Gradam Ceoil TG4
Séamus Connolly – Lifetime Achievement Award
Séamus Connolly is a fiddle player, teacher, author, composer, recording musician and event organiser from Killaloe, Co. Clare and has spent most of his life in the US, living in Massachusetts and working at Boston College. The most significant project of his career however, is The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music, an online, digitised collection of over three hundred tunes, compiled by Connolly, and performed by a selection of other traditional musicians as well as himself.
Born in Killaloe in 1944, Connolly grew up in a musical family. His mother Lena played piano, button accordion and fiddle and his father Michael played flute, whistle and button accordion also, as well as being a stepdancer. After beginning to learn the fiddle from a young age, Connolly soon became successful at the Fleadh ceoil and in 1961, he won the All Ireland for his solo fiddle playing, going on to win it ten times in total. At the Oireachtas, he won four separate duet titles – two on fiddle and flute, and two on fiddle and uilleann pipes, with multi-instrumentalist Peadar O’Loughlin.
In 1976, Connolly emigrated to Massachusetts in the US, where he still lives. He began working with Boston College in 1990, where he established Irish music, song and dance programs at the university’s Irish Studies Program. He made it possible for students at the university to take credited classes – some of which he taught – in Irish fiddle, flute and tin whistle, as well as Irish dance. He founded the Gaelic Roots Summer School and Festival on the campus of Boston College and was Festival Director from 1993 to 2003 and in 2004, he became the inaugural Sullivan Artist in Residence in Irish Music.
In 1991, Connolly was the subject of a documentary called The Music Makers: Séamus Connolly and Friends, made in Massachussets by filmographers Joan Ross and Jim Higgins and in 2002, he was inducted into Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Northeast Region (of North America) Hall of Fame.
Connolly has performed on many recordings and has released two solo albums, 1988’s Notes from My Mind, which was remastered and reissued by Connolly in 2006, and 1989’s Here and There. He collaborated on other albums, including Warming Up with Jack Coen on flute, Martin Mulhaire on button accordion, and Felix Dolan on piano in 1993. In 2004, he recorded The Boston Edge with Joe Derrane on button accordion and John McGann on guitar and mandolin.
He became an author in 2002 when he co-wrote the book Forget Me Not: A Collection of 50 Memorable Traditional Irish Tunes with fiddle player and former student of Connolly’s, Laurel Martin. Accompanying the book was a double CD of the fifty tunes from the book, recorded by Connolly and Martin.
The most significant project of his career however, is The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music (connollymusiccollection.bc.edu/) the digitised collection of over three hundred traditional music tracks, published in digital form by the Boston College Libraries, and which he spent fifteen years putting together.
He started working on the project in 2001, initially having the idea to record, transcribe and digitise one hundred tunes from his own repertoire. But as the project progressed, the collection of songs grew and over one hundred musicians contributed. Connolly travelled across the US and Ireland to meet musicians such as fiddle player Eddie Kelly, flute player John Darcy and singers Len Graham, Rita Gallagher, Ann Mulqueen, Pádraigín Caesar, Josephine McNamara, among many others. The result is an online collection of over three hundred tunes, recorded and available to listen to, for free, accompanied by the score and history behind each tune.
In 2013, Connolly was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which is given in recognition of distinguished career achievements by an immigrant or descendant of immigrants to the US. That year he was also awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is given in recognition of distinguished achievements by a folk or traditional artist. In 2014, Boston College awarded him the Faculty Award, to honour his achievements and contributions to the arts in the university. He retired from Boston College in 2015, after working there for twenty fives years.