Martin McHugh, former Minnesota Irish traditional music statesman, dies at 93

By | November 21, 2022

A treasured hyperlink to the island mom of the Twin Cities’ conventional Irish music scene died final month on the age of 93.

Martin McHugh, a melodic squeezebox participant and presenter of classes from parlors to pubs in St. Paul and Minneapolis, emigrated from a farm close to Roscommon, Eire, within the Forties in St. Paul, an American city nonetheless populated by satisfied Irish immigrants, who stuffed the dance halls with fiddles, drums and bagpipes.

Over the subsequent few many years, McHugh grew to become a fixture on the native conventional music scene, main the favored Northern Star Céilí Band and even showing on public radio “A Prairie House Companion”.

In response to a recollection written by Sam Dillon and posted on McHugh’s web site, after arriving within the Minnesota capital, McHugh rapidly gained a foothold within the Irish diaspora, attending a dance on the Gaelic Athletic League and regaling the gang with tunes on a button accordion given to him. .

“Marty was at all times primarily a session warrior,” Dáithí Sproule, one other Irish musician and immigrant to the Twin Cities, instructed Dillon.

As an earlier era handed, McHugh remained a continuing within the mainstream music scene, passing songs on to youthful and newer gamers. Through the resurgence of the scene within the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies, McHugh was a hyperlink to genuine Irish music for a younger era hungry for conventional music.

“We referred to as him the oldest statesman,” Norah Rendell, musician and govt inventive director of the Middle for Irish Music in St. Paul, instructed the Star Tribune. “He was our native hyperlink to the residing custom.”

In response to Dillon’s recollection, McHugh held numerous day jobs, working as a mail handler at Union Depot and a janitor for St. Paul Public Faculties. He served in america Military within the Fifties. However his ardour remained to share the tunes – jigs, reels and bagpipes – with new generations of gamers and listeners.

“We referred to as it ‘Martin’s music,'” mentioned Laura MacKenzie, an completed St. Paul folks artist who discovered her first observe, “The Smart Maid,” from McHugh. MacKenzie mentioned McHugh knew “tons of and tons of” of tunes however would typically add his personal ornament to a melody. “He had these little delicate variations – like a unique observe that stands proud.”

After retirement, McHugh divided his time between his house within the Mac-Groveland space of ​​St. Paul and the household farm in Cloondahara, Eire. A reviewer for the Philadelphia Irish Version mentioned of McHugh’s 2014 album ‘The Grasp’s Selection,’ which featured MacKenzie and Sproule, “The beats are good, the melodies encouraging. It is exhausting to s sit and hear when your physique struggles to maneuver with the tunes.”

Till his dying final month, McHugh was nonetheless studying, passing on new music and taking part in domestically with members in a close-knit circle of mainstream musicians, Mackenzie mentioned.

Weeks earlier than his dying in October, McHugh was nonetheless internet hosting guests at his house for jam classes. Even in his 90s, he ventured to an everyday weekly avid gamers session at Merlin’s Relaxation in Minneapolis.

Those that knew him greatest mentioned he was hungry to play and share the music he knew from his childhood on the farm.

“The actual richness was taking part in authentically and domestically,” MacKenzie mentioned. “It wasn’t a job. He was an actual conventional musician.”