About Our Name
The name of our group is Chulrua, and we play Irish traditional music. Chulrua (pronounced cool-ROO-ah), translates from the Irish as “red back,” and was the name and distinguishing feature of the favorite wolfhound belonging to ancient Irish hero Fionn MacCumhaill.
Our music is the old instrumental dance melodies of Ireland: jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas, and the occasional song. We also play walking marches, slow airs, set dances, and the harp music of Turlough O’Carolan and others.
Our concerts are in keeping with the old tradition—music in a relaxed, intimate atmosphere, and tunes offered as they were handed down from generation to generation in Ireland.
The heart of Irish music is the session, where tunes are played and traded, and conversation about music is the central theme. Sessions can be held anywhere, but are usually the best—and most relaxed—in a small, intimate place like the kitchen of a house or a small pub. The music we present onstage comes from that tradition.
A product of County Offaly in the midlands of Ireland, Paddy O’Brien is regarded by serious players and collectors of Irish traditional music as one of the tradition’s most important repositories; in a musical career that spans nearly forty years, he has collected more than 3,000 compositions—jigs, reels, hornpipes, airs, and marches, including many rare and unusual tunes. His mastery of the two-row button accordion was also acknowledged through prestigious awards: he was named Oireachtas champion four times, and All-Ireland senior accordion champion in 1975.
In Ireland, he played and recorded with the famed Castle Ceili Bandand Ceoltoiri Laighean. In 1978, Paddy began playing regularly in the United States, in Washington DC, Saint Louis, Saint Paul, San Francisco, Boston, New York, and many places between. He has been featured on six recordings with Shanachie Records since 1978, and in 1988 released his first solo album, Stranger at the Gate, on the Green Linnet label (and recently re-released by Compass Records). His most recent recordings include The Sailor’s Cravat, with fiddler Tom Schaefer, bouzouki player Paul Wehling, and singer Erin Hart (who happens to be his wife); and a new solo CD, Mixing the Punch. Both of these recent recordings are available from New Folk Records/Cló Iar-Chonnacht.
Paddy has taught at the prestigious Willie Clancy Summer School held in Milltown Malbay, County Clare, Goderich Celtic College, The Swannanoa Gathering, and the Catskills Irish Arts Week, and has served several times as a master artist in the Minnesota State Arts Board Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program. Since 1994, he has received a number of grants and fellowships to undertake an unprecedented project, recording and cataloging 1,000 tunes from his vast repertoire of traditional music; the result of that effort, The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection: A Personal Treasury of Irish Traditional Music, has received accolades from players of Irish music around the world.
In 2012, Paddy was selected as Ireland’s TG4 Gradam Ceoil Cumadóir, or Traditional Composer of the Year, among the highest honors in Irish traditional music. For more information on the award, please visit the Gradam Ceoil website.
Nathan Gourley held his first fiddle at two years of age. With support from his musical family (in particular his father who is a fiddler), Nathan enrolled in Suzuki violin lessons when he was five years old. He went on to study classical violin with Gene Purdue, former first violin of the Thouvenel Quartet. In his younger years, Nathan made regular stage appearances as a guest in many of his father’s bands such as Stone Soup, Buffalo Trail and Rosewood Moct.
It was during annual trips to numerous fiddle and folk music festivals where Nathan was exposed to all sorts of fiddlers such as Martin Hayes, Liz Carroll, Alasdair Fraser, Brendan Mulvihill, Dale Russ, and Laura Risk. In spite of his classical background and a stint as a member of the University of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Irish traditional music has become Nathan’s passion. Now dividing his time between the Twin Cities, Boston, and Ireland, Nathan is also a current member of The Two Tap Trio (with Brian Miller and Norah Rendell). He has played with Paddy in The Doon Ceili Band and O’Rourke’s Feast, and is active in numerous Irish sessions.
Brian Miller started playing Irish music as a 17-year-old in his decidedly non-Irish hometown of Bemidji, Minnesota. Since 1998, he has lived in the Twin Cities where a vibrant and supportive community of Irish musicians has nurtured his developing musicality. County Derry guitarist and singer Daithi Sproule and County Offaly accordion player Paddy O’Brien (both long-time residents of the Twin Cities) have been big influences. More inspiration and encouragement has come from many months spent in his other adopted home of Cork, Ireland.
Brian’s primary instrument has always been the guitar and over the years his backing style using the DADGAD tuning has earned him a strong reputation throughout North American Irish music circles. Esteemed Irish music critic Earle Hitchner writes: “The backing of Miller on guitar flexes not just muscle but a fully complementary style.” Also a strong traditional singer, he is the founder of the Traditional Singers Club of the Twin Cities. He added the Irish flute to his arsenal in 2000 while studying Irish music in Cork where he learned his first flute tunes from Conal O’Grada and Padraig Kelleher.
