Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Mid-Atlantic Region


Jerry O’Sullivan

Jerry O’Sullivan

Honored May 19, 2012

Jerry O’Sullivan, photo by Tim Carron.

Jerry O’Sullivan was raised in the Yonkers, NY home of his maternal grandparents, Josephine and Andrew Duffy. Jo and Andrew had both emigrated from rural Ireland (Laois and Mayo respectively) to New York in the mid-1920s where they met and married. Being raised in this Irish home, it was not surprising that Jerry was introduced to Irish music on LP records and radio at an early age.

Jo tended to favor ballads by such artists such as Willie Brady and Ruthie Morrissey, whereas Andrew favored traditional Irish dance music such as he had heard and danced to in his youth. Although Andrew’s LP record collection was small, there were two recordings in particular that were to be a major influence on Jerry’s music and indeed, Jerry’s becoming a musician in the first place: the Avoca label’s Traditional Music of Ireland, Vol. 1 by Peter Carberry and Sean Ryan, and the Dublin Records label’s The Echoes of Erin by the Tulla Ceili Band.

Longford uilleann piper Peter Carberry comes from a multi-generational family tradition of excellence in singing and dancing, as well as playing instrumental music. Peter’s music was what first attracted Jerry to the uilleann pipes and Jerry owes much of his style to Peter’s influence, particularly the strong and lively dance rhythm that is a hallmark of the Carberry family musicians.

The Echoes of Erin is in the opinion of Jerry and many others, the finest ceili band recording in existence, and one of the classic recordings of traditional Irish dance music. After hearing a live recording session for Clare FM that was made in the home of Willie and Siobhan Kelly a few years ago, Jerry realized that the “glue” that was the sonic foundation of the Tulla Ceili Band during that period was Martin Mulhaire, the last surviving member of this lineup. Martin’s East Galway boxplaying was a rocksolid, subtle, and never obtrusive basis for the unique sound of the band.

Jerry first began playing the uilleann pipes himself in 1975 after obtaining a practice set from Matt Kiernan, at that time a retired Garda who made pipes using a foot-powered treadle lathe. Dublin cousin and boxplayer Tom Dermody was a major encouragement and generous teacher to Jerry in the beginning. Likewise, NY piper Bill Ochs was extremely generous with his time and advice and for that matter, still is.

In the 1980s, Jerry met and started playing music with many outstanding traditional Irish musicians. However, Jerry would like to particularly pay homage in this bio concerning his personal debt to musicians that have passed on, particularly Mike Rafferty, Jack Coen, Joe Madden, Tom Doherty, and Martin Wynne (through the music of his students Brian Conway and Rose Flanagan). In all cases, Jerry considers these men to be heroes and role models had they never played a note of music.

In conclusion, Jerry would like to deeply thank his wife Frances (from Corofin, Co. Clare) for her support, love, generosity, and encouragement that has made it possible for him to play the pipes with all the commitments that having a family of four children together entails.

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