‘When Paddy died, I wanted to die too. It was the saddest day of my life’ – Rita Moloney speaks movingly about her late, great Chieftain husband

For years, when her husband was away on tour with The Chieftains, Rita Moloney had breakfast in the garden of their home in Dublin every morning. “I haven’t been able to eat out here since Paddy died,” she says, walking in the autumn sunshine of her garden in Blackrock.

hen he was home, breakfast was a ritual as much in the house as in their 60-year love affair. Whoever got up first would make a pot of green tea and bring it up to the other in bed.

But on the morning of October 11 last, Rita woke to find her husband already awake – but, strangely, not up and rattling the pots in the kitchen.
“You haven’t made the tea yet?” she asked him.

“I’m not feeling so good,” he said.

But he didn’t make a big issue of it.

Then he said: “Maybe I’ll lie on.”

That was unusual, she thought, because he never slept late in the mornings. He would always get up immediately after her. Or he’d listen to a bit of Morning Ireland at 7am on the radio then come down to her in the kitchen.

That morning he never came down. At 11am, she went up to the bedroom and found him still asleep.

“Finally – and this is going to be very sad for me to tell this,” she tells me, fighting back the tears, “he woke up.”

She sat on the bed next to him. He told her that he had a terrible pain in his back but said he didn’t want the doctor. She knew all was not well.

“I could see him deteriorating in front of my eyes. I said to him: ‘If you won’t let me get the doctor, I’ll get Aonghus.’”

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Their eldest son got there from his home in Bray in 20 minutes “having broken every red light, because he knew I wouldn’t ring him unless it was serious”.

By that stage, Paddy had gotten progressively worse.

At 1pm, Rita phoned an ambulance. “I knew that something was drastically wrong. The ambulance men worked on him. They could not figure out what was wrong with him. They kept trying to stabilise him with his blood sugars.

“When they eventually got him to Vincent’s, they did so much work on him in intensive care. Aonghus brought me home because we weren’t allowed to see him – because of Covid.”

They were told the doctors were taking Paddy for a brain scan “but weren’t holding out much hope”.

Later that night, the doctors rang her to say she had better come into the hospital, as Paddy was in a very bad way.

”When I saw him,” she says, tears welling up in her eyes, “I thought: ‘Oh my God…’

“He hated hospitals. He wouldn’t even go visit anyone in hospital. And here he was with tubes all over him,” she says, crying now.

She held his hand and said: “Paddy, can you hear me?’’

“He went like that with his thumb,” she says, describing the motion of him moving his finger slightly to indicate he understood what was being said to him.

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Rita Moloney at home with Paddy’s uilleann pipes. Picture by Steve Humphreys

“I said to the nurse and the doctors: ‘Please don’t talk about him, because he can hear you.’

“I said: ‘Paddy, I don’t like the way you are. I know you hate hospitals.’ His thumb went like that again. So whatever he had left, he heard me.

“I sat with for about an hour holding his hand, talking to him. I couldn’t get near him. I could only get his hand because of the tubes. So, then, the top doctor came in again. I said: ‘I don’t like this at all.’

“I said: ‘Paddy, can you hear me?’” He moved his thumb slightly again. ‘Paddy, I’m going to talk,’ she said, addressing him in the bed. ‘I’m going to tell them that you don’t like these tubes.’

“I didn’t say it out straight that I’m turning off the machine, but I said it to the doctor and the doctor understood. He told me that they can do that, but we’ll leave the oxygen level.

“There was no recovery,” she explains. “There was no going back, because he was practically brain dead at the time. His heart had already stopped twice, and they had revived him. I gave permission for the machines to be turned off.”

Did Paddy move his thumb again?

“Yes.”

He was giving his permission to turn off the life support machines?

“Yes. I wouldn’t have used the phrase ‘turn off the machines’, because I wouldn’t have been that blunt with him. I said to him something like: ‘Paddy, I’m going to get rid of these machines on you, because I know you don’t like it.’”

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Paddy’s remains are carried from the church after his funeral in October 2021

He died within 20 minutes, at 1.50am on October 12, 2021.

“I told him I loved him forever and was squeezing his hand. The machines were so bad that I couldn’t get near him to kiss him goodbye.

“Now, that’s the saddest day of my life,” she says, crying. “When he died, I wanted to die. I did want to die,” she says.

At the end of the garden in a small office, there are old Aer Lingus tickets to America on the floor. In the middle of the garden is a life-sized sculpture of two naked figures in a loving embrace. Is that Rita and Paddy, I ask?

