25 March 2005

Daily Ireland

Death of a music legend

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Ireland’s traditional music community was saddened yesterday by the news of the death of legendary fiddle player, Sean Maguire.
Mr Maguire’s friend and one of the greatest exponents of Irish traditional music, Joe Burke, last night expressed the wide sense of loss felt across the country.
“It’s a massive loss to Irish traditional music as he had an enormous effect on Irish music in the twentieth century,” Mr Burke said.
“Right from the early 1940s he astounded audiences and other musicians with his skills. There was nobody else like him. He had a way with music that was unique.”
Mr Maguire suffered a stroke a number of months ago and passed away shortly after 8am yesterday.
He was born in Belfast on December 26, 1927, into a family with a rich musical tradition.
His father, John, played piccolo, concert flute, whistle and fiddle while his brother Jim, who passed away in early 2002, was also highly respected as a fiddle player.
Mr Maguire had played the fiddle since he was 12-years-old and famously turned down an invitation to join the Belfast Symphony Orchestra because he felt more at home playing traditional music.
“I decided to devote my techniques to the furtherance and promotion of my culture,” he once said.
Over the years he became an accomplished musician playing the piano, guitar, concert flute, whistle and uillean pipes.
In 1948 he joined the Malachy Sweeney Céilí Band, playing alongside his father John before he formed The Sean Maguire Céilí Band, playing all over Ireland and England and making a number of solo, group and céilí albums, and later played with the Four Star Quartet.
He toured the USA and Canada in the early 1950s playing to packed audiences in Carnegie Hall and he also appeared on the prestigious Ed Sullivan televsion show.
In the 1960s he played with the Gael-linn Cabaret before meeting accordionist Joe Burke. They formed a lifelong musical friendship in the late 1960s and played together for years.
“In the early 1970s we played a lot together all over Ireland and Britain. We played right across England and Scotland and we even played on the Shetland Islands,” Mr Burke told Daily Ireland yesterday.
“He was never the same man two days in a row as he was such a colourful character and he was larger than life. He was such a great conversationalist, was always great company and he was liked by everyone he met.”
Mr Maguire also played with Barney McKenna from the Dubliners and their duet on The Mason’s Apron is revered as a traditional music classic.
He also gave classes at the Clonard Traditional School, run by the McPeakes, and later at the Andersonstown Music School.
In the 1980s cancer of the throat forced him to withdraw from public performance.
But spirit and determination helped him overcome it and he had a speech valve fitted and returned to living a normal life.
He resumed his master classes, interviews and concerts.
His love affair with Irish traditional music continued right up until his death yesterday.
Mr Maguire will be taken to St Luke’s Church, Twinbrook, Belfast on Sunday afternoon before burial in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, after 10am mass on Monday.

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