Artist Biography by Eugene Chadbourne
On recordings by the Chieftains, De Danaan, and many other Irish traditional groups, listeners may often find a composer's credit for one P.J. Kelly or sometimes Father P.J. Kelly. A musician since his days in primary school, Father Kelly spent the great part of his life as a missionary in Fiji, Australia and Pakistan. Obviously not a particularly materialistic person, he wound up in a good position to be reflective and unconcerned over the fact that he never made any money from his dozens of compositions, no matter how many times they might have been recorded.
It goes almost without saying that Irish traditional players usually receive a great deal of encouragement from music loving parents. Kelly however credits one of the nuns in his school with pushing students to learn the traditional music of their country as well as the usual classically derived exercises and set pieces. There was also a great deal of enthusiasm in his community generated from listening to broadcasts and recordings by influential early groups in this genre, particularly the Ballinakil Ceili Band, which did some of the first broadcasts of Irish traditional music. But Kelly did not actually begin composing his own pieces until 1960, when he was home on holiday after his first eight year mission term in Fiji. He was playing music one night with a group of the local musicians, including the great fiddler Aggie White. One of the musicians jokingly asked what would happen if the players ran out of selections from the classic O'Neills' 1001 Tunes, referring to the large volume of notated Irish tunes that is basically this genre's Torah, Koran, and Dead Sea Scrolls all rolled into one. When Kelly responded that obviously the thing to do would be to write their own new tunes, the musicians realized this wasn't a joking matter after all and decided to begin meeting in order to pursue the idea further. At the next get-together, which included the fine flautist Stephen Moloney, Kelly was the only person who had actually bothered to come up with a composition. It was a tune entitled the "Lough Derg Jig." The reaction of the other musicians was more than just positive, and it was predicted by some that the tune would be well-known long after the man who composed it was dead and gone. It turned out be the best known of Kelly's pieces, which number about 35. These include "Rossmore Jetty," "The Ben Hill and Derrycrag," and "Mulvihill's," as well as a whole series simply known as "Kelly's No. 1," "Kelly's No. 2," and so forth.
“Father Kelly’s Reel” in G is yet another tune that is played in sessions around the globe. Father P. J. Kelly (1926 