As a member of a number of traditional Irish music groups and duos including Bua, Norah Rendell and Brian Miller and The Two Tap Trio, Brian has performed throughout the US, and in parts of Canada and Ireland. He has been featured on RTE television and RTE radio in Ireland as well as the Irish language TV station TG4. He has also performed on CBC Radio in Canada and on Minnesota Public Radio.
A diligent student and teacher, Brian has been a guest lecturer on the Irish song tradition at University College Cork and he is currently a flute, whistle, and guitar teacher at the Saint Paul-based Center for Irish Music. In 2008 he was awarded two grants for his work with the songs of early Irish immigrants in Minnesota logging camps.
What We Do
Together we have almost 70 years of experience performing at community fairs and festivals, colleges and universities, folk clubs, and a variety of other venues—doing concerts, workshops, dances, and school residencies all over the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Chulrua has performed at many Irish festivals, folk festivals, and community celebrations around the United States and in Canada. We often combine concert appearances with workshops at festivals, and are happy to play for dancers and appear at demonstration booths to talk with festival-goers about our instruments and the music we play.
Chulrua concerts are generally at least two full 50-minute sets. We try to make our concerts more than just a healthy dose of Irish traditional music; we also talk a bit about our instruments and the different types of tunes played in the tradition, tell a few stories about how particular tunes got their names, and about the musicians who composed or handed down the tunes and songs we play.
Every member of the band offers instrumental workshops. Paddy also offers a workshop he calls Reaching for the Draíocht: Exploring Irish Traditional Music, which presents his own unique historical perspective on the essence of Irish music. All our workshops can be customized to the needs and interests of local players. We sometimes sit in at sessions as well, and really enjoy this way of getting to know fellow Irish musicians in the communities we visit.
Originally just a general term for a party, a céilí (pronounced KAY-lee) is now the term used for an Irish dance, where people do jigs, reels, polkas, usually in groups of four to eight, or in long lines. We generally play two or three one-hour sets for céilís, with breaks of 15-20 minutes between. We usually find it’s best to start with about 30 minutes of instruction for people unfamiliar with the dances, and to have someone call dances during the course of the evening, and may occasionally be able to recommend a dance instructor if no local teacher is available.
Education is really a part of everything we do in sharing our love of Irish traditional music. Chulrua band members have done numerous school programs, including all-school assemblies, and smaller-scale classroom visits, talking about our instruments, the music we play, and the cultural traditions of Ireland. We’ve developed an original handout, “What Is Irish Traditional Music?” that talks about the history and origins of traditional music in Ireland, and shows pictures and talks about the various instruments used in the tradition.
What the Critics Say
“In its recalling of past masters, in its thoughtful and well-crafted performances, this recording is at once a wakeup call and a reminder of the things that matter in Irish traditional music.” — Irish Music Magazine
“The music. Button box wizard Paddy O’Brien gets it. Really gets it. ‘What I like in a musician now,’ states Paddy, “is the one who plays the nicest tune, even more than the technical musicianship.” In that one sentence the legendary Offalyborn button box player encapsulates a life spent in the center and soul of Irish music. And that center is the music itself. Not the current fashion. Not the current ‘hot’ group. Not ‘the buzz.’ The music. Period. Full stop.” — Irish Music Magazine
“Paddy’s scholarship also comes through in concerts which are greatly enhanced by his lively stories of tune name origins and yarns about the people from whom (he) collected the tunes. It would be remiss, though, to neglect to mention that Paddy made his reputation through his playing, having the ability to distill the dreams, tragedy, and romance of Ireland, and pour them out in full measure through his accordion.” — The Celtic Society of the Monterey Bay, CA
“Their playing together is stellar; it’s like listening to a conversation between old friends…” — The Boston Irish Reporter
“There’s something beautifully pristine about the music on this recording—it leaps into life every time.” — Irish Music Magazine
“Students of the music, masters of their instruments, these three fit together with a tightness and perfection to be envied.” — The Irish Edition
“Their striking and skillful approach to their music is a fitting match to their deep love and understanding of the material and culture it represents. If you are a fan of the real Irish dance tune, this will be a vital addition to your collection.” — Philadelphia Folk Song Society
“A must for Celtophiles!” — Dirty Linen
“Among the many great performances given at the festival, a set from fiddler Tommy Peoples and button accordionist Paddy O’Brien stood out for sheer virtuosity and true traditional musicality.” — The Irish Voice
“…terrifically crisp and clear unison music.” — Ireland Sunday Tribune