David O’Docherty, Irish artist, dies while swimming in Katama Bay


David O’Docherty, 75, of Lynn died Saturday morning while swimming in Katama Bay in Edgartown. He apparently suffered a heart attack, family members said.

Mr. O’Docherty was an authority on Irish music, well-known Irish musician and frequent Island visitor. He was a headliner at this year’s annual Island Bloomsday celebration of music and drama, based on the writing of James Joyce, influential Irish novelist and poet, on June 16.

“He was an incredible musician, story teller and artist,” John Crelan, Bloomsday organizer, said of his friend.

State Police trooper David Parent said people standing on the Katama landing dock off Edgartown Bay Shore Road saw what appeared to be a body floating in the water and called the Edgartown harbormaster’s office. When rescuers arrived, they discovered Mr. O’Docherty. He was transported to the shore and pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr. O’Docherty and his wife were staying in a nearby house owned by friends. Mrs. O’Docherty, unaware of what had happened, called police when her husband did not return from his morning swim.

Trooper Parent and State Police Sergeant Jeff Stone, accompanied by a family friend, went to the house to deliver the sad news.

Mr. O’Docherty collected and recorded thousands of Irish airs, songs and tunes from original sources in Ireland and throughout the Irish diaspora from London to San Francisco. His collection is part of the Irish National Archives. He was a virtuoso flute and tinwhistle player.

Mr. O’Docherty performed last week at the annual Bloomsday celebration at the Katharine Cornell Theater. Even as the audience began to collect, and well before curtain time, he sat on the corner of the stage and regaled them with stories of music present and very remote — he said music can be traced to the stone age. Anthropologists have found a six-hole flute made of bone in the Paleolithic era, 35,000 years ago, he reported. Holding up his own tinwhistle, he said, “It probably didn’t sound very different from this one.”

Last Wednesday, he sang a rollicking version of “Biddy Mulligan the Pride of the Coombe,” a mid-20th century Irish folk song, and also played airs on the tinwhistle, including among others “We only drink to forget we’re alcoholics,” a song he said was not his favorite tune, but carried his favorite title. He had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Mr. O’Docherty was also an accomplished painter whose work has been shown at galleries in Dublin, Geneva, Paris, London, Washington, Martha’s Vineyard, and elsewhere in the United States.