MacMahon, Tony, 1939-2021

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MacMahon, Tony, 1939-2021

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MacMahon, Tony. (1939– 2021). Accordion player, television producer, commentator; born at the Turnpike, Ennis, Co. Clare. His father P.J. was a builder, of Irish-speaking parents from Kilmaley. His mother Kitty (née Murphy), from Connolly, was a first cousin to concertina player Paddy Murphy and a neighbour of fiddler Hughdie Mac Mathúna, Ciarán 420 Doohan. Hugely influenced by Joe Cooley (who was a regular visitor to the family home) from age ten, it was ‘the master’ who gave him his first accordion (a small piano model), and later piper Seán Reid provided a button instrument. His brothers Brendan and Christy played accordion too, and sister Ita (mother of Mary and Andrew McNamara) danced. Training as a teacher in Dublin from 1957 introduced him to Sonny Brogan, Bill Harte, John Kelly and Breandán Breathnach. Sharing Séamus Ennis’s apartment in Bleecker Street, New York in 1963, he was coached by him in air-playing. He played sessions at O’Donoghue’s in Merrion Row, met Seán Ó Riada and singers from Coolea at An tOireachtas in the RDS, and played for the BBC sound recording of The Playboy of the Western World. In 1966 MacMahon played with Bobby Casey, recording with him and others on the Topic record Paddy in the Smoke. Busking in France and Morocco led him back to Dublin where he ran a weekly session of traditional music and poetry at Slattery’s of Capel Street in aid of the ANC. From 1969 he was a freelance TV presenter with RTÉ for traditional music programmes Aisling Geal, then Ag Déanamh Ceoil; in 1974 he joined the RTÉ staff as radio producer, and initiated The Long Note.
values. An exceptional performer on accordion – particularly in his interpretation of airs – he nevertheless considers that instrument inappropriate to the ethos of traditional music, is unimpressed by modern trends in traditional music, and strongly believes that the art of the older traditional musicians is dying. This is refl ected in the choice of musicians for his later television series The Pure Drop. The flashback series Come West along the Road, drawing on television archive material, is his most recent traditional music media work. His earlier presentation of music and his later production complemented an intense rigour in music expression and a personality which created and maintained an active consciousness of the artistic understatement involved in traditional music. His work demonstrated this, and his articulate intelligence was a vital sound-post through the fi nal three decades of the twentieth century. music. MacMahon’s first solo recording was, in the manner of the times, self-titled: Tony MacMahon (1972), reissued two decades after as Traditional Irish Accordion. He played on Cry of the Mountain (1981) with Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, and with concertina player Noel Hill on I gCnoc na Graí (1985), an outstanding production of thrillingly interwoven, balanced music, social dance, rural artistic ethos and technology that stands timelessly as universally appreciable collaborative art. Also with Hill is Aislingí Ceoil (1993), with singer Iarla Ó Lionaird. MacMahon recorded with the Boys of the Lough on Good Friends (1978) and his 2001 solo MacMahon from Clare brings production skills to the fore again as a quite dramatic reworking of solid old tunes. His retirement from RTÉ in 1998 marked only a transfer to reflective performance. His music-making has involved work of varying intensity with poetry, prose and music integrating the past with the present: The Well, a theatrical/ music production, experiment and performance with Kronos, 2009 visual work with Dermot Bolger – all challenging, inventive productions with spoken word and authoritative musicianship. In 2004 he was given TG4’s Gradam Saoil for his contribution as a broadcaster and a musician.


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