Galway, a friend of Belfast-born Bell since they were students together at the Royal College of Music, said the passing was a great tragedy: “Derek was an essential member of the Chieftains professionally and personally. He occupied an unique position in the music world and retained a real passion for folk music and will be sadly missed.”
Mr Bell, 67, who was honoured with an MBE, died yesterday during a recovery period from minor surgery in the United States.
He joined the band as a full-time member in the early 1970’s but had appeared with them previously on tour. He played the harp and, among other instruments, the oboe, horn, cor anglais and keyboards.
Art and Tourism Minister John O’Donoghue said Mr Bell was one of the finest harpists Ireland ever produced: “He was a vital part of a group which brought traditional Irish music to new levels. He was particularly noted for popularising the music of Turlough Ó Carolan and for interpreting it in a way that brought it to life for very many people.”
The Chieftains have worked with a variety of artistes and in a number of styles, collaborating with singers such as Van Morrison, Tom Jones and Elvis Costello along with The Corrs and the Rolling Stones.
Surviving band members, in a statement, said they would miss him terribly: “His death left a silence that would never be filled.”