By David Hennessy
Renowned fiddle player and Irish music teacher Brendan Mulkere died on 28 August after a long illness.
Originally from Clare, Brendan had a significant impact on generations of young Irish musicians in London from the 1970s onwards. Once referred to as the unofficial ‘Irish music ambassador’ to London, Brendan was known for his dedication and passion for music and teaching many who went on to great things.
Brendan taught a number of instruments including fiddle, accordion, banjo and was known to call his students his ‘jellybabies’.
Born in Drumsallagh, Cusheen, Co. Clare in 1947, Brendan came from a family of musicians and teachers. Brendan’s father, Jack, was a music teacher and a colleague of Paddy Fahy and Paddy Kelly who formed the Aughrim Slopes céilí band.
Brendan’s grandfather, Pat, was one of the last hedge-school masters and had spent time with Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats at Coole House where he translated myths and legends for them.
When he came to London in the 1970s, Brendan was initially a schoolteacher where he taught at both primary and secondary level. In 1979, he left his teaching job to expand his traditional music classes.
Brendan would become well known as an Irish traditional music teacher. Among those who benefitted from Brendan’s experience were greats like John Carty, Niall Keegan, John Whelan, John Blake, Claire Egan and Lamond Gillespie to name just a few.
Members of big bands on the London- Irish scene The BibleCode Sundays, The Reels and The Monday Club also started under Brendan’s tutelage.
Mulkere also organised concerts of traditional music that featured the cream of talent in and around London.
Brendan also recorded music for himself and others. In 1974 he set up Inchecronin Records, which released a number of albums including Memories of Sligo by flute-player Roger Sherlock. In 1979 he worked on the traditional Irish music programme of the London European City of Culture Festival, and in 1983 he founded the London Irish Commission for Culture and Education, which ran the month-long annual festival Síol Phádraig from 1985 to 1993.
As well as teaching at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith as part of the Mulkere Academy of Irish Music, he also taught annually at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick for almost 20 years.
In 2013, Brendan was honoured at the Fleadh Nua in his native Clare when he was joined onstage by many of his students. The concert celebrated the richness and strength of Irish traditional music in Britain and paid tribute to the many musicians who promote it but it was particularly in honour of Brendan and what he had done to pass the tradition on to new generations.
John Carty, James Carty, Niall Keegan, John Bowe, Terence O’Flaherty, Sinéad Egan and The Whelton Family were among those who joined him for that concert.
Brendan was honoured with an ‘Outstanding Contribution’ award at Gradam Ceoil TG4 2019. The inscription on the award said, “A pivotal member of the Irish diaspora in London, Clare man Brendan Mulkere, has worn many hats – as the unofficial ‘Irish music ambassador’ to London; Irish rights activist, record producer, promoter and musician.
“Despite all of this, he is perhaps best known as an Irish traditional music teacher. It’s safe to say that every London-born, Irish traditional musician has been pulled into his orbit at some stage or another…And, he has helped to put the London style of Irish traditional music firmly on the map.”
Brendan died peacefully at home surrounded by his family. Brendan was pre-deceased by his brother Kieran and is sadly missed by his partner Sharon and her daughters Claire, Collette and Sinead, sisters Hilda, Florence and Frances, brothers Des and Enda, brothers in law, sisters in law, nephews, nieces, relatives, neighbours and friends.
A private funeral mass for family and close friends took place at Ennis Cathedral on Sunday with burial afterwards in Drumcliffe Cemetery.
The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith said: “The members of the Board of the Irish Cultural Centre, our staff and volunteers are very saddened to hear about the passing of Ireland’s great fiddle player and Irish traditional music tutor Brendan Mulkere, who died today, August 28th, after battling a long illness.
“Brendan was not only a great fiddle player, but he was also a wonderful composer. He taught Irish music at the University of Limerick’s ‘Irish World’s Music Academy’ and was regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest Irish traditional music tutors.
“Brendan was the leading music teacher here at the Irish Cultural Centre from 1995 until 2014 and over those years he taught many hundreds of students, children, young people and adults to play fiddles, flutes, whistles and many Irish traditional musical instruments. Many of the students who were taught by Brendan have gone on to become accomplished and acclaimed professional musicians. Brendan made a vital contribution to the Irish Cultural Centre and also to the Irish community in Britain and to the Irish traditional music scene both here and in Ireland. Brendan’s memory and his music will without doubt live on in all of those whom he taught and so magnificently inspired.
“We send our sincere condolences to Brendan’s partner Sharon, his daughters Claire, Collette and Sinead and to all of his family and friends. May He Rest In Peace.”
Karen Ryan, Director of Irish Music and Dance in London, said: “Such sad news that the legend of Irish music in London, Brendan Mulkere passed away in the early hours of this morning.
“Brendan’s all-consuming passion for traditional Irish music, his unfaltering determination to pass the culture on to the next generation and put Irish music on the London stage for the first time has left an indelible mark on London’s cultural landscape.