“Jesus, no. That’s The Wench with the Clinch,” she laughs. “I can’t believe the mess of the garden. The foxes were in last night. The bloody feckers…”

She brings me on a guided tour of the house she lived in with Paddy since 1970.

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Some of Paddy Moloney’s tin whistles and uilleann pipes

In the music room overlooking the garden his old uilleann pipes – dozens of them – sit in open cases. It’s like he only left them there and will be coming back for them in a few minutes.

In another room there are pictures of him with Pope John Paul II, Mick Jagger, with Sting. On the opposite wall are shelves holding hundreds of boxes of tapes, next to the old telephones he used collect. There’s even a bright green Kermit the Frog phone.

In the kitchen are the family photos. Paddy and Rita and their children Aonghus, Aedín, and Pádraig. In the drawing room, Paddy stares back at you from a giant portrait on the wall.

Sitting in the front room, Rita says her late husband believed in reincarnation.

“I had my doubts. He’d get annoyed when I’d say that. But since he died, I’ve been dwelling on this a lot, because I wouldn’t like to think he’s gone. I’d like to think he’s still around.

“In one of our talks together, he said he would never reincarnate without me. He would never come back to another life while I was still here in this life. He’d wait for me. He’d wait for both of us to come back together. He believed very strongly in that. I didn’t.”

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Paddy at home with Rita and Aonghus, Pádraig, and Aedín in 1984. Picture by Art O’Callaghan

She has since revised her opinion.

“Lately, ever since he died, I’ve found life very tough. I kept saying to him, especially when I went to bed at night: ‘I know in my heart and soul that you hear me and I know that you can’t communicate with me, but please give me a sign.’”

That sign came on August 1, which would have been his 84th birthday. She noticed a black rubbish bag by the side door one morning. It was stuff that Paddy had had in a couple of drawers in the filing cabinets that had been put out for shredding.

“Rosa, the girl, who looks after me, came in and told me that it was what Paddy had marked for shredding. I went through the bag for some reason. It was mostly ESB bills. But I grabbed some letters, just to make sure. And I found something he wrote. This was a sign.

“‘A new beginning for Rita’ he’d written on the piece of paper. It was the sign to me from him of a new beginning. I really believe that. I picked that piece of paper out of all the rubbish. Now I believe in reincarnation. I believe he will wait for me.”

She never has dreams about him.

“No. Maybe I don’t let myself have dreams about him. In the middle of the night, I wake up a lot. Maybe that’s why.”

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Paddy Moloney with his daughter Aedin

The daughter of a stonecutter, Rita O’Reilly was born on November 15, 1942. Her early childhood was spent in the family home in the Dublin Mountains, in Barnacullia. After her First Communion, she was sent to be raised by her maternal grandparents in Milltown. She was educated in St Anne’s secondary school.

In April 1958, she shocked the nuns and her grandparents when she told them she wasn’t going back to school. She’d got a job in the accounts department at Baxendale & Company, a hardware shop on Dublin’s Capel St.

“It’s the building where the Panti Bar is now,” she says. “I was a 15-year-old, and I was terrified and very shy. I was brought down the corridor to meet this man who turned out to be Paddy, because I was to be his assistant. Paddy later told me that he said to himself: ‘Here comes trouble.’

“He had such a wonderful smile that put me at ease immediately. I had to answer the telephone. I was terrified. I’d never answered a phone. Paddy realised I was afraid. He was 20.

“He came over and he whispered to me: ‘Are you afraid of that phone?’ I told him I was. He said he was going to go downstairs, and he’d ring up. I answered – and he said: ‘That wasn’t so bad, was it?’

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Matt Molloy and Paddy Moloney

She says he always remembered what she wore that first day – a green felt skirt with moccasin shoes laced up the legs.

In July, they went on an office outing to Bettystown. At the dance afterwards, he asked her up. On her 16th birthday he got her a silver cross and chain. That evening, they went out together for the first time to see South Pacific at the Adelphi cinema.

She had to leave before the end.

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Rita and Paddy share a laugh in Annamoe, Co Wicklow, in June 1973. Photo by Susan Wood/Getty

“I had to be in by a certain time or I’d get into terrible trouble. My grandmother was very strict on me. He walked me to the bus stop. He put me on the Ballinteer bus.”

(After Paddy died, she saw in his diaries that he wrote about that first night: ‘Walked Maggie to the bus-stop.’ He always called her Maggie, she says, after Liz Taylor’s character in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.)

On that bus ride home she realised she had feelings for him. “We were mad about one another,” she recalls. Asked what she liked about him, she says his kindness and personality very much appealed.

