The death has occurred of a much loved Irish traditional musician Tommy McCarthy, Uilleann piper, concertina, whistle and fiddler - he died around midnight on 23/24th of September while on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with his wife, Kathleen. He had been suffering with cancer for some time.
Tommy was born in 1929, in Shyan, ('home of the fairies') near Kilmihil in West Clare. His aunt played fiddle, his mother concertina, and sets were danced in their house. He took interest in the music at the age of 9 after hearing flute player Miko Dick Murphy with the Wrenboys on St Stephen's day. He learned fiddle from Malachy Marrinan, picked up tunes from local blacksmith and concertina player Solas Lillis, and by the age of fourteen he was visiting Elizabeth Crotty's in Kilrush. He played at farmhouse dances, 'wrens' and exile wakes, where rhythm and swing were critical to the sets danced. He learned much of his music from his neighbour Mick 'Stack' Ryan who taught Tommy to play the concertina. Michael Downes, Junior Crehan and Bobby Casey were some of the musicians he played with in Clare. Staying in Dublin once weekly introduced him to John Kelly, through whom he was directed to the legendary piper and maker, Leo Rowsome, to purchase his first set of uilleann pipes and received his first lessons in 1950.
In 1952, Tommy and his wife, the dancer Kathleen Connaughton, emigrated to London where he worked as a carpenter. He soon joined the great musical melting pot which was London at that time, playing with musicians from every corner of Ireland. To mention but a few; pipers Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy and Michael Falsy, fluteplayers, Roger Sherlock and Paddy Taylor, accordionists, Raymond Roland and John Bowe, and fiddlers Martin Byrnes, and Bobby Casey, with whom Tommy built up a great friendship - during the 60s and 70s they were inseparable.
Tommy joined NPU (Na Piobairi Uilleann) in 1968, co-founded the London Pipers Club in 1980 (still thriving), played on CCE's (Comhaltas) first American tour in 1972 with Paddy Glackin, Seamus Connolly and Joe Burke. He also loved playing in folk clubs and he was much loved on the British folk club scene where he played many times with his family or with Bobby Casey, charming audiences with his gentle humour and understated presentation.
Tommy remained in London for nearly 40 years and greatly enriched the lives of the Irish community during that time, not only with his music, but his gentle personality and humanity. During that time Tommy and his wife Kathleen from (of Glenamaddy, Co Galway), passed on their musical talents to their entire family; their three daughters, Jacqueline, (concertina), Bernadette, (fiddle/piano), Marion, (whistle/uilleann pipes) - all of whom married musicians and have moved back to Ireland to live. Tommy jnr (fiddle) has become the owner of a very successful music bar in Boston.
Tommy and Kathleen moved back to join their daughters in 1991, settling in the West Clare town of Miltown Malbay, birthplace of the great piper, Willie Clancy. Tommy taught concertina at the annual Willie Clancy Summer School and regularly performed with the family at the concerts held there. One year Tommy played in three specialised music recitals at the school, playing Uilleann pipes, concertina and tin whistle. I [Alan] was fortunate to be at the last piping recital Tommy gave in Miltown - it will stay in the memory for a long time.
Tommy McCarthy's music has embraced diverse challenges, such as playing in the film score for Young Guns, with Jacqueline in Three Wishes for Jamie, with all of the children with The Chieftains. His music took him to many parts of the world, touring with CCE, the Ballet Rambert and the National Theatre. He regularly visited the USA, and also performed in Brittany, Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Australia. Tommy himself made a solo album, Sporting Nell, in 1997.
They say a man is measured by what he leaves behind him - in