Maura O'Connell  
Maura O'Connell embodies many paradoxes: lead singer for De Dannon, she was not a traditional Celtic singer; resident of Nashville, she is not American; collaborator with New Grass Revival, she is not a bluegrass performer. Nevertheless, O'Connell has made a name for herself on two continents as a superb singer.

O'Connell was born and raised in County Clare, Ireland, where she began singing at an early age. Involvement in the folk club scene led to an invitation from celtic traditionalists, De Dannon, to join their ranks. Her involvement with De Dannon resulted in the recording of Star Spangled Mollie, a clear indication of interest in trans-Atlantic culture. O'Connell then began to collabrate with members of New Grass Revival, and in particular with Bela Fleck who produced several of her tracks. Together with Fleck and others, she recorded Just in Time and made the decision to settle in Nashville, Tennessee. Since then, she has released Helpless Heart, Blue is the Colour of Hope, and Real Life Story, each album registering a move toward a pop synthesis. Stories followed in 1995, with Wandering Home appearing two years later. Leon Jackson, All-Music Guide

Robbie O'Connell  
This nephew of the world-famous Clancy Brothers is also a fine folksinger and a respected songwriter. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

Eugene O'Donnell  
This native of Derry city now lives in the Philadelphia area. He is a master of slow airs and set dances on the fiddle. ~ Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

Martin O'Connor  
Button accordion player Mairtin O'Connor has been a member of the ensemble De Danann as well as an influential solo musician. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

Sinéad O'Connor  
Sinead O'Connor ranked among the most distinctive and controversial pop music stars of the 1990s, the first and in many ways the most influential of the numerous female performers whose music dominated airwaves throughout the decade. Brash and outspoken, with her shaven head, angry visage and shapeless wardrobe a direct challenge to the popular culture's long-prevailing notions of femininity and sexuality, O'Connor irrevocably altered the image of women in rock; railing against long-standing stereotypes simply by asserting herself not as a sex object but as a serious artist, she kick-started a revolt which led the way for performers ranging from Liz Phair to Courtney Love to Alanis Morissette.

O'Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland on December 8, 1966. Her childhood was often traumatic: her parents divorced when she was eight, and she later claimed that her mother, who was killed in a 1985 automobile accident, frequently abused her. After being expelled from Catholic school, O'Connor was arrested for shoplifting and shuttled off to a reformatory; at the age of 15, while singing a cover of Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen" at a wedding, she was spotted by Paul Byrne, the drummer for the Irish band In Tua Nua (best known as proteges of U2). After co-writing the first In Tua Nua single, "Take My Hand," O'Connor left boarding school in order to focus on a career in music, and began performing in area coffeehouses; she later studied voice and piano at the Dublin College of Music, and supported herself delivering singing telegrams.

Upon signing a contract with Ensign Records in 1985, O'Connor relocated to London; the following year she made her recorded debut on the soundtrack of the film The Captive, appearing with U2 guitarist the Edge. After scrapping the initial tapes for her debut LP on the grounds that the production was too Celtic, she took the producer's seat herself and began re-recording the album, dubbed The Lion and the Cobra in reference to Psalm 91; the result was one of the most acclaimed debut records of 1987, with a pair of alternative radio hits in the singles "Mandinka" and "Troy." Almost from the outset of her career, however, O'Connor was a controversial media figure; in interviews following the LP's release, she defended the actions of the IRA, resulting in widespread criticism from many corners, and even burned bridges by attacking longtime supporters U2, whose music she declared "bombastic."

However, O'Connor remained a cult figure prior to the release of 1990's chart-topping I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, a harrowing masterpiece sparked by the recent dissolution of her marriage to drummer John Reynolds. Boosted by the single and video "Nothing Compares 2 U," originally penned by Prince, the album established her as a major star, but again controversy followed as tabloids took aim at her romance with Black singer Hugh Harris while continuing to attack her outspoken politics. On American shores, O'Connor also became the target of derision for refusing to perform in New Jersey if "The Star Spangled Banner" was played prior to her appearance, a move which brought public criticism from no less than Frank Sinatra, who threatened to "kick her ass; " she also made headlines for pulling out of an appearance on the NBC program Saturday Night Live in response to the misogynist persona of guest host Andrew Dice Clay, and even withdrew her name from competition in the annual Grammy Awards despite four nominations. O'Connor also continued to confound expectations with her third album, 1992's Am I Not Your Girl? a collection of pop standards and torch songs which failed to live up to either the commercial or critical success of I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. However, any discussion of the record's creative merits quickly became moot in the wake of her most controversial and damaging action yet: after finally appearing on Saturday Night Live, O'Connor ended her performance by ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II, resulting in a wave of condmemnation unlike any she'd previously encountered. Two weeks after the SNL performance, she appeared at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, and was promptly booed off the stage.

