Paddy O’Brien, button accordionist and musicologist, was born in Co. Offaly, Ireland, in 1945. Throughout his life, O’Brien has been one of the leading forces in song and tune collection of the Irish tradition. O’Brien spent years amassing traditional songs, folklore, and tunes, accumulating over 3000 jigs, reels, and marches alone. In 1994, O’Brien received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the mass recording of over 500 tunes to be published in the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection: A Personal Treasury of Irish Jigs and Reels.
In his young adult years, O’Brien made his debut as a button accordionist with the Ballinamere Céilí Band in 1966. He then toured with U.S. in a trio before winning the solo accordion competition at the 1969 Oireachtas. In 1975, O’Brien won the highest honor in his field, the All-Ireland Senior Accordion championship.
Until the late 1970s, O’Brien lived in Dublin, playing with John Kelly and Joe Ryan, as well as the Castle Céilí Band and Ceoltoiri Laighean. In 1978 he relocated the the U.S. to create the band Bowhand with fiddler James Kelly and guitarist Dáithí Sproul, with whom he released Is It Yourself? (Shanachie,1978) and Spring in the Air (Shanachie, 1980).
In the early 1980s, O’Brien joined with Seán O’Driscoll and singer/guitarist Tom Dahill to form the group Hill 16. They debuted a self-titled album in 1984. In 1988, O’Brien issued his first ever solo record with Green Linnet, Stranger at the Gate. Later, in 1995, O’Brien joined with singer/guitarist Pat Egan and piper Michael Cooney to form Chulrua, (Cool-roo-ah) with whom he has performed all over the U.S. and Canada as well as offering workshops at festivals and schools. Chulrua recorded three albums on the Shanachie label, their most recent in 2007.