Words and Music

Bring the ‘walking encyclopedia of Irish traditional music’ to you!

“Within the world of Irish traditional music Paddy O’Brien stands out as a unique figure. Not only is he in the absolute top rank of button accordion players, with a vast, intimate knowledge of the music, but he is also a highly articulate spokesperson for the tradition. Paddy can engage an audience as much with his words as he can with the notes he so brilliantly coaxes from his instrument. When Paddy talks about Irish music he does so not as a detached academician, keeping an emotional distance between himself and his subject, but as someone for whom the music is, and always has been, at the core of his own life. He loves nothing more than to share this passion with others, and he does so brilliantly.”  — Paul F. Wells, Director Emeritus, Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University

“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

Did you know that there is a single individual who carries the whole history of Irish traditional music in his head? A person who can play any one of about 3,000 Irish melodies at the drop of a hat? That unique individual is Paddy O’Brien, long regarded by serious players and collectors of Irish traditional music as one of the tradition’s most important repositories. In a career that spans nearly forty years, he has collected more than 3,000 traditional compositions—jigs, reels, hornpipes, airs, and marches, including many rare and unusual tunes. In Paddy’s own words:

“I was born and spent the first 33 years of my life in Ireland. I think of the music I play as what we would call in Irish sean nós, or the old style of playing. Many of the melodies come from ancient forms of pipe tunes and harp music. Since I don’t read written music, I learn by ear and keep all the tunes in memory. I’ve built up my repertoire over decades, seeking out certain players—not just for the their virtuoso playing, but for their settings of tunes, particular notes and phrasings that seem to bring out the life and the character of the music.”

Paddy has dozens of recordings to his name, has toured extensively in North America and Europe, and has won many prestigious awards for his music, including the All-Ireland Senior Accordion Championship, and multiple Oireachtas awards. In 2012 he was named Ireland’s Traditional Composer of the Year at the Gradam Ceoil Traditional Music Awards sponsored by TG4, the Irish language television network.

So far, Paddy has recorded 1,000 tunes from his repertoire, now available as The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection:  A Personal Treasury of Irish Traditional Music, an unprecedented undertaking for a single player. Volume One (including 400 reels and 100 jigs) was released in 1995, and hailed as a priceless and indispensable resource by Irish musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Volume Two (including 150 double jigs, 120 hornpipes, 100 polkas, 100 reels, and 30 slip jigs) was released in 2011.

Paddy currently tours and records with Irish traditional trio Chulrua, including fiddle, guitar, and vocals. He also tours and records solo, and with O’Rourke’s Feast, a seven-piece Irish traditional chamber orchestra. His recently completed memoir about growing up with Irish music, THE ROAD FROM CASTLEBARNAGH, was published by Ireland's Orpen Press in October 2012.

Paddy has taught and lectured at some of the world’s foremost Irish music academies, including the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance at Limerick University; the Willie Clancy Summer School, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare; The Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, North Carolina; the Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University; the Irish Music School of Chicago; Goderich Celtic College in Goderich, Ontario; and at the Irish Studies Program at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota.



Paddy offers four different lecture/demonstration programs below, which can be tailored to suit the various interests of your faculty and students. Each talk will bring the topic alive with music and images—the people and the places that are the essence of traditional music and culture of Ireland.  Schedule one or more of these enrichment lectures for your next Irish Studies course offering, and enjoy a concert of Irish traditional music as well.

The History of Irish Traditional Music

A survey presentation about the history of Irish traditional music, from the oral tradition of bards, harpers and pipers in ancient Ireland, to the development of ceili bands and ensemble music. Many of the melodies played in Irish traditional music today are actually hundreds of years old. Paddy offers insights into the influence of instruments on the shapes of Irish melodies, and demonstrates by playing examples of the various types of tunes in Irish music, including reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, slow airs, slip jigs, and harp and piping tunes.

The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection Project

Recording 1,000 melodies from the repertoire of any single player in Irish traditional music is an unprecedented and historic undertaking. Paddy will talk about the process of conceiving and creating The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection, including his research, recording, and writing the personal , folkloric, and historical background material that accompanies each volume.

Growing Up In The Traditional Culture Of Rural Ireland

Paddy's memoir, THE ROAD FROM CASTLEBARNAGH,  offers a glimpse into Irish life more than half a century ago. He grew up in a small thatched house without running water or electricity, at a time when the social life in the Irish countryside was centered around the hearth fire, music, and stories. In this presentation, Paddy takes on the role of shanachie, offering tales of his first musical instrument, house dances, thatching the house with his father, ringing the big pig, the boys’ National School, turf cutting, a ghostly confrontation and the Banshee; there’s a particular emphasis on his own experience of growing up within traditional music.

Exploring the Soul of Irish Traditional Music

This presentation is geared for Irish traditional music students of any age. Draíochtis a Gaelic word meaning spiritual power or soul. This class will offer valuable insights into the essence of Irish music, the development of listening skills, and recognizing melodic structures and regional styles such as those of West Clare, East Galway, Kerry, and Donegal. Paddy will discuss how different methods of transmission (and even the instruments on which they are played) can influence the character of a tune. An older generation of musicians, including piper Willie Clancy, accordionist Joe Cooley, whistle player Micho Russell, and fiddlers Michael Coleman and John Doherty had a profound influence on the character of Irish traditional music. Paddy will talk about the legacy of these legendary musicians, some of whom he learned from firsthand.


In conjunction with any or all of these lectures, Paddy can also offer special Irish traditional music performances for Irish Studies students and faculty, usually with guitar/bouzouki accompaniment.


E-mail:  PaddyOBrienBox@gmail.com
Website: https://paddyobrien.net
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Mailing List: Paddy’s mailing list