What did you think of his other self – Paddy as the master musician?

“I didn’t even know he was a musician.”

She only found out by accident. She was working in the office one day when he wasn’t in and had to open up his drawer.

“I was shocked to see a picture of him with a false beard. I knew him nearly a year at that time, and had been going out with him for a good seven or eight months – and I didn’t know he played with a band.

“I said to myself when I saw the picture: ‘Oh my God, I’m going out with that idiot from the Guinness concert.’

“He had a group called The Three Squares and they were performing at the Guinness concert. My grandparents had friends who worked in Guinness and they gave us tickets. I went to it with a girl from school. Paddy had a false beard on. I didn’t even know Paddy then. I didn’t know that was Paddy until I saw the picture.”

The revelation didn’t stop their romance. They got “unofficially” engaged in 1961.

“We told no one. It was a big secret between ourselves,” remembers Rita.

The following year they made it official. Paddy went up the Dublin Mountains to the family home to ask her father – and in 1963, they were married in Clonskeagh .
 

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Paddy Moloney and Gabriel Byrne in 1988

Paddy moved into Milltown with Rita. Their first son Aonghus “came along nine months after we were married. We were very good Catholics.”

Their faith didn’t hinder them having a good time. This was evident when they rented a summer house on Garech de Brún’s 18th century Luggala Estate in the Wicklow Mountains.

The Guinness heir and Claddagh Records founder (the label that Paddy’s new band The Chieftains were signed to) “threw great parties. But ours were better.

“One night, John Hurt – he’s dead so I can talk about it – got so pissed. We all were. Outside the cottage was on a slope, a cobblestone slope. Well, lord God, Paddy was helping John Hurt to the car. I don’t know who was leading who – but the next thing was the two idiots were rolling head over heels down the driveway, laughing. That’s the sort of parties we had.”

Some of the parties at Garech’s big house were not without incident either.

“I walloped John Montague one night at a party,” says Rita. “It was a long time ago. He was sitting on the edge of a couch, and he fancied me. He had already made advances to me, and I hated him for it because he was meant to be a friend of Paddy’s. ‘Don’t be coming near me, I am not that type of woman.’ And he knew it.

“So, here at Garech’s party, he started again. He started to criticise Paddy, but was doing it for my sake [to try to woo me]. He said, ‘Paddy’s a great piper, a great musician. But I don’t hold much for his compositions.’

“I walked over to him, and said: ‘Montague, what have you just said about Paddy?’ I remember his face turning red. Then I said: ‘Stop criticising Paddy and stop chatting me up.’ And with that, I gave him a wallop and he fell over the back of the chair.

“Garech and Paddy and everyone at the party heard and saw me knock Montague over the chair.”
 

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The Chieftains, from left, Matt Molloy, Derek Bell, Paddy Moloney, Kevin Conneff, and Sean Keane

There were plenty more celebrity encounters during their time at Luggala in the mid-1960s. Rita met Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and his then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. “Oh, I like Jagger. He was different, but he was an ordinary man too. Marianne, I liked very much too, and I still like her.

“I never took to Bianca,” she says of the feisty model who Jagger married in 1971. “She refused to talk to me. I don’t know why. I suppose I wasn’t grand enough for her. It didn’t bother me. I don’t give a shite where she was from, and I didn’t care either. I didn’t like her.”

The Moloneys bought their own house in Wicklow, in nearby Annamoe. Their daughter Aedín was born in 1967. They tried for years to have another baby, without success. But that changed in 1977.

“I became pregnant. This was at a time when we had both been told that we’d probably never have any more children.”

Of course, Paddy was off touring – in Australia – blithely unaware they were going to be parents once more.

“Three weeks later, I was sick, and I knew I was pregnant. I rang him and told him I may have news for him when he came home. He said: ‘It’s a baby, isn’t it?’

“I asked him how he knew. He said yesterday he’d been looking in shop windows and found himself looking at baby clothes.

“I was very bad with depression during the time before Pádraig came along. I was trying to cope with a lot of things on my own. But I never told Paddy not to tour.

“Paddy reserved two weeks without work for when Pádraig was going to be born. He never told The Chieftains because there would have been uproar.

“He came home from a world tour, and was in bed asleep when I woke him and said: ‘Paddy, we have to go.’ Pádraig was two weeks early. He got me out to the nursing home in Dún Laoghaire – and it was horrific, because Padraig was an eight-pound, eight ounce baby, with a double crown. Our two sons have double crowns.”

