevin that he's never known it but he was one of the people who taught be to play the bodhran.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONNEFF: It must have been by proxy, was it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAM: Yeah it was. Back in the '80s when I discovered this music and started learning to play there was no one to teach me, so I would listen to tapes and CDs and listen very, very carefully to the bodhran player and what he was doing and I would try to learn from that. So, Kevin and Ringo McDonagh, and Robin Morton all taught me how to play the bodhran.

Mr. CONNEFF: Oh, right, Ringo's a great player, yeah.

Mr. MOLONEY: Good.

CONAN: Tell us a little bit about the instrument. What makes it special?

Mr. CONNEFF: Well, there's nothing particularly special about it. It's the same instrument that's found in most cultures, in so far as it's, an animal hide stretched on a hoop, like, it's in Native American culture and most African cultures and we've come across similar instruments in China and Japan.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. CONNEFF: But just different ways of playing it. In Ireland we play it either with our hand...

(Soundbite of instrument being hit)

Mr. CONNEFF: ...or with a stick.

(Soundbite of instrument being hit)

CONAN: And double ended there.

Mr. CONNEFF: Yeah, yeah. That can be over done, but yes. And you can use the rim as well.

(Soundbite of instrument being hit)


CONAN: Thanks for the call William. Are you still playing?

WILLIAM: Yes, I am. I'll be playing tonight.

Mr. MOLONEY: Oh, good for you.

CONAN: Have a great show. Break a leg.

WILLIAM: Thank you very much.

CONAN: All right.

WILLIAM: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Here's an email question. This is from Tim in Michigan: what do the Chieftains think of Americans performing traditional Irish music? Paddy?

Mr. MOLONEY: Well, we're very impressed and perhaps one of the reasons why we're so popular, we tour here for three months every year, and it's amazing to go into a little pockets, small little towns, and discover, you know, bunches of musicians playing these instruments and we always extend an invitation to local musicians to come and join us, we've been doing this for about 30, 40 years now, to join us at the end of the concert for a little jam session. And it's been proved, I know on one occasion we got 35 musicians and the promoter nearly went mad because of the insurance situation. But they all joined us on stage and what a sound. It was fantastic.

CONAN: So you don't have to Sting or Van Morrison to join the Chieftains on stage?

Mr. MOLONEY: Oh, no, no, no. Not at all. And god only knows who turns up at our shows.

(Soundbite of laughter.

Mr. MOLONEY: I know Van came to San Francisco, or Santa Rosa, at one of the wineries, beautiful session we were playing in.

CONAN: Can't imagine why that attracted Van.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLONEY: But he telephoned and I said well listen, come up and sing a song or two. So he actually come on and sang about seven or eight songs and it was a great night needless to say. But Van, you know, his version of "Shenandoah" from 'The Long Journey Home' has to be the best version I think I've ever heard and it's always different. He puts some little twist into it every now and again. And a true Irish style, you know, traditional style and this is one of the great things about Van.

He has a new country album, has just come out incidentally so he's following us with our down the old plank road for which incidentally Jeff White from Nashville here, Jeff you might say was the sixth Chieftain and gave us tremendous assistance in discovering some of the tunes and players and putting it all together. So we always have Jeff with us as much as possible when he's not with Vince Gill or Lyle Lovett.

CONAN: We're talking today with the Chieftains. They're with us here in studio 4A. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

How about another tune?

Mr. MOLONEY: Right, ok. Well here's a polka and a little song called "Peggy Lettermore", "Peggy from Lettermore in County Galway," which Kevin will sing. But first of all the polka.

(Soundbite of Irish polka)

(Soundbite of song "Peggy Lettermore")

Mr. CONNEFF:(singing) 'S o gairm gaoirm i, is gairim i mo stor Mile ghra le m' ainm i 'si Peigin Leitir Moir. Ta Brid agam, ta Cait agam, 'si Peig an bhean is fearr Cibe fear a gheobhfas i, nach air a bheas an t-adh.'S o gairm gaoirm i, is gairim i mo stor Mile ghra le m' ainm i 'si Peigin Leitir Moir. Chuir me sceala siar aici go ceannoinn di bad mor 'Se an sceal a chuir si aniar agam go ndeanfadh leathbhad seoil.'S o gairm gaoirm i, is gairim i mo stor Mile ghra le m' ainm i 'si Peigin Leitir Moir.'S o gairm gaoirm i, is gairim i mo stor Mile ghra le m' ainm i 'si Peigin Leitir Moir.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: The Chieftains are with us this hour on TALK OF THE NATION. If you'd like to join the conversation our number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-Talk, the email address is I'm Neal Conan. We're going to have to take a short break. More with the Chieftains when we come back. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan live in Studio 4A with the Chieftains today.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Now if we continue with the Chieftains if you'd like to join the conversation, have questions for the band about their career or a career in Irish traditional music give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our email address is But right now why don't we hear some music?

