We are delighted to share the exciting news that Irish-born and longtime Massachusetts resident Séamus Connolly has been named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. Though he recently moved to Yarmouth, Maine, we still like to claim him as one of our own.
In drafting his nomination letter, Irish music journalist Earle Hitchner writes, “I can think of no Irish traditional musician more qualified and deserving than Séamus Connolly for a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His achievements as an Irish traditional fidder, music school organizer, and music teacher are long and lustrous. . . First and foremost is his fiddling, a combination of virtuosity and vitality that stamps his style of playing as original, unique, and highly influential . . . Every time he picks up the fiddle — whether on stage, in a recording studio, in a class, or in an informal session — Séamus both preserves and advances the Irish tradition. His zeal and love for this music are as ardent now as they were when he was a boy in Ireland, and the body of art and work he has created is exceptional and formidable.”
Séamus Connolly grew up in a home filled with music in Kilaloe, County Clare, Ireland. He won his first All-Ireland National Fiddle Championship only ten months after initially picking up the fiddle and it wasn’t long before he gained national prominence. He joined the famous Kilfenora Ceili Band, traveling throughout Ireland and Britain playing for dances, concerts, and radio broadcasts and television programs.
Séamus came to the United States in 1972 as a member of the first Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann
(CCE) tour, an ensemble of 26 musicians, singers and dancers. He then returned in 1976 and settled in the Boston area. At the request of the Boston branch of CCE
, Séamus agreed to teach and pass on to American-born students the various regional styles of Irish fiddling.
Séamus directed the highly acclaimed Gaelic Roots Summer School and Festival at Boston College from 1993 – 2003. In 2004, Boston College named Connolly the “Sullivan Artist in Residence.” He also coordinates a Gaelic Roots Series of free concerts and lectures by visiting artists throughout the academic year. In 1990 and 2004, he was awarded a Fellowship in Traditional Arts by the Massachusetts Cultural Council; he was also awarded three Master/Apprenticeship Grants for teaching traditional Irish music.
Séamus often performed and recorded with two stellar musicians — Irish button accordion player Joe Derrane, who won a National Heritage Fellowship in 2004, and guitarist John McGann, a gifted guitarist and mandolin player, who passed away unexpectedly in 2012.
Indeed, it has been a momentous year for Séamus — On May 11, 2013, he was awarded another highly prestigious prize: the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, given by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations to American citizens for their outstanding contributions to the United States. An exhibition titled ” the Musical Roots of Seamus Connolly” recently ran at Boston College’s Burns Library.
We are so very proud of you Séamus.