“His epic work over decades produced countless fabulous second generation traditional Irish musicians and brought a wide audience to value and respect our music as much as any other genre in this city.
“Huge sympathies to Sharon, Claire, Sinéad, Collette, all of Brendan’s family, friends and to the huge number of his ‘jellybabies’ who will undoubtedly continue his legacy. May he Rest in Peace.”
Andy Nolan of The BibleCode Sundays said: “So terribly sad to hear that our teacher, mentor and dear friend Brendan Mulkere passed away this morning. Brendan taught three of the original BibleCodeSundays Irish music when we were kids – Patrick Franklin, Joe Moran and myself – and countless others including my sister Caroline, my nephew Liam, Kane O’Rourke, Brian Kelly, Jim Filgate, Sharon Kelly, Caroline Regan, Fionnghuala Devereaux, Gavin Hayes and his brother in The Reels.
“He was a force of nature here in London and gave so many of us the gift of music. My parents loved Irish music but didn’t play themselves and I remember them vividly taking me to my first music lesson with Brendan in Carlton Vale, near Kilburn when I was nine.
“It meant everything to them for us to carry on a long proud tradition of ceol agus craic in The Big Smoke.
“It gave them a small bit of the old country when times were very hard here.
“Thanks Brendan for everything, heaven will have some hooley tonight! We’ll love and miss you always. R.I.P. X”
Irish Music Magazine said: “Irish Music Magazine are saddened to hear the passing of acclaimed fiddle player and teacher, Brendan Mulkere who was born in County Clare but a pivotal member of the Irish diaspora in London.
“An Irish rights activist, record producer, promoter and musician, he was perhaps best known as an Irish Traditional Music Teacher who taught many well-known names including John Carty, Niall Keegan, John Blake and Claire Egan amongst others.
“An appreciation to Brendan Mulkere who made a significant contribution to Irish Traditional Music during his lifetime will feature in Irish Music Magazine over the coming months.
“Ard fheis go raibh ag a anam.”
Many people paid tribute to Brendan. These are some of the comments we got about the sad passing of Brendan on our Facebook page.
Co.Clare has lost another fantastic musician. Remember so well our Saturday afternoon classes in Cricklewood and Harlesden with Cathy Phillips, Madeleine Dobson, Frank Walsh, Angela Regan, Lou Brennan and many more. My condolences to Brendan’s family. R.I.P. Brendan.
Immensely sad today having heard of Brendan’s passing. I sincerely hope he fully appreciated the love we all had for him and for the wonderful tradition he passed on to so many of us. Nothing only the happiest of happy memories as one of his ‘jelly babies’- as he used to call us! Seep well, Brendan.
Had great memories of our tin whistle lessons at the Irish Club in Wimbledon many years ago.. He definitely had great patience! Sending our thoughts and prayers to all the family. R.I.P. Brendan xx
Michelle Daly Greene
Not only a great fiddle player, but button accordion, banjo etc. We played at the Royal Albert Hall at a St. Patrick’s concert because of this man. R.I.P. Brendan.
My sincere condolences, R.I.P. Brendan. You were a great musician and I am very thankful that I was honoured to be one of your pupils.
So very sad to hear this. A wonderful man and musician. Honoured to have known him. Our condolences to Sharon and the girls. So many happy memories of Hillingdon and Willesden x
Heartbreaking news! Rest in peace, Brendan. You will be remembered with so much love, a true gentleman. Condolences to all of your family xx
Ahh so sorry to hear this sad news. R.I.P. Brendan. Great musician and teacher.
R.I.P. to a great teacher. I had tin whistle, fiddle and button accordion lessons in Kingsbury on Monday nights back in the 70s. Cherished memories.
So sorry to hear this. An absolute gentleman. R.I.P. Brendan
Rest in peace. Thinking of you all.
RIP Brendan. A great musician, a true gentleman, and kind neighbour for over 30 years. From O’Brien family, Pound Lane.
A great musician and all round great guy.
We are losing so many of our brilliant musicians and teachers. May he rest in peace.
Joan Pollard Carew
RIP Brendan- will always remember the music lessons in The Swan Stockwell.
Sad news. RIP, Brendan.
Rest in peace. What a talented man. Great times in his classes.
RIP Brendan, was taught to play tin whistle and banjo in Dulwich. What a great man, condolences to his family.
R.I.P. Brendan- I had music lessons with Brendan in Holy Ghost Club in Luton for many years- very talented man.
Can’t believe this news. A talented musician and many a pub I spent time with him around NW London. RIP Brendan. Thoughts to his family.
Sincerest condolences from the Nagle family who lived in Wood Green back in the day!
Siobhan Nagle Cook
A true gentleman who has left a remarkable legacy. RIP.
Rest in peace, Brendan. Thanks for the music and the memories.
RIP Brendan, condolences to Sharon and the girls. Thinking of you.
Noel and Ann King
He was brilliant, had great patience with kids. RIP, Brendan.
He used to always have a group on the Irish traditional stage at the London Irish festival in Roundwood Park. He was a great teacher too.