Mr. MOLONEY: Right. A piece of music here, theme music from Barry Lyndon, which got us an Oscar and we now (unintelligible) "Women Of Ireland."

(Soundbite of song "Women of Ireland")

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Music from Barry Lyndon. That and the photography were the best parts of that movie, I must say.

Mr. MOLONEY: Very right, yes.

CONAN: I wonder what do you do with your Oscar? After watching the show last night, I've always wondered, do you keep it on a mantelpiece?

Mr. MOLONEY: Would you believe that somebody else grabbed it, because we weren't there, but that's how it happened.

CONAN: Somebody made off with it?

Mr. MOLONEY: Ilana Roseman(ph), the late Ilana Roseman, because he did some incidental music that was happening at the time. But we only got to hear about it after the ceremony was over. But there we are.

Finally we have our six Grammys up there and 22 nominations. And we've been nominated a few times for Oscar music, for the foreign film category, two other films that happened. But there we are. That's the story.

CONAN: Here's an email question we have. This from Conya(ph) in Kansas City, Missouri. I'm a classically trained musician, a French horn player, and I took up the whistle about 10 years ago. I'm still struggling with breaking out of the strictures of classical music to really let loose with my jigs and forget about my reels yet. What advice do you have?

Mr. MOLONEY: Well, I think, you know, once you get over the mechanics of the instrument and start to think about the music and just let it flow, you find that'll happen it out. I've experienced that before. Even when James Galloway, we did two albums with James. And when we were rehearsing and that sort of thing there was a certain amount of that attached to James' style of flute playing.

But he also, you know, overcame quite a bit of that as a classical musician. Now he's playing the tin whistle himself, of course.

CONAN: Everybody wants to get into the act.

Mr. MOLONEY: Absolutely. Yes.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the air. This is Valerie, Valerie calling from Rockford, Illinois.

VALERIE (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

Mr. MOLONEY: Yes, Valerie.

VALERIE: I wanted to say, first of all, a very heartfelt thank you to for your wonderful contribution to the world of music. I am also a classically trained musician. And I teach kids here. Actually, I work with anywhere from babies to age 14 in one capacity or another.

And I use your music all the time for instrument free-play and for circle songs, especially right now in the month of March. We'll be doing Boffyflow and Spike next week.

And I've always wondered, where does that title, Boffyflow and Spike, come from?

Mr. MOLONEY: I'm afraid you'll have to ask the man himself, Van the Man, because that was one of the tunes that Boffyflow and Spike, he came up with. I haven't a clue of where he was coming from. And it goes back a long way. Proabably Van doesn't know either.

VALERIE: All right. OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Well, have a good time with it, whatever it means.

Mr. MOLONEY: Yes. Thank you. Thank you very much.

VALERIE: We do. We do.

Mr. MOLONEY: Thank you, Valerie.

CONAN: And let's go to Patrick, another Patrick, this one calling from Sacramento, California.

Patrick, are you there? Patrick I think has left us.

Mr. MOLONEY: Gone home drunk.

CONAN: And why don't we try here. This is John. John's calling from Travers City in Michigan.

JOHN (Caller): Neal, again, thank you for taking my call. Once again, a brilliant show. Pad, if my grandfather were still alive I would immediately call him and tell him that I had just spoke with you. He thought you were brilliant. And from my grandfather, I would say to you thank you for everything that you've given.

Mr. MOLONEY: Oh, you're very welcome.

JOHN: The acts have had an incredible influence on American history. From the Civil War you can hear, I think, an influence of music coming from the south. Do you have any comment on that?

Mr. MOLONEY: Yes. Six or seven years ago I was embarking on a project and I had a lot of research done for me by some people at Trinity College who gave me my honorary doctorate. Showing off now.

But it's something that eventually I didn't get around to but maybe one of these days. I got a lot of material and a lot of the tunes and some wonderful stories. In that last film that Scorsese made on the Irish, the two, it was an amazing scene where it was one battalion of confederates, another battalion on the other side...

CONAN: Gangs of New York?

Mr. MOLONEY: Yes, Gangs of New York. That's the one. Yes. No, not Gangs of New York, sorry. It was another film on...

CONAN: Well, anyway.