Now a virtual pariah, O'Connor's retirement from the music business was subsequently reported, although it was later claimed that she had merely returned to Dublin with the intent of studying opera. She kept a low profile for the next several years, starring as Ophelia in a theatrical production of Hamlet and later touring with Peter Gabriel's WOMAD festival. She also reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown, and even made a half-hearted attempt at suicide. In 1994, however, O'Connor returned to pop music with the LP Univeral Mother, which, despite good reviews, failed to relaunch her to superstar status; the following year she announced that she would no longer speak to the press. The Gospel Oak EP followed in 1997. Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide

Liam O'Flynn  
An uillean piper from Co. Kildare, O'Flynn was a founding member of Planxty. An innovative performer, he has recorded with pop, folk, and classical musicians and on film soundtracks in a variety of styles. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

Old Blind Dogs  
In Britain and Ireland, as in America over the last 25 years or so, a number of folk music bands have sprung up that have combined strong elements and foundations of the traditional with a variety of influences from other cultures and styles. Steeleye Span, the Tannahill Weavers, Fairport Convention, the House Band, Wolfstone and others have all produced music that borrows as freely from reggae, African rhythms, and American folk and rock music, as from the ancient ballads and tunes of their own cultures. Among the most striking and interesting of these bands was Scotland's Old Blind Dogs, an Aberdeen based band that toured Europe and North America extensively throughout the '90s before dissolving in 1998. The genesis of Old Blind Dogs dates to 1990, when three veterans of the Aberdeen music scene came together after having played with each other in various other bands. Guitarist and lead singer Ian F. Benzie, the elder statesman of the band, had been involved with folk music since the glory days of the late '50s and early '60s. It was the realization that many of his favorite songs by American folk icons like Joan Baez were, in fact, songs from centuries past in his own culture that steered him toward the traditional side of the music, while becoming adept at writing his own powerful material. As a singer, Benzie has been compared to fellow Scotsmen Dick Gaughan and Archie Fisher, a master of phrasing and delivery, whether of his own songs or of classics like "The Cruel Sister." Joining Benzie in the original configuration of the Dogs were fellow Aberdeen natives Jonny Hardie on fiddle and Buzzby McMillan, a jack of all trades on bass, whistles, cittern and just about anything else with frets and strings. Though classically trained as a viola player, Hardie became enamored of the traditional fiddle tunes he heard while travelling throughout Britain. Meeting up again with McMillan after returning from music college, they began busking together on the streets and playing in a succession of bands before forming the Dogs with Benzie. By 1992, they had gained a reputation as a band adept at mixing traditional Scottish fare with more modern material, but it was the addition of percussionist Davy Cattanach in that year that gave the band a character unlike any other of their contemporary bands and allowed them to branch out in new directions. Cattanach had played drums in a number of reggae, rock and blues bands that McMillan had also been part of. After spending five years or so in London, Cattanach returned to Aberdeen, where he met up again with McMillan. He had never played or been involved with traditional music before, but was intrigued with the sound of the band his friend was playing in, and on being told they were looking to add a percussionist, immediately went out and got a set of congas. With the addition of the exotic rhythms Cattanach brought to the band, they were able to explore new ways of expressing their distinctive blend of old and new. For the next five years, they toured and recorded to rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, such as this one from the Scottish Daily Record: "From the exciting driving energy of traditional tunes to the haunting melody [they] will give you goosepimples on the back of your neck." In 1997, a fifth Dog was added in the person of piper and woodwind player Fraser Fifield, whose work was welcomed by the band's die-hard fans as an added dimension to the sound. In 1998, Cattanach departed the band and was replaced by long-time Wolfstone drummer and percussionist Graeme "Mop" Youngson. Following their 1998 U.S. tour, though, the years of being on the road induced Benzie to also quit the band, and as the clock wound down on the century, Old Blind Dogs was in hiatus. ~ John Lupton, All-Music Guide

Sean O'Riada  
Sean O'Riada was the founder of the modern school (which is to say, the authentic ancient-style of playing) Irish folk music and, equally important, a vital nationalistic voice in the orchestral music of Ireland. Best known today as a composer, he was also present at the recording of the first album by the Chieftains, and founded the folk chamber orchestra Ceoltoiri Cualann, Paddy Moloney's group before forming the Chieftains.