“It was the first time Paddy was ever allowed into the room. I said: ‘Oh, Paddy, this is horrific. Please go to the door.’ I started to scream with the pain. They put me to sleep. They cleaned Pádraig up and wrapped him in a towel and handed him to Paddy. He was the first parent he bonded with. This is why Paddy always had a special grá for Pádraig.

“I woke up the next morning and they told me I had a son. When I told Paddy I hadn’t seen him, he went to the nursery and took Pádraig out of the cot and brought him up to me. If you did that now you’d be arrested.”

Paddy was a bit of a hippy

We’re chatting because Rita’s late husband’s band have a sublime new album out, The Foxhunt, The Chieftains Live in San Francisco, 1973 & 1976. The band appeared at the personal invitation of The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, who liked Paddy so much he on one occasion sent a limo to pick him up. I wouldn’t have associated Moloney and the hippie king of San Francisco, but Rita sets me straight.

“Paddy was a bit of a hippy. He was.

”He’d be sitting here in this room at night smoking a joint?

“No, not in front of me, but in certain places a joint was passed around – but I can’t tell you where! In the younger days we were both hippies. Aonghus went to a very posh kindergarten – Miss Carr’s on Highfield Road – and I would bring him to school on the back of my bike, wearing my nightdress. That’s the way I was. I was trying to get a child out to school.”

Van was eccentric, a difficult man. You’d want to be a saint.

You couldn’t put on some clothes?

“Not at all. I’d throw on me nightdress and off I’d go to Miss Carr’s. Look it, that’s the way I was, and Paddy accepted me the way I was. I was very eccentric.

“I never gave a damn how I dressed. My two girlfriends told me that Paddy once said to them: ‘I don’t mind Rita putting on the weight, but would you try to get her back to her glamorous self.’ Even though I was eccentric, I was always glamorous.”

One of Paddy’s most acclaimed records with The Chieftains was Irish Heartbeat which was recorded with Van Morrison in 1988. And Rita has her own take on the Belfast Cowboy.

“He was eccentric but he was a difficult man. Jesus, you’d want to be a saint.

“I remember he rang Paddy one Christmas Day. Paddy Moloney was a lucky man he lived after that, because I was going to kill him. Van ringing the house on Christmas Day – ‘to discuss something’!

“I went wild with Paddy. ‘Why did you let that man ring here just before dinner on Christmas?’ And then he conducted a bloody conversation with him.

Paddy hated all the come-on-ye Irish songs that I’d sometimes sing around the house

“The dinner wasn’t quite ready, but it was close enough to it. I didn’t want disturbances on Christmas Day. I’ll tell you this, Paddy Moloney never got another call from anyone on Christmas Day after that.”

It was rare that Rita and Paddy would have such arguments, she reflects.

“Paddy once said we don’t have arguments. We have barneys. An argument is an argument. But he always knew to say something to me that would make him laugh, but I’d get twice as mad.”

What made Paddy mad about her?

“Paddy hated all the come-on-ye Irish songs that I’d sometimes sing around the house. He said I would sing them when I wanted to get on his nerves. But in the end, he got used to me singing those aul’ stupid songs around the house.”

Do you still sing them around the house now he’s gone?

“Only lately am I singing in the house. I’d just hum to myself. I sing out of tune.”

Throughout their six decades of marriage, they enjoyed a happy relationship. They were also a dynamic duo when it came to matters artistic.

“He was a musical genius and would have been whether he met me or not – but he wouldn’t have been as great a success only for me.

“I’m blowing my own trumpet now, because I was very good at advising him and supporting him. We made a great team. I was very much in involved in contracts and what he signed.

“I might pretend I know nothing about music but I actually do. Paddy would bring home new recordings for me to listen to. He used to say to Brian Masterson [The Chieftain’s producer]: ‘Rita is the ordinary punter. I want her to hear it.’

“There were a couple of things over the years that he brought home and I’d say: ‘Don’t let that out. I can’t understand it.’

“Paddy lived for music,” she says, adding this was why lockdown was hard for him. “He was very, very depressed during Covid – because his life was music, and he was at home all the time then.

“I know about depression, and I could see it in him. He was coming out of the depression before he died.”

Then he said to me: ‘Would you like to renew our wedding vows?’

But their life together was fun. The other day, she says, she found a receipt in a drawer for a holiday they took in Bora Bora in 2000. They stayed in a five-star resort in a state-of-the-art hut with a glass floor over the sea. Only Paddy forgot that his wife couldn’t swim and was terrified of water.

“Everyone else would have loved this incredible hotel – except me. Dear God, I hated it. On the second night, I was lying in bed and I said: ‘Paddy, I can’t stick this.’”

