Meet The Artists - Dennis Cahill

Dennis Cahill

Dennis Cahill is considered one of the world's finest guitarists in traditional Irish music. His unique playing, accompaniment, and arranging are acknowledged as a major breakthrough for guitar in the Irish tradition. He has played for presidents and prime ministers. “Brilliant” (NPR) and “crucial” (Folk Roots UK) are some of the descriptions of his spare, essential playing.


Dennis is perhaps best known in his long musical partnership with Irish fiddler Martin Hayes. Of the acclaimed duo, The Irish Times wrote, “Starting out as players with considerable talent, they've metamorphosed into musicians of unconscionable virtuosity. They play with a concord and an affinity that most musicians lust after, but few ever acquire.” (Siobhan Long)  Dennis is also a founding member of The Gloaming, a new Irish supergroup who has astounded critics and audiences alike, winning the 2014 Meteor Choice Prize (Ireland's “Grammy”) for their debut album.

Dennis Cahill was born June 16 (Bloomsday – the day made famous by James Joyce's “Ulysses”) in 1954 in Chicago, Illinois to immigrant parents from County Kerry, Ireland. Displaying a keen interest in music from childhood, he started studying guitar at nine years of age. He subsequently studied the instrument at the highly regarded Chicago Music College, training under Howard Levy, Manuel Lopez Ramos, Steve Klein and Robert Becker. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Cahill developed into one of the most respected and innovative guitar players in the world of traditional Irish music. Not just content with accompanying tunes, he has developed a unique approach to playing traditional and neo-traditional Irish music, incorporating the ornaments and subtleties used by the various instruments utilized within the Irish music genre. He has performed and recorded with many acclaimed Irish traditional music practitioners (including Kevin Burke, Liz Carroll, Seamus Egan, P.J. Hayes, Eileen Ivers, Arty McGlynn, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Liam O’Flynn, and Jimmy Keane), and has appeared in concert halls and festivals throughout the USA, Europe, China, and Australia. 

Dennis met traditional fiddle player Martin Hayes in Chicago in the 1980s. Hayes, although not yet the superstar of Irish music he is today, was a prodigy from County Clare who grew up learning from his famous fiddler father, and had won six All-Ireland championships by the time he was 19.  He landed in Chicago where he met up with Dennis, by then a respected member of the local music scene. The two formed the jazz/rock/fusion band Midnight Court which allowed them to experiment with a variety of new music styles. In the early '90s Dennis and Martin again teamed up, this time forming one of Irish music's most acclaimed duos of all time. Their concerts have become legendary. Beginning with the lyrical music of East Clare, they play long, sometimes thirty-minute multi-tune sets, starting from the simplest of melodies, building in intensity, but never abandoning musicality and ideas. Their touring schedule has taken them to Australia, Japan, Europe, the U.K., Ireland, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Poland, India, and Mexico City.

They have three recordings together. In 1997 they released their first duo album, “The Lonesome Touch”, followed by “Live in Seattle” in 1999, a concert recording hailed for it's vitality and innovation, and the telepathic chemistry between the two musicians. After a ten-year hiatus they released the studio album “Welcome Here Again.” All are available on the Green Linnet label through Compass Records.

Dennis and Martin have collaborated or played with such artists as Sting, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, Grammy-winning bluegrass and country star Ricky Skaggs, newgrass artists Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, and the Irish Chamber Orchestra.  They've appeared in Australia, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Holland, Scandinavia, Canada, the U.K., and Ireland as well as stops in Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, Poland, and Mexico. In 2011 they were the featured performers at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama, the Vice-President, and the President of Ireland.  With The Gloaming, they performed in Brussels in 2013 to celebrate Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union, and in 2014 at London's Royal Albert Hall for the historic first state visit by the Irish President.

In 2011 Dennis helped form The Gloaming, a new Irish "supergroup" which has transfixed music fans in Ireland and around the world. The Gloaming's debut self-titled CD won Ireland's highest music award in 2015, the Meteor Choice Music Prize, and landed on many best-of year lists including The Guardian and NPR, NPR described it's "abundant virtuosity and sheer beauty...the rare album that might well transform the syntax of a whole style.”  The Gloaming, which also features celebrated Irish sean-nos singer Iarla O Lionaird (Afro Celt Sound System),  New York downtown pianist Thomas Bartlett, and Irish fiddler Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh, has been selling out major concert halls from the Dublin National Hall to the Sydney Opera House to Mexico City's Teatro de la Ciudad.

Dennis also appears each August at the Masters of Tradition Festival held in August each year at Bantry House in Bantry, West Cork, where Ireland’s most distinguished traditional musicians are invited to play in an exquisite chamber music setting.