Begley & Cooney are among the foremost performers of Irish dance music played in the regional tradition of Kerry and Cork. The duo's songs often accompany the performances and practices of traditional step and ceili (pronounced kay-lee) dancers. Their energetic music incorporates the region's slides and polkas with the conventional hornpipes, jigs, and reels. Although the duo's dance music may be termed traditional, their musical partnership is unusual. They began their careers in vastly different musical arenas. Stephen Cooney is a former rock guitarist who started out in the Australian rock bands Fruitcake and Bushwackers. Accordionist Seamus Begley began in County Kerry, where he performed at local dance events.
Cooney was born in Melbourne. He began his career in music when he was 17, first in the U.S. and later in his native Australia. In addition to spending time in the groups Fruitcake and Bushwackers, he played with Red Gum, a folk-rock group. In 1981, he headed to Ireland, the land of his ancestors, where he held a variety of odd jobs before he played bass for the Celtic band Stockton's Wing. He left the group that same year and went on to record or perform with a number of traditional Celtic artists, among them Sharon Shannon, Altan, Dermot Byrne, and Martin Hayes.
Begley hails from the Gaelic-speaking section of the town of Dingle. Thanks to an accordionist father, he took up the instrument as a child. In 1972, he and sister Maire recorded the album An Ciarraioch Mallaithe for Gael Linn. Following a move to Chicago in 1976, Begley made his living by driving a truck.
Begley later returned to Ireland, where he first met Cooney. The two men became acquainted when Cooney played piano and guitar on the second album Begley made with his sister in 1989 for Gael Linn, Plancstai Bhaile na Buc. Together Begley & Cooney released Meitheal during the '90s. Hummingbird issued the album in Ireland and Kells released it in the U.S.