The next morning, they took the boat into Bora Bora and booked into a hotel on dry land. Once in the suite, he opened a bottle of champagne and asked her would she like to watch a movie.

Rita thought it strange. They hadn’t travelled all that way to watch a movie. But it wasn’t just any movie.

“He arranged for us to watch South Pacific in the room under the stars,” she says, “because I never got to watch the end of it when we went on our first date. I had to rush off to catch my bus home to Milltown. So there we were, looking up at the stars. Then he said to me: ‘Would you like to renew our wedding vows?’ and with that he took out a ring…”

She stops to catch her breath.

“I’m going to cry now. I don’t want to cry – but when I think of things like that, I can’t help it. This is a man that nobody knows. Nobody knew the private man. Only me.”

What was the private man like?

“He was a very kind man. If I got upset, he’d say to me: ‘Rise above them, Rita. You’re letting people upset you too much.’ That was the essence of Paddy.

“One thing that people don’t know is that Paddy was a very good practising Catholic. He used to go to mass in Blackrock. I hated that church and couldn’t stick it. So I stopped going with him.”

“Now I think back, I can still see him walking out the door on a Sunday morning. But I never missed mass when we lived in Annamoe. We moved there 48 years ago. I loved the church and mass in Glendalough. I loved everything about Glendalough.

“That’s where Paddy is buried.”

She walks me to the door. There are boxes of archival material in the hall, piled up on the dusty table.

“I always gave out to him about the clutter he had. Jaysus, if he could see the house now, with the clutter I have in it,” she says with a laugh. “He died at ten-to-two in the morning. Rosa was due to come the next morning to help him declutter his stuff in the house.”

It’s impossible not to see the sadness in her face after her talking about the great love of her life, and their many happy year together. “I was not expecting him to die. His mother died at 96. I thought he’d at least live to that. His father died of cancer at the age of 81. Paddy was 83.”

“It was such a shock,” she says. “But now, I don’t cry as much…”
 

‘The Foxhunt, The Chieftains Live in San Francisco, 1973 & 1976’ is out now on Claddagh Records/Universal

Jerry and the Grateful Dead: The Irish roots

The new album, The Foxhunt, The Chieftains Live in San Francisco, 1973 & 1976 is a previously unreleased 2CD gem from from the Bear’s Sonic Journals series, released by The Owsley Stanley Foundation and Claddagh Records.

It was produced by Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley, the Grateful Dead’s legendary sound engineer. The Irish band appeared on those shows in San Francisco at the invitation of one of their biggest fans, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.

Hawk Semins of the Owsley Stanley Foundation (dedicated to the preservation of Owsley’s 1,300 live concerts) says: “San Francisco in the 1970s was a fertile place in American musical history, not only in the evolution of the San Francisco sound but also as a musical crossroads where people were coming from all over the world to play.

“I think Jerry Garcia listening to The Chieftains is a great example of that. He heard his musical ancestors, his musical grandfathers,” says Semins.

“Jerry was fascinated with bluegrass – and he could hear, particularly in the fiddle playing, the connect between The Chieftains’ music, Irish traditional music and the bluegrass which he loved.

“He was introduced to The Chieftains’ music and he said: ‘Let’s get them on the radio.’ He sent a limo to pick them up and they did the radio show. Jerry invited them to open for his bluegrass band the next night. That’s the first recording on the new release.”

The Chieftains’ long-term sound engineer Brian Masterson agrees (he recorded an interview with Paddy five weeks before he died, and it’s included on the album).

“Jerry Garcia loved The Chieftains because of the whole cross-fertilisation of American and Irish traditional music, which was fed by all the Irish emigrants and their music from Ireland.

“Garcia was strongly influenced by that, so he held Paddy and The Chieftains in great esteem. In a way, The Chieftains were the purest practitioners of that music at the time. The concerts were amazing. There was so much fun on stage because of the unique way Owsley miked it. You could hear little bits of repertoire and slagging which makes it fantastic. You can hear these amazing performances so close-up too.”

And the last interview?

“It was done in my home in Sandycove,” says Masterson. “Paddy sat on the couch, and talked about his childhood and learning music at a very early age. He died, sadly and totally unexpectedly, just five weeks after we recorded the interview for the CDs.”

https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/music-news/when-paddy-died-i-wanted-to-die-too-it-was-the-saddest-day-of-my-life-rita-moloney-speaks-movingly-about-her-late-great-chieftain-husband-41975637.html ‘When Paddy died, I wanted to die too. It was the saddest day of my life’ – Rita Moloney speaks movingly about her late, great Chieftain husband

Fry Electronics Team

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