National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of National Heritage Fellow Mick Moloney

A man with brown hair and a beard smiles while strumming his tenor banjo

1999 National Heritage Fellow Mick Moloney. Portrait by Tom Pich

Washington, DC—It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of Irish musician Mick Moloney of New York, New York, recipient of a 1999 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. 

Mick Moloney was born November 15, 1944, in Limerick, Ireland. He began playing tenor banjo as a teenager. There was not a lot of traditional instrumental music being played where he lived, but he listened to American folksingers and especially enjoyed the music of the Weavers and Burl Ives. As he got older, he used to go to neighboring Ennis, just over the River Shannon in County Clare, to listen to music in the pubs. He tape-recorded the tunes so he could "bring them home" to learn them.

Growing up, he learned to sing traditional songs and to play guitar as well as mandolin and tenor banjo. During his formative years in Ireland, he played with the Emmet Folk Group, and later the Johnstons. His participation with those bands shaped his perspective on and honed his skills in Irish music. He spent five years touring and recording with the Johnstons.

Moloney came to the United States in 1973 to pursue graduate studies in folklore at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he later earned a doctorate. Moloney was a driving force in Irish music in the United States and devoted much time to the documentation and presentation of traditional Irish music and musicians. By recognizing and recording skilled musicians, he was highly influential in bringing Irish music out of pubs and parlors and placing it on stages and in concert halls. In 1977, Moloney co-founded the Irish music group Green Fields of America.

By the mid-1980s, the number of Irish American women involved in Irish traditional music was growing, and in 1985, Moloney championed a concert series in New York City showcasing female musicians. Among them was the traditional Irish music group, Cherish the Ladies, whose leader Joanie Madden received an NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 2021.

Three people play on stage with a blue background. A man with a banjo and woman with a fiddle look at a man playing the button accordian

Mick Moloney (left) joined 1994 NEA National Heritage Fellow Liz Carroll (center) and 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellow Billy McComiskey (right) on stage for the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowships concert at the George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. Photo by Tom Pich

Watch Mick Maloney play a duo with longtime friend, bandmate, and 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellow Bill McComiskey in this 2020 episode of By Memory Inspired: Mick Moloney’s Songbook, sponsored by the Irish Arts Center. 

A folklorist, musicologist, arts presenter and advocate, professional musician, professor of music and Irish studies, Maloney was a titan in music and scholarship. He recorded and produced more than forty albums of traditional music. In 2013, he received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from the President of Ireland.


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