Ómós: Martin Mulhaire

Martin Mulhaire

Renowned composer and musician, Martin Mulhaire, died in New York on September 12.

Born in Eyrecourt in East Galway in December, 1936, Martin Mulhaire was the son of Thomas and Theresa and brother of Brendan, Moira and Sheila. His family was immersed in traditional music. His father played the button accordion, piano accordion, fiddle, flute and whistle while his younger brother, Brendan, was also an acclaimed accordion player. 

Martin began playing the accordion at 12 and won the All-Ireland title at 17.  Around this time, he began composing tunes in the traditional style – many of which have entered the canon and are now performed and recorded throughout the world including The Golden Keyboard and Carmel Mahoney Mulhaire’s. 

Martin made a number of records for Gael-Linn as well as broadcasting with Radio Éireann. He was also a member of both the Aughrim Slopes and Killimor Ceili bands. In 1957 he was asked by Paddy Canney and P.J. Hayes to join the Tulla Céili Band for a tour of England. Later that year, they won the All Ireland Céili Band Competition in Dungarven, Co Waterford. The band’s trip to New York for St Patrick’s Day in 1958 proved to be a turning point for Martin. After a concert in Carnegie Hall and the released of the album, Echoes of Erin, Martin and his wife, Carmel, decided to remain in the USA while the band returned to Ireland. 

Settling in New York where he worked as a carpenter, Martin became an integral part of the New York Irish-American music scene for over fifty years. He learned to play the guitar as a hobby and for the next 20 years played lead guitar and accordion in one of the top New York show bands, the Majestic, which he co-founded in 1963 with Mattie Connolly.  Martin also played in house sessions at the homes of Louie Quinn and John O’Neill.

The 1980s brought about a resurgence in traditional Irish music with two of Martin’s daughters, Laura (piano) and Sheila (flute), now playing music with him at Conway’s traditional house sessions. They also accompanied him on the album, Fathers and Daughters, produced by Mick Maloney on the Shanachie label.

In 1993 Martin released the acclaimed album, Warming Up, with fiddler, Séamus Connelly, on Green Linnet records, with support from Jack Coen on flute and Felix Dolan on piano. The album features seven of Martin’s own compositions.

In 1995 Martin was inducted into the Comhaltas Music Hall of Fame in New York – to mark around forty years’ association with CCÉ since he co-founded a branch in East Galway with his father. He was honoured by Boston College for his musical influence in 2002 and recognised by the Galway Association in New York in 2006 for his lifelong contribution to Irish traditional music. In 2009, Martin was honoured by his local Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens and in 2010 by the Catskills Irish Arts Festival.

Among the many tributes paid to Martin Mulhaire was this from Joanie Madden who described him as a giant in the Irish music community in New York:

“Martin was just so loved by all who had the chance to meet him. He was a soft spoken man with a quiet unassuming demeanor. He was so encouraging to all the younger generation and held a massive musical presence in the tri-state area. In my opinion… Martin was one of the greatest composers in the history of Irish music.”

Describing Martin as his dear friend and mentor, piper Jerry O’Sullivan said: “It was an honor and blessing to know such an upstanding gentleman and brilliant musician/composer.”

Martin is survived by his widow, Carmel, his five children, Brendan, Theresa, Joan, Laura and Sheila, as well as thirteen grandchildren.

His funeral mass was celebrated at 10:30am (EDT)/3.30pm (IST) on Wednesday, September 16 at St. Aedan’s Church, Pearl River, New York.

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