Sean O'Riada (or John Reidy, in English) was born in Cork, Ireland in 1931, and attended University College, Cork. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1952, and served as assistant music director for Radio Eireann in 1954 and 1955. In 1955, he became the music director of the Abbey Theater in Dublin, a post he held until 1962. The following year, he became a lecturer at University College, Cork, a post he held until his death in 1971. During this period, he composed prolifically in all areas, including music for plays, 2 ballets, various orchestral suites symphonic pieces, several choral works, masses, chamber pieces, and piano works, and three notable pieces of film music.

Among his generation of Irish composers, O'Riada was the most deeply involved with traditional Irish music. Curiously, however, most of his works for the concert hall utilized no folk material, and some of it--most notably Nomos No. 1, is a contrapuntal piece that uses 12-tone ("serialist") technique. Nomos No. 2 utilizes a text drawn from Sophocles' Theban plays in its reflections on life and death and the history of music, and includes a quotation from Mozart's Symphony No. 41. O'Riada was just as likely to look back to Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms as to his own nation's musical heritage.

O'Riada also prepared numerous arrangements of traditional Irish songs, and in the late 1950's, he organized Ceoltoiri Cualann, a folk chamber orchestra whose membership consisted of the best traditional musicians in Ireland. O'Riada's group performed Irish folk music stripped of all the pop inflections and sentimentality that usually afflicted their performance. The earliest versions of the melodies and dances served as the source material, and the group played them with a natural lilt and an abandon that came from deep within the music's origins; the airs, in particular, stripped of their modern inflections, came across with even greater poignancy than anyone had recognized in them in decades. It was out of this group that Paddy Moloney formed the Chieftains in the early 1960's, a smaller, more flexible ensemble that eventually brought this new/old vision of Irish music to the world. O'Riada was with the Chieftains on their first album, and some three years after his death, his composition "Women Of Ireland," as used in the 1974 Stanley Kubrick movie Barry Lyndon, broke the group in America, garnering considerable radio play and network television time for them. His own film scores included the music for three documentaries, I Am Ireland, Freedom, and The Living Fire, and Brian Desmond Hurst's 1962 feature film Playboy of the Western World.

O'Riada's other great contribution to Irish folk music lay in the realm of orchestral composition. While England had composers such as Gustav Holst, George Butterworth, and, most important, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who used English folk music as the basis for some of their most successful orchestral compositions, Irish music never quite achieved the same degree of prominence as a source for serious orchestral music--not until O'Riada came along. Although his most serious compositions drew from German and Austrian inspirations, he also took up authentic Irish music as a basis for composition on several of his works, and ended up doing for Irish folk music what Vaughan Williams did for English music. His work has been compared to that of Gustav Mahler, for his ability to paint orchestral pictures with rich colors and sparse austerity, and also to Sibelius in its nationalist sentiments. Bruce Eder, All-Music Guide

Billy Oskay  
New Age producer and session player Billy Oskay was born and raised in Kingston, NY, where at age seven he first picked up the violin. Beginning in 1970 he studied under Eugen Prokop at the International Academy of Music located in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and a year later earned his master's degree in music from Indiana's Ball State University. In the years following, Oskay headed the music department at Oregon's Mt. Angel College before joining the swing combo Everything's Jake; during the late 1980s, he also teamed with Irish guitarist Michael O'Domhnill to form the Celtic-influenced Nightnoise, issuing a series of LPs on the Windham Hill label beginning with 1988's At the End of the Evening. In addition to a steady touring schedule, Oskay emerged as a prolific session musician, appearing on countless projects headlined by John Doan, Dan Crary and others; at his Oskay Recording studio in Portland, OR, he also helmed dozens of other albums. ~ Raymond McKinney, All-Music Guide

Formed in the mid '70s, Ossian became one of Scotland's best-loved folk revival bands. Members have included fiddler John Martin, highland bagpipe virtuoso Iain MacDonald, composer and multi-instrumentalist Billy Jackson, and singer and guitarist Tony Cuffe. The group broke up after Cuffe and Jackson moved to the U.S. The other members have remained prominent on the Scottish folk scene. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

Jerry O'Sullivan  
Jerry O'Sullivan is one of the United States' finest uillean pipers. He won the all-Ireland piping championship in 1979, and since then has played at major Irish events up and down the east coast and spent several years in co. Clare honing his piping skills still further. He has appeared on several film soundtracks, including Far and Away. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

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