Dennis Cahill (1954-2022)


Our dearest Dennis Cahill passed away peacefully on Monday evening, with his beloved Mary by his side as she has throughout his journey. Just moments before — we were comforting Dennis while The Lament for Limerick from Dennis’ album with Martin was on in the background — and as the track advanced to My Love is in America, Mary turned off the player, leaned over to hug and kiss Dennis one last time – and then he was gone…

Too heartbroken to write any more…

Play a tune today. 

Sing a song. 

Tell a corny joke. 

Sip a whiskey. 

Cherish a memory…

My loving condolences to Mary, Cliodhna, the Cahill family, and all of Dennis’ many friends…

Love you Dennis and rest gently in peace…


Jimmy Keane (Tuesday, June 21, 2022)

* * * *

Martin Hayes

Liz Carroll

Letter To Dennis 

Dear Dennis, we knew each other for over thirty five years without ever really giving verbal expression to how we felt about each other. Once in a while after a whiskey you might lean your arm on my shoulder and tell me that I was a good guy or that we’d made a difference, I knew what you meant. It would be an understatement however to say you didn’t like any mushy emotional talk, but yet, without ever having to say it, we were both keenly aware of our deep loyalty and love towards each other. That feeling of trust was always there in such a way that we never had to talk about it. We really were great friends, we loved each other and we really had a hell of an adventure. 

We started on a musical journey many years ago in the bar rooms of Chicago, we didn’t think we’d ever make it out of those bars to the concert stage, but today the President of Ireland and the government minister for the arts were both writing about the huge impact you had on the world of traditional music. You made it out of the bar scene and on to some of the finest stages of the world. You really did succeed, you pulled it all together into a most beautiful crystallization of your musical loves and influences. Nobody before you had ever played those chords and rhythms with Irish music, in the way you did. You matched the beauty of these traditional Irish melody’s with your own equally beautiful sequences of chords and hypnotic rhythms. Every night we played, we would give it our all, we’d zig and zag until we locked in. Some of those moments were sublime moments where our connection was truly telepathic. There were so many times on stage when you were simply able to read my mind and I hope that you still can. 

I wasn’t able to listen to our recordings yesterday as I sat in the airport in Manchester. I don’t think I’d have been able to hold it together if I listened. I heard you slipped away to the sound of us playing “The Lament for Limerick”. You remember the evening we recorded it when we were nervously making our first album in the basement of the house in Seattle. We had already recorded the air Bruach Na Carraige Báine and then I changed my mind and said let’s go downstairs and record the Lament for Limerick instead, we did it in just one un-edited take, right in the moment, just like we did with the Paul Ha’penny set. 

It was kind of fitting that I found myself in an airport for many hours yesterday, maybe we spent more time together in airports than anywhere else. We’d often meet at the gate of some connecting flight, you having come from Chicago and me from wherever I was living at the time. I’d be searching for that backward slanting baseball cap in the crowd, or sometimes just your shaved head. Yesterday in the distance I spotted somebody from the back with a shaved head and a black tea shirt, and for an instant I had that familiar momentary jolt of thinking I’d just found you. I suspect that I will be having that experience for some time to come. You might have looked like someone else with a shaved head and black T-shirt, but in reality I never knew anyone remotely like you. You were one of a kind, a very special blend of talent, humility, grace and good humor. 

The last time you and I were in this airport it was just as crowded and I remembered you suggesting that we go and find a lounge and pay for a few hours of quietness, you said we deserved it. I took your advice again yesterday and sat there in the quietness reading messages of love and admiration from every friend you and I had ever known. I spent those hours mostly remembering your life and all of the shared experiences we had while touring the world together. Reading messages from those who loved you so much was comforting and heartwarming. It was lovely to see from their messages that the beauty of your chords and music had gone so deeply into the hearts of so many people. Little did I know when we were in that lounge back then, that the next time I would be there, you would be gone from us. 

We came from different musical worlds, but together, we made our own world of music and I think we made a difference. I am forever indebted to you and grateful to you for all those magic years of music, friendship and fun. 

Safe journey onwards, you got the early boarding again, but I’ll see you at the other end. 

I love you 

Martin Hayes (Wednesday, June 22, 2022)

What a kind and gentle soul Dennis Cahill was, and a friend for what seems like my entire musical life. I loved walking into pubs like The Abbey and Chief’s as a session or a traditional concert was about to begin, and having the catchup with Dennis. I loved hearing about where he had just been on tour, who he saw there, and then being barraged with the latest jokes.

He had wonderful insight into the beauty of tunes and how to bring the most out of them and how to connect with listeners, and I was fascinated and intrigued as he talked about these things as well. He had the best gig in the world, playing with Martin Hayes, but back at home he played with all of us here in Chicago- beginners and road warriors alike.

On hearing the news that Dennis had passed, my mind went back to what must have been the first time I met him. I was going to college on the northside of Chicago- he must have been in college too, but maybe he was out. I was already doing some fiddle teaching and playing for my old dancing school, and for benefits and such. Dennis was doing a different circuit, of pub gigs, I think. Marshall Fields, our big department store downtown, was featuring some Irish products for a week (maybe Waterford crystal?) and he, and I want to say George Casey, and me- playing solo, and a couple of other Irish-style groups, got the job of playing at the store for a week. We’d play for twenty minutes each in four areas- the famous Walnut Room, a lunch area that I remember was like an ice cream parlor, another spot I can’t remember, and then in the window on the first floor facing State Street. It was an introspective week for me as I pondered what playing music for a living might entail! All four groups met in the morning before we headed to our stations, and I can remember catching Dennis’ eye and feeling a strong connection. I knew he was thinking the same thing as me–could this be our lives? Do we want this? Can we survive the window?!

To say Dennis survived is to say the very, very least.

My condolences to Mary and family. Then a toast to you, Dennis, from all of us who loved and admired you here in Chicago, and around the world. You were, without exaggeration, the best.

Liz Carroll (June 23, 2022)