By Peter McDermott
Rita Moloney will fly across the Atlantic later this month to watch her famous husband be honored at the National Arts Club in New York.
That’s a measure of how seriously that institution’s Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Music is being taken in the household of the Chieftains front man, for his other half detests air travel.
On Thursday, Jan. 27, Paddy Moloney will join musicians Leonard Bernstein, Benny Carter, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Placido Domingo, Benny Goodman, André Previn and James Galway on the honor roll at the club’s venerable Gramercy Square South building. And a cast of international household names – including Sting and Liam Neeson – will be among those paying tribute to him in person or via video.
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“It’s so well deserved, but then I’m biased,” said his daughter, the New York-based actor Aedin Moloney.
The younger Moloney had been organizing a fundraiser at the venue for her Fallen Angel Theater Company, which she directs, when club officials suggested that her father be awarded its Medal of Honor.
“I was so thrilled when they said it,” she said.
Paddy Moloney’s immediate reaction was: “I’m over the moon.”
Born in Dublin in 1938 to County Laois parents, he took up the tin whistle at age 6 and the Uilleann pipes two years later. He went on to form the Chieftains in 1962. The Moloney sound had its international breakthrough in the middle of the next decade when the group received an Academy Award for “Barry Lyndon.” During the same period it was voted top group of the year by Melody Maker, a British paper more closely associated with progressive rock, was featured in Time magazine and sold out the Albert Hall in London.
The band has since gotten 18 Grammy nominations, winning six, and has also garnered an Emmy along the way. Its resume includes collaborative work with the Rolling Stones, Sting, Van Morrison, Art Garfunkle, Joni Mitchell, Sinead O’Connor, Elvis Costello, Sarah McLachlan and several others. The band has released scores of albums during its 49-year history.
Aedin Moloney said whereas many of her father’s previous awards recognized his achievements in popularizing traditional Irish music worldwide, the National Arts Club honors his contribution to music overall.
“This transcends genres,” she said.
The National Arts Club also presents its Medal of Honor in the fields of film, theatre, the visual arts and literature. The County Clare-born Edna O’Brien and the Canadian Alice Munro are on the literature honor roll with a who’s who of the major U.S. writers of the post-war era
Founded in 1898 and since 1906 housed in the former of home of Samuel J. Tilden, the winner of the popular vote in the 1876 presidential election, it was a rare club that accepted women as full members from its inception. More recently, it has been supportive of the Fallen Angel Theatre Company’s mission, which is to showcase daring new work by women playwrights from Ireland and Britain on this side of the Atlantic.
“We have two projects in development at the moment,” Moloney said.
One is “Eva the Chaste,” which is about a Paris-based social worker who travels home to Rush, on coastal North County Dublin, to help care for her dying mother. Moloney is due to star in the one-woman play, written by the award-winning Barbara Hammond, in late spring.
The other is a work based around women that appear in the novels of Moloney’s friend Colum McCann.
The Dublin-born National Book Award winner McCann will speak at the Jan. 27 event. “A few other characters will drop by,” Moloney said. “There’ll be a few surprises. It should be great craic.”
The Chieftains will then prepare for a new U.S. tour. At some point during their stay here, Moloney will be joined by astronaut and musician Catherine “Cady” Coleman from the International Space Station for a duet.
The NASA connection, initially made through his rocket scientist son Padraig, led to a close friendship with George Abbey, the former director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Astronauts have taken the Dubliner and his colleagues’ music on missions and his tin whistle has orbited the Earth many times.
Paddy Moloney has no plans, though, to record a “Chieftains in Space” CD.
“He would if he could,” Aedin Moloney said of her path-breaking father.
For ticket information about the Paddy Moloney award event, which is a fundraiser for the Fallen Angel Theatre Company, call 212-545-4128 or email [email protected]