Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Mid-Atlantic Region


Tom Doherty

Tom Doherty

Honored May 11, 1990

Tom Doherty, born in Mountcharles, Co. Donegal, in 1913, is one of the last of the great melodeon players in America who plays in the old-country style long since vanished from the Irish traditional music mainstream.

Both of Tom’s parents were musicians; his mother played the fiddle and his father, who was a farmer, played the single-row melodeon.  There was lots of music played in his part of Donegal, particularly on fiddle and accordian.  People would get together for music and singing at house parties during the winter and during the summer the musicians would play for crossroads dancing.  Tom started on the fiddle but was much more successful with the melodeon.  He never had any formal lessons on the instrument, but picked it up on his own, putting in long hours of practice, and from listening to other players.  “I would take the melodeon,” he says, “ and go outside and practice.  I used to put the cattle made in the outhouse!”  In 1948, Tom emigrated to New York City because there was no work in Donegal.  He got a full-time job in the cold storage business and on weekends played music, often appearing at some of the famous Irish dance hall in New York.

In 1952, Tom married Mary Philbin, from Castlebar, Co. Mayo, and they settled in Brooklyn.  They have two daughters, both musicians, Eileen Breslin, who lives in Connecticut and has made Tom twice a grandfather, and Maureen, and active Irish traditional musician in the New York area, playing accordian, tin whistle, and flute, who appeared with Tom in the Father-and-Daughters concert.

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