No one has won more All-Ireland solo championships on fiddle than Séamus Connolly, whose total of ten represents a benchmark that may never be equaled. His first title came at age 12, just ten months after initially picking up the instrument, while his first senior title came at age 17, making him the youngest senior champion ever. Séamus, who’s self taught, also won the coveted Fiddler of Dooney competition as a soloist in 1967 and four Oireachtas duet titles with Kilmaley, Clare, flutist Peadar O’Loughlin.

Born in Killaloe, Clare, in 1944, Séamus was raised in a household of music. His father, Mick, played accordion, whistle, and flute; his mother, Lena, played accordion and piano;and his younger brother, Martin, is a button accordionist who won the All-Ireland senior title in 1978. Séamus also played in two exceptional céilí bands, the Leitrim and the Kilfenora, and formed musical ties with button accordionists Paddy Ryan from Tipperary and Paul Brock from Westmeath.

But it is with another button accordionist, Paddy O’Brien (1922-1991) of Newtown, Tipperary, that Séamus forged one of the most celebrated duos in Irish musical history. From about 1964 to 1976, the year Séamus immigrated to America, the two played together as often as they could, and at one point they joined Peadar O’Loughlin, fiddler Paddy Canny, and pianist George Byrt in a group called Inis Cealtra.

In 1973 Séamus Connolly and Paddy O’Brien, accompanied by pianist Charlie Lennon, recorded a “little LP” of just six tracks, The Banks of the Shannon. It was anything but “little” in the estimation of Irish traditional music lovers, who eagerly snapped up the limited copies to savor the stunning tandem playing of Séamus and Paddy, dubbed “the Father of the B/C Accordion.”

Stateside, Séamus Connolly has added substantially to his prior achievements in Ireland. He has made two acclaimed solo recordings, Notes From My Mind in 1988 and Here and There in 1989, as well as Warming Up, a superb CD with flutist Jack Coen, button accordionist Martin Mulhaire, and pianist Felix Dolan in 1993. That same year, Séamus contributed four tracks of his own to the CD reissue of The Banks of the Shannon, which contains the six original tracks of the “little LP” and five solo tracks from the mid-1950s by Paddy O’Brien. The Clare fiddler’s talent also graces The Boston College Irish Fiddle Festival: My Love Is in America in 1991, Masters of the Folk Violin in 1993, and more than two dozen other albums by such artists as Jerry O’Sullivan, John Whelan, and Jimmy Nooan.

Séamus’s involvement in Irish traditional music is not limited to performance. He is a teacher (Brendan Bulger, the first Bostonian to win an All-Ireland fiddle title, is one of his former pupils), summer school and festival organizer (Boston College’s Gaelic Roots from 1993 to 2003), record producer (e.g., the double-CD Boston College Irish Studies Program Celebrates Gaelic Roots in 1997), and author (Forget Me Not, a book of tunes packaged with two CDs, all of which he produced in 2002 with Laurel Martin, another former fiddle student of his who’s now a Boston College teaching colleague). In April 2004 Séamus Connolly was named the Sullivan Artist in Residence in Irish Music at Boston College, an endowed position that recognizes his overall contributions to the college since 1990.

Amid these many accomplishments, Séamus prefers to single out his role as Gaelic Roots founder and director in bringing to Boston College such honored guests as Peadar O’Loughlin, Proinsias Ó Maonaigh, Josephine Keegan, Bobby Casey, Tommy McCarthy, and Johnny O’Leary, the last three of whom have since passed away. This profound deference and selfless service to the giants of Irish traditional music help stamp Séamus as one himself.

[bio by Earle Hitchner,“Ceol” columnist for The Irish Echo and contributing music writer for The Wall Street Journal.]

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The Boston Edge (#10332)


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