28 July 2022
In shock and in sadness, the faculty, staff, and board of advisors at Glucksman Ireland House, New York University, mark the passing of our friend and colleague, Dr. Mick Moloney. Irish people have always held in high esteem the great carriers of our culture, those with a gift for telling anew a great stock of stories, songs, and memories of what has gone before. Mick Moloney had those gifts and more. He combined in remarkable ways the scholar’s wisdom and deep learning, the teacher’s ability to convey that wisdom in fresh and memorable language, the entertainer’s bravery and charisma to be at home on stage before dozens or tens of thousands, and the gentleman’s regard for all other humans of whatever station.
Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chair of the Advisory Board at Glucksman Ireland House, said, “I am so devastated at Mick Moloney’s sudden death. As a beloved Professor at Glucksman Ireland House, Mick will always be remembered for his seminal research on Irish American music, teaching, joyous concerts, and exuberant banjo playing. All of us at Glucksman Ireland House – faculty, students, Board, and friends – send sincere condolences to his family.
Professor Kevin Kenny, Director of Glucksman Ireland House, noted, “I knew Mick as a colleague and a friend for twenty-five years, both at NYU and at Boston College. I have many warm memories of our time together but what I will always remember most is his extraordinary calm as a performer, his complete mastery of his art.”
Ted Smyth, President of the Advisory Board at Glucksman Ireland House, stated, “I can’t believe that the great Mick Moloney, Global Distinguished Professor at Glucksman Ireland House NYU, has died. Such terribly sad and shocking news and a critical loss to Ireland, Irish America, and Irish music worldwide. A great flame of musical joy and friendship has been extinguished.”
Professor Michael Beckerman, Chair of the Music Department at NYU, wrote, "Some years ago, I brought two folk musicians from the Czech Republic to play a concert at the Bohemian Hall. Before you could say boo, Mick had them playing along with the Irish Music Ensemble and then had them teach some songs. That was Mick. In addition to being a world-class musician, he was one of the great collaborators, and a genius at bringing different kinds of people together. We're still in shock, but I know he's the kind of person we'll miss more, rather than less, as time goes by. A tremendous loss from the Department of Music, Ireland House, and the entire university."
Born in Limerick in 1944, on what is now part of the campus of Limerick University, an institution Mick Moloney supported and nourished for many years as an external examiner for the World Academy of Irish Music and Dance; Mick drew from the deep well of the musical culture of the west of Ireland. In the early 1960s, he brought his talents as a singer and player of multiple stringed instruments into the flowing world of the folk music revival. (Many regarded him as our finest banjo player, but he could pick up a guitar, mandolin, or bouzouki and play whatever he was asked.) As a member of The Johnstons, Mick toured widely and saw the late 1960s, in Dublin, London, Amsterdam, and beyond, from an acute angle, singing and playing music that bridged the old and the new during a time of great change and upheaval.
In 1973, Mick joined the deep stream of Irish migrants to the United States. While earning his Ph.D. in the Folklore and Folklife program at the University of Pennsylvania, a program noted for rigor and interdisciplinary ambition, Mick began his lifelong work of recording the music and stories of Irish music in North America. He traveled extensively. For him, folklore and music were what cartography was for Tim Robinson: an excuse to go anywhere and converse with anyone about anything. Mick’s field recordings became the basis of his immense collection of cultural artifacts now housed as the Mick Moloney Collection at the New York University Libraries, an unparalleled resource for the study of Irish and Irish-American popular culture.
Mick Moloney was more than a great teacher; he was also an inspiring mentor who modeled a life of artistic commitment and intellectual freedom that changed the lives of generations of students. While actively performing and producing, especially with The Green Fields of America, Mick taught courses in Irish music and popular culture at both Villanova University and Georgetown University. He proudly recalled being the only member of the faculty of both universities when they played each other for the basketball national championship. Both now have thriving Irish Studies programs built on land Mick helped clear and plant.
For the last quarter century, Mick was Global Distinguished Professor at New York University and Glucksman Ireland House. He taught and supervised students in Ethnomusicology and Irish and Irish American Studies. The growth and maturation of the public and educational programs at Glucksman Ireland House are unthinkable without his contributions. These include his award-winning undergraduate teaching, numerous Ph.D. and MA mentees, the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, and most especially, two research programs in cultural history: one centered on Irish and Jewish relations in New York City (captured in his Compass Records CD, “If It Wasn’t For the Irish and the Jews”), the other centered on the long and complex history of collaboration and competition between Irish and African-Americans. A documentary film of Mick’s collaboration with Lenwood Sloan on this subject was being made at the time of his untimely death.
For Glucksman Ireland House’s tenth anniversary in 2003, Mick Moloney produced “West Along the Road” to situate the crossroads of Ireland and America in New York City. This memorable series of academic and musical events included a gala concert that was also the inaugural event in NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
In 2006 NYU’s Archives of Irish America became the repository for Mick Moloney’s extensive collection of Irish American music and popular culture. Over 200 linear feet of material documenting his long career as a folklorist, producer, musician, and academic are open for research by appointment in Bobst Library’s Special Collections Center.
Mick’s music, scholarship, and work as a public intellectual were recognized in fitting ways in Ireland, where President Michael Higgins conferred The Distinguished Presidential Service Award for Mick’s contributions to Irish culture in Ireland and worldwide, and in the United States, where he was awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. These recognitions are the highest honors bestowed by each government on a traditional artist.
Mick Moloney embodied the great tradition of the seanachaí, the teller of tales and singer of stories whose connection to the past brings the people together. After a great and moving song is sung, the silence is filled with wonder and recognition. The song has gone into us and beyond.
We are grateful, Mick, for all the songs and stories you so generously shared. We extend our condolences to Mick’s son, Fintan, to his family in Ireland and in Thailand, and to his many students, friends, and collaborators across the world.
Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.