Button accordionist and musicologist Paddy O'Brien was born September 13, 1945 in Daingean, County Offaly, Ireland; after spending several years travelling the Irish countryside learning and collecting traditional songs and folklore -- over the decades, he would amass more than 3000 jigs, reels, airs and marches -- he made his professional debut in 1966 with the Ballinamere Céilí Band, later touring the eastern U.S. with Seán and Kathleen Ryan. In 1969 -- the year he won the first of four top honors in the Oireachtas Competition solo accordion contest -- O'Brien relocated to Dublin, where he regularly played pubs alongside fiddlers John Kelly and Joe Ryan; until 1978, he also played with the Castle Céilí Band, concurrently backing Ceoltoiri Laighean as well. Named All-Ireland senior accordion champion in 1975, three years later O'Brien returned to the U.S. to join fiddler James Kelly and guitarist Dáithí Sproule in the trio Bowhand, which debuted with the Shanachie release Is It Yourself?; Spring in the Air followed in 1980, and in 1983 he officially settled in Minneapolis. With banjo player Seán O'Driscoll and singer/guitarist Tom Dahill, O'Brien next formed the group Hill 16, issuing a self-titled LP in 1984; he made his long-awaited solo debut in 1988, issuing Stranger at the Gate on Green Linnet. With a 1994 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, he recorded some 500 traditional songs for the massive Paddy O'Brien Tune Collection: A Personal Treasury of Irish Jigs and Reels; the following year, O'Brien formed the group Chulrua with singer/guitarist Pat Egan and piper Michael Cooney.
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