Tributes have been extended to Ennis born accordion player, Tony MacMahon who died on Friday at the age of 82.
Born in Turnpike, Ennis in 1939, Tony was a button accordionist and broadcaster who was held in high esteem in the world of traditional music. Throughout his career, he released six albums, the first in 1972 and his last ‘Farewell to Music’ in 2016.
Galway accordion player Joe Cooley was one of the early influences on Tony’s musical career, he was living and working in Ennis as a labourer during the 1940s and 1950s and was a frequent visitor to the MacMahon home.
After completing his Leaving Certificate at Rice College in Ennis, Tony left for the capital in 1957 to study to become a teacher. In the capital, he became acquainted with accordionist Sonny Brogan and violinist John Kelly. Travelling in North America in 1964 in New York and Dublin, he shared an apartment with the piper and singer Seamus Ennis, which he believed had an important influence on his performance of slow songs.
He joined RTÉ in 1969, the Ennis native presented traditional music shows on television and later produced equivalent shows on radio. He launched the long-running show The Long Note, he returned with The Pure Drop and Come West TV road. In 1979, The Green Cardinals documented Tony and banjo player Barney McKenna travelling in Western Europe in a green Citroen 2CV van. He retired from RTÉ in 1998. In 2019, a TG4 documentary film Slán leis an gCeol was produced about his life.
President, Michael D. Higgins led the tributes to the Clare musician who he described as “one of Ireland’s iconic presences among musicians”. He stated, “Tony brought to performance in so many forms, places and venues the talent of a maestro. To hear him play Port Na bPúcai, for example, was to feel transported into another world. His commitment to traditional music and to the friendship of his fellow musicians was full of integrity”.
Maghera musician, Martin Hayes also voiced his admiration. “For me he will always be one of the truly great musicians of all time. He encouraged and inspired me from a very young age. Traditional Irish music has lost a giant figure”.
Speaking on Monday, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) remembered his fellow Ennis man as “an outstanding musician”. He noted how Tony kept close friendships in the county including with Frank Whelan Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and how his niece Mary MacNamara has continued to bring music to the county.