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Trad musician Martin Hayes: ‘I’ve talked this fiddle onto planes but with Ryanair, I buy a second seat’


Martin Hayes. Picture by Joe Chapman

Martin Hayes. Picture by Joe Chapman

Martin Hayes. Picture by Joe Chapman

Born into a musical family in east Clare, Martin started playing the fiddle at seven and went on to become one of the world’s leading artists in traditional Irish music. He is a member of The Gloaming, was awarded an honorary doctorate by NUI Galway in 2019 and lives in Madrid with his wife, Lina.

What’s your earliest memory?

Of being in a horse cart with my father, wrapped up in a blanket, going down this narrow road, to visit the Sheedys’ house.

When and where were you happiest?

It’s on the stage if I manage to get out of my own way and get lost in a piece of music that’s flowing. I really find that to be one of the happiest moments of life for me.

What is your biggest fear?

I suppose the ultimate fear in life is death but I think the fear of death is really the fear of not having lived fully so my biggest fear would be that I wouldn’t manage to become the human being I think I ought to or could be.

What’s your least, and your most, attractive trait?

I can be impatient and irritable sometimes. I’m kind of intolerant of incompetence. I think I’m loyal to my friends and people that I know and work with.

What trait do you deplore most in others?


What’s the first thing you’d do if you were Taoiseach?

I would make a vow to myself that whatever actions I would take would not be in my own political interest.

Who would you most like to go for a pint with?

The actor Bill Murray. I think I would love to hang out with him actually.

What is your biggest insecurity? Speaking foreign languages which I do badly.

Which fictional character do you most identify with?


What is your most treasured possession?

My fiddle. I’ve always taken it on planes as hand luggage and if there are any problems, I’m an expert negotiator. I’ve talked this fiddle onto planes but with Ryanair, I buy a second seat for the fiddle. They are very clear about their policy on that one.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

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When I’m driving somewhere, getting a really big bag of crisps and a Coke to drink. Eating bad food every now and again.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

To follow your bliss.

When did you last cry, and why?

I was doing reading and talk in Scarriff and my cousin stood up and told me how proud she, and the extended family, were of what I had done musically with my life. I felt quite emotional. Tears were welling up but I didn’t go all the way, I held it in check.

Do you believe in a god? I do believe in something beyond our physical reality.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Bill Murray.

What’s your favourite word?


What’s the last TV show you binge-watched?

I sometimes binge on a run of episodes of Seinfeld or [anything with] Larry David.

What’s been your closest brush with the law?

For a good many years, I was an illegal alien in the States so every time I saw a policeman or an immigration officer, I felt like I was having a brush with the law the whole time.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

To do what I love instead of trying to make calculated, pragmatic choices for life.

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

To be unperturbed by any other human being and to be infinitely patient.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

I got on the stage in Edinburgh one night and said “it’s great to be here in Glasgow”. The audience laughed and I should have let it pass as a joke but I actually went correcting myself. That’s when I made a mistake.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

Labourer on a construction site.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Aisling Gheal.

Martin curates the annual Masters of Tradition, a five-day festival featuring performances across the spectrum of Irish Traditional Music taking place in Bantry, as part of West Cork Music from August 24-28. westcorkmusic.ie

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