Mr. MOLONEY: ...the Civil War. But they both came face to face but one had the blue flag and one had a green flag. And they just faced one another and they said, my God, how are we going to fight. And they did have to, in fact, go into battle, which is very sad.

But they're all constricted as they came through Ellis Island, a lot of them. So one bunch went one way and the other went the other way. And it's quite a touching scene. And I had the pleasure of playing some Irish music during that particular scene.

JOHN: Pad, once again, thank you for everything that you've given. And keep up the good work. Thank you.

Mr. MOLONEY: With your best. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, John. You've also done a lot of work on tracing with musicians, with collaborations, the influence of Irish music on American music.

Mr. MOLONEY: American music, as I explained about Jeff White, and Jeff came up with quite a few pieces as well. But even when I was growing up, you know, in the happy households and parties and the house and the dancing, the set dancing would be going on.

But there'd be a round of songs during the evening. And a lot of them, like John Prine who got a Grammy--I must congratulate John Prine this year. He sang a song on our The Girl I Left Behind in Tennessee. But I remember my grandmother singing that song, you know, at these little house parties and Dark as a Dungeon, Vince Gill, did Dark as a Dungeon way down in the mine and wonderful stuff.

It's too bad we don't have more time because Jeff sings an awful lot of these songs. He's brilliant.

CONAN: Well, I remember visiting Ireland many years ago and hearing music that sounded an awful lot like American country, you know, take me back to Castle Blaney.

Mr. MOLONEY: Yes. Well, that's another scene.

CONAN: Man go east, if you would.

Mr. MOLONEY: That was the old showband days. You know, and there's not an awful lot of it around, like what would you say Sean.

Mr. SEAN KEANE (Chieftains, fiddle): No comment. We've got the country and Irish music. And I leave it at that.

CONAN: We'll not ask for a translation of that. We're here today with the Chieftains in Studio 4A, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

Here's an email question we have from Ray. He's asking about Derek Bell, asking if you've, it says we miss him. Any favorite stories of Derek Bell, your former harper?

Mr. MOLONEY: Oh, yes. Oh Ding Dong Bell is sadly missed. I don't think there's a day goes past but he comes into conversation or somebody asks me questions. He's around here some place. He hasn't gone away. Once a Chieftain, always a Chieftain, dead or alive.

But Derek was a great character and there's a book to be written about that man. He was very eccentric, a brilliant musician, of course, a genius and played all four families of instruments. Even in Dr. Zhivago, you know, the...

(soundbite of humming a melody)

He was playing one of the cymbal arms on that particular film score.

But he was just a terrific character and my best friend, you know.

CONAN: I guess everybody misses him. We wanted to thank you particularly for taking time out on tour, one of your rare days off, particularly, I assume it's a rare day off in the month of March for you.

Mr. MOLONEY: It is, indeed. Yes.

CONAN: What's your relationship with the month of March? Do you love it or do you hate it?

Mr. MOLONEY: Well, we're out and about. It's a great time for concert work and we usually start up around the first week of January and end up at the end of March. But we've been away from home on Patrick's Day. I don't think I can ever remember being at home on Patrick's Day. One of these days we will get back and play because we've been asked many, many times to stay at home and play St. Patrick's Day.

But we're in Carnegie Hall for the 22nd time this year. And we have the great orchestra from the Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish, of course, and they're joining us in Carnegie Hall on St. Patrick's night. And it will be a great event.

CONAN: And tomorrow night here in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. We have four minutes left. Time enough for another tune.

Mr. MOLONEY: All right. Yes. This is a lovely tune we did with, Sting actually sang Mo Ghile Mear, my great hero, and a few reels to finish then afterwards.

CONAN: Good.

Mr. MOLONEY: All right. OK.

(Soundbite of song "Mo Ghile Mear")

'Sé mo laoch, mo Ghile Mear, 'Sé mo Chaesar, Ghile Mear, Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear. Grief and pain are all I know My heart is sore my tears will flow For she saw him go our brightly lad No word of him have we at last.'Sé mo laoch, mo Ghile Mear, 'Sé mo Chaesar, Ghile Mear, Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear. I'll sing his praise as sweet harps play And proudly toast his noble fame with spirit and with mind aflame oh wish him strength and length of days 'Sé mo laoch, mo Ghile Mear, 'Sé mo Chaesar, Ghile Mear, Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: I'd like to thank our guests, the Chieftains, Paddy Moloney, Sean Keane, John Pilatzke, Kevin Conneff, Matt Molloy, Jeff White, and Triona Marshall. Thanks to their crew, Mark Horton and Larry Walker.

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