Moloney Collection

Mick Moloney Collection of Irish-American Music and Popular Culture (AIA 31), Part II: Field Recordings

The Mick Moloney Collection of Irish-American Music and Popular Culture is the largest collection in the Archives of Irish America at New York University and constitutes an aurally and visually rich resource for scholars and students of the Irish-American experience. Historically significant field recordings make up Part II, including hundreds of tapes (¼" and 1" open reels as well as audio cassettes) made or collected by Mick Moloney with artists and activists in the Irish traditional music world in the United States beginning in 1976. The field recordings were made in his capacity as a producer of albums of Irish traditional music; in his capacity as a folklorist; or as artistic director for International House Philadelphia and for the musical ensemble The Green Fields of America.

Part II is divided into five series:

  1. Series A: Digitized Interviews and Private Performances (including practice and recording sessions)

  2. Series B: Digitized Concert Performances, Sessions, Ceilis, and Competitions

  3. Series C: Grammy Foundation Grant-funded Gold CD Masters

  4. Series D: Original Tapes Digitized Under Grammy Foundation Grants

  5. Series E: Unprocessed Field Recordings

Under a 2007 Archiving & Preservation Grant from the Grammy Foundation, New York University’s Division of Libraries digitally preserved 113 hours of these field recordings, made primarily in the 1970s and early 1980s [digital IDs aiamm1 through aiamm170]. A second grant in 2008 enabled the digital preservation of an additional 139 hours through the early 1990s [digital IDs aiamm171 through aiamm345]. Altogether, the Grammy Foundation has helped preserve 252 hours of Mick Moloney’s field recordings, almost a quarter of the total that make up Part II of the Mick Moloney Collection of Irish American Music and Popular Culture. These are the only materials currently available for researchers and the following description reflects those 345 tapes in Series A and Series B.

The Moloney field recordings document the Irish-American traditional music scene between 1965 and 1997 (bulk dates 1976–1991) in breadth as well as some measure of depth, capturing the transition of an artistic subculture on the cusp of international acclaim, i.e. before the enormous popularity of Riverdance.(1) Instrumental virtuosi can be heard in a variety of settings, ranging from live concert performances to home seisiúns, including a significant number of women musicians. In addition, Mick Moloney’s own career is reflected through this audio record. In all, there are 127 people represented in these digitized field recordings, including 58 interviews with individuals.

Publicity photo, Liz Carroll, Irish Echo Photograph Collection (AIA45), Archives of Irish America, New York University. Photo by Jim Purdum. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Publicity photo, Liz Carroll, Irish Echo Photograph Collection (AIA45), Archives of Irish America, New York University. Photo by Jim Purdum. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Series A: Interviews & Private Performances (including practice & recording sessions), 1973–1991

The digitized field recordings in Series A include recording veterans or instrumental virtuosi, in addition to those musicians or artists just beginning their careers. Several of these (Kevin Burke, Liz Carroll, Jack Coen, Donny Golden, Michael Flatley, Joe Heeney, Mick Moloney, Martin Mulvihill, Joe Shannon) were subsequently awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

During his earliest years in the United States (that is, 1976–1980) Mick Moloney sought out musicians in the Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Philadelphia areas. Among the first was Co. Cavan fiddler Ed Reavy (1897–1988), whose compositions pervade the twentieth century Irish traditional music repertoire, recorded in Philadelphia in 1974, 1977 and 1979. Flute player Eddie Cahill (b. 1929) was recorded on nine separate occasions in 1977 and 1978. Then one of the leading proponents of the Sligo-style of playing that had come to dominate Irish traditional music due to the influence of 78rpm recordings, Cahill (in a June 5, 1977 interview) describes his stylistic debt to John McKenna whose records he heard at home in Annagh Beg, Co. Sligo before emigrating to Philadelphia in 1950. Likewise, Moloney sought out Al Purcell, a student of the great Leo Rowsome in Dublin. In 1978 Purcell was a wooden model maker for General Motors in Detroit, who not only played and taught the uilleannn pipes but repaired and made reeds for them as well. Liz Carroll was first recorded by Moloney in 1976, just after winning the All-Ireland Senior Championship on the fiddle at age eighteen. A native of Chicago and a composer often compared with Ed Reavy, Carroll learned from older musicians like fiddler Johnny McGreevy. McGreevy (b. 1919), uilleannn piper Joe Shannon (b. 1919) and pianist Eleanor Kane Neary (b. 1915) are among the Chicago musicians Dr. Moloney frequently recorded. Neary, who played at the 1934 World’s Fair, made only one 78rpm solo recording that was commercially released; the Moloney Collection has nearly eight digitized hours of her performances.

Others recorded by Mick Moloney during this period include fiddlers Paddy Cronin and Eugene O’Donnell; flute players Mike Rafferty, Noel Rice, and Richard Hughes; uilleann pipers Tim Britton, Bill Ochs and Joe McKenna; Paddy O’Brien and Gene Kelly, accordion; concertina player Fr. Charlie Coen; and sean nós singer Paddy Tunney. Mary Cooley from Chicago was among the first women artists recorded by Mick Moloney; he documented her talent in 1978 shortly after she had won the 1977 All-Ireland Championship in Ladies Irish Singing. In 1983 he helped organize the ensemble Cherish the Ladies, represented here by recordings with sean nós singers Treasa Ui Cearuil and Bridget Fitzgerald as well as by a 1988 performance in Woodside, New York during the height of undocumented immigration from Ireland. That concert featured the young Irish American musician Joanie Madden (1983 All-Ireland gold medalist on tin whistle and flute).

Mick Moloney also made contact with American musicians who were developing interests in Irish traditional music, such as the folklorist I. Sheldon Posen and guitarist Duck Baker. Posen made a 1977 recording that was eventually included on an album Moloney produced in 1991 (The Music of Ed Reavy), while Baker recorded tunes that later appeared on his 1979 album Irish Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes and Airs.

Among the digitized interviews in Series A that are of historic importance, are composer/entertainer Shay Healy (b. 1943) who was working in Nashville in 1974; Dennis Clark (1927–1993), historian of the Irish in America, recorded in 1978 at the height of the “roots” phenomena; sean nós singer Joe Heaney (1919–1984) interviewed in 1981 and 1982 while living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn;(2) the 1977 reflections of banjo player Mike Flanagan (1898–1990) of the Flanagan Brothers, popular recording artists of the 1920s and early 1930s; Mickey Carton, Mary Carton, and Ruthie Morrissey reminiscing in 1982 about their career on the Rockaway cabaret circuit; Clare fiddler Junior Crehan and Galway accordion player Joe Burke while on tour of the United States in 1976 and 1978 respectively; “Cuz” Teehan, the Chicago accordion and concertina player, speaking in 1976 with Mick Moloney and Irish broadcaster and music collector Ciarán MacMathúna; the three founders of the Irish Musicians Association interviewed in 1977 in the cities where they each set up branches: Ed Reavy (Philadelphia), Louis Quinn (New York), and Frank Thornton (Chicago); three radio hosts, Tommy Caulfield and Will Regan (both Philadelphia) and Dorothy Hayden Cudahy (New York City); a 1977 interview with Pat Roche, founder of the Harp and Shamrock School of Traditional Dance in Chicago; and a March 1990 interview with Irish folk singer Paddy Clancy (1922–1998) when he was in Willow Grove, PA.

Some of the interviews were recorded as source material for liner notes written by Mick Moloney, particularly for Jack & Charlie Coen’s 1977 album The Branch Line (Topic), The Martin Mulvihill School (Green Linnet, 1977), Johnny Cronin and Joe Burke (Shanachie, 1977), and The Corner House by the Irish Tradition (Green Linnet, 1978).

An exception to the Irish-American focus of these field recordings is a private performance by the Co. Clare fiddler Bobby Casey (1926–2000), recorded in London by Mick Moloney in 1973. Casey was a pillar of the Irish music scene in London, to which he had emigrated in 1952.

<p>Publicity photo, Green Fields of America, Irish Echo Photograph Collection (AIA45), Archives of Irish America, New York University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.</p><p>Left to right (back): Eileen Golden, Robbie O–Connell, Mick Moloney, Jimmy Keane; (center) Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers; (front) Donny Golden</p>

Publicity photo, Green Fields of America, Irish Echo Photograph Collection (AIA45), Archives of Irish America, New York University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Left to right (back): Eileen Golden, Robbie O–Connell, Mick Moloney, Jimmy Keane; (center) Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers; (front) Donny Golden

Series B: Concert Performances, Sessions, Ceilis, and Competitions, 1965–1997

Some of the earliest recordings in Part II were made by the composer Ed Reavy (1897–1988), which include several examples of home-made 78rpm seisiún recordings transferred to tape and then circulated among musicians in the United States during the 1950s. These were later inherited by Mick Moloney as were tapes uilleann piper and radio host Thomas Standeven made of the John Vesey Trio in 1974. Vesey, (1924–1995) one of Philadelphia’s finest fiddlers in the Sligo tradition, only made private recordings between 1954 and 1974.

Informal music sessions from New York, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, and San Francisco but especially those in Mick Moloney’s homes in Philadelphia in the 1970s are included in Series B. The earliest is a 1965 home recording from the Bronx with traditional musicians Ed Reavy, Johnny Cronin, Mike Preston, Paddy Murphy, Denis Murphy, John McMahon and J. McAulliffe. There are two rare pub session recordings from early 1976: an evening at the Bunratty in the Bronx, NY with Paddy Reynolds, Andy McGann, Johnny Cronin (fiddles), Patty Moriarty (accordion) and Mick Moloney (guitar, banjo, vocals); and one with the John Glynn Branch of the Irish Musicians Association at the Breffni Inn in Queens, New York. Glynn, an accordion player, had an influential school of music in Brooklyn at the time.

Mick Moloney recorded the tradition as it was being taught as well as played. Tapes of Martin Mulvihill’s School of Irish Music in the Bronx, Father Charlie Coen’s Children’s Choir on Staten Island, and the 1978 Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Fleadh Cheoil competition at Manhattan College in the Bronx (a.k.a. New York Fleadh) are included in Series B. He seized the opportunity to document young musicians who later blossomed into traditional Irish music stars, including twelve-year-old fiddler Eileen Ivers and fifteen-year-old Seamus Egan (mandolin, flute, whistle, uilleann pipes, banjo). Ivers (now a nine time All-Ireland fiddle champion) can be heard playing in 1977 with a youth ceili band for the Green Linnet album Irish Music, the Living Tradition. Egan was recorded in 1984 playing banjo at a Philadelphia seisiun with Liz Carroll, Jimmy Keane and Mick Moloney, as well as in two pub seisiúns that same summer in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Moloney latered showcased both Ivers and Egan in his touring ensemble Mick Moloney and Friends. Likewise, a twenty-year old Michael Flatley was recorded playing the flute in Chicago in 1978; the following year he performed with Mick Moloney as part of the pioneering touring ensemble The Green Fields of America.

Concert performances in Series B include nine hours of The Green Fields of America, recorded in 1979, 1984 and 1985 in Pittsburgh, PA, Milwaukee, WI, Memphis, TN, Seattle, WA, Scottsdale, AZ, and New Orleans, LA; the first American concerts by the Irish traditional supergroups the Chieftains (1974), De Danaan (1978), and Clannad (1979); and performances at such legendary venues as the Eagle Tavern in New York City, the Cherry Tree in Philadelphia, and Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem, PA. Of particular interest is the three-hour February 1990 benefit concert for Joe Doherty, an Irish political prisoner held by American authorities while fighting extradition to the United Kingdom, which was the occasion for an historic gathering of a veritable “who’s who” of Irish traditional musicians at Symphony Space in New York City. Only excerpts from this concert were included on the 1991 Green Linnet record The Rights of Man.

Two foreign tours funded by the United States Information Agency are represented here by a September 1983 concert performance at the Hotel Ivoire, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, in Africa with Mick Moloney (banjo, guitar), Liz Carroll (fiddle), Donny and Eileen Golden (dancing); and by a May 1985 concert performance at the ruins of the Grand Hotel (Casa Grande) in Managua, Nicaragua with Susie Goff and the Green Grass Cloggers, Mick Moloney (mandolin) and Robbie O’Connell (guitar, vocals). The former was part of the Festival of Traditional American Dance; the latter part of the Festival of Mountain Music and Dance.

In 1975 Mick Moloney also began to document outdoor festivals in the United States at which Irish traditional music was featured, beginning with a concert in Philadelphia’s Lenape Park that became the genesis for the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival. He travelled to Leeds in New York’s Catskill mountains where, in 1978, he recorded Billy McComiskey (accordion), Andy McGann (fiddle), Maureen Doherty (flute) and the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, among others. By the 1980s Moloney was a regular at the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in Cleveland, OH; at the Augusta Heritage Center, in Elkins, WV; and at Milwaukee Irish Fest in Milwaukee, WI.

Of particular historic interest in Series B is Across the Western Ocean: The Story of Irish Traditional Music in America, a National Public Radio series written, hosted and produced by Mick Moloney in 1978. Its thirteen episodes are a musical snapshot of Irish America in the wake of the twelve part Roots phenomenon, aired just one year earlier: “The Star of Kilkenny”, “The Sidewalks of New York”, “The Stack of Barley”, “Twixt a Tear and a Smile”, “The Quay of Philadelphia”, “Ed Reavy’s Fancy”, “Once Around the Country”, “Chief O’Neill’s Favorite”, “The Banks of the Charles”, “Flowers of Spring”, “Did Your Mother Come From Ireland?”, and “Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part.”

Among items inherited by Mick Moloney is a recording made by Irish broadcaster Ciarán MacMathúna for his Sunday morning radio program “Mo Cheol Thú” on Radio Telefis Éireann (RTÉ) which captured a ceili led by Larry Redican at the Commodore Barry Club/Philadelphia Irish Center in the early 1970s. Three short interviews (two in the Irish language with recent immigrants from Falcarragh, Co. Donegal) conducted by MacMathúna can be found in Series B because they precede a ceili there led by fiddler Larry Redican; the one in English with Nancy McCahill concerns the creation of the Philadelphia Irish Center.

Together, Series A and Series B constitute a significant new body of primary material that documents the vibrant socio-cultural history of the Irish in twentieth century America. They are available to the public for listening on-site in NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library. An inventory is available. No reproduction is permitted.

Series C – E

The remaining series in Part II comprise originals and masters for the Grammy Foundation funded projects that were digitized and now make up Series A and Series B; as well as all unprocessed field recordings in cassette and reel formats.

To consult with the archivist about your specific Part II research needs and to make an appointment, please send an e-mail to:

  1. In 1996 Riverdance, a theatrical show featuring Irish traditional music and dance, opened on Broadway.
  2. Mick Moloney also acquired a 1979 field recording of Joe Heaney made at the Denver Folklore Center Concert Hall for the Swallow Hill Music Association.