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Tony MacMahon

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Tony MacMahon

Tony MacMahon ( Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland, 1939) is an Irish button accordion player and radio and television broadcaster.

Tony MacMahon's chief early inspiration, accordionist Joe Cooley, was a frequent caller at the MacMahon home from 1949 until 1954, when Cooley emigrated to the USA. MacMahon has described the memory of Cooley's music as being "embedded in his DNA.".[1] Other influences from the locality were piper Willie Clancy and fiddler Bobby Casey.

In 1957 MacMahon moved to Dublin to train as a teacher, where he came into contact with accordionist Sonny Brogan and fiddler John Kelly. Travelling in North America in 1964, in both New York and Dublin, he shared a flat with piper and singer Seamus Ennis, whom he credits as an important influence on his playing of slow airs.[2]

MacMahon plays the accordion in the "press-and-draw" style of his mentor Joe Cooley. He is regarded as an exceptionally powerful performer, particularly of slow airs, and has been described as an "iconic figure in traditional music circles".[3] His own attitude to his music, and his chosen instrument,[4] can be ambivalent, however: "I wouldn’t regard my own music either as traditional or indeed anything to write home about. [...] For longer than I care to remember, I have hacked my way through tunes of beauty and tenderness on stage."[5]

In 1974 he was a founder member of the band Seachtair, which later became The Bothy Band.

MacMahon enjoyed a long career with RTÉ, first as a presenter of traditional-music TV programmes, then as a radio producer (he initiated the long-running programme The Long Note), and returning to television with The Pure Drop and Come West Along the Road. The Green Linnet was a 1979 television series documenting MacMahon's travels through Western Europe with banjoist Barney McKenna in a green Citroën 2CV van (nicknamed The Green Linnet).[6] MacMahon retired from RTÉ in 1998.

MacMahon has frequently voiced strong criticism of modern trends in the performance of Irish traditional music, and of growing commercialism in particular.[7] His address to the 1996 Crossroads Conference provides a summary of his views.[7]


  • Traditional Irish Accordion. 1972 - CD re-release 2005.
  • I gCnoc na Grai (In Knocknagree) (with Noel Hill, concertina). 1985 - CD re-release 1992.
  • Aislingí Ceoil (Music Of Dreams) (with Noel Hill, concertina, and Iarla Ó Lionáird, voice). 1993.
  • MacMahon from Clare. 2001.


The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, ed. Fintan Vallely, New York University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8147-8802-5.

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