Martin Fay, Irish violinist with the Chieftains

The Chieftains in 1996 featured (from left) Matt Molloy, Derek Bell, Kevin Conneff, Paddy Moloney, Sean Keane, and Martin Fay. Moloney and Fay were original members.

Associated Press

The Chieftains in 1996 featured (from left) Matt Molloy, Derek Bell, Kevin Conneff, Paddy Moloney, Sean Keane, and Martin Fay. Moloney and Fay were original members.

NEW YORK — Martin Fay, a classically trained violinist who helped revive traditional Irish music as a founding member of the Chieftains, died Wednesday in Dublin.

He was 76.


His son, Fergal, confirmed the death.

The Chieftains formed in 1962 as pacesetters of a new movement to reclaim the pure musical traditions of Ireland from the relatively slick commercial-sounding groups that had come to dominate the folk stage.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Mr. Fay played haunting fiddle lines and contributed popping rhythms by knocking together a pair of bones, a time-honored Celtic instrument. His fiddle is the first sound heard in the Chieftains’ music for Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film, ‘‘Barry Lyndon,’’ a performance that helped propel the group to world recognition.

In 1989 the Chieftains were appointed official musical ambassadors for the Republic of Ireland, a role they fulfilled by performing with the Rolling Stones, the Boston Pops, Willie Nelson, and Luciano Pavarotti. They entertained Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Ireland in 2011. They played before the pope and on the Great Wall of China.

They have made more than 40 albums and won six Grammys.


Mr. Fay was born in Dublin on Sept. 19, 1936. Inspired to take up music after seeing a film about the violinist Niccolo Paganini, he studied the violin and won a scholarship to the Municipal School of Music in Dublin.

He played in the orchestra of the Abbey Theater, Ireland’s national theater.

Increasingly fascinated by Ireland’s indigenous music, Mr. Fay was recruited by Sean O Riada, the leading figure in reviving the old music, to play in the ensemble he led, Ceoltoiri Cualann.

Paddy Moloney, who played the traditional Uilleann pipes (the Irish bagpipes) and was ­also a member of Ceoltoiri Cualann, started the Chieftains. The other original members, besides Mr. Fay, were Michael Tubridy on wooden flute, Sean Potts on tin whistle, and David Fallon on the bodhran, a kind of drum.

Mr. Fay stopped touring in 2001 and retired the next year. Moloney is the only original Chieftain still playing with the group. (Tubridy and Potts left in 1979, Fallon in 1965.) The other current members, now a quartet, are the fiddle player Sean Keane, the vocalist and bodhran player Kevin Conneff, and the flutist Matt Molloy.

In addition to his son, Mr. Fay leaves his wife, Grainne, known as Gertie; his daughter, Dearbhla Fay; a sister; and a grandson.

Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.
We hope you've enjoyed your free articles.
Continue reading by subscribing to for just 99¢.
 Already a member? Log in Home
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of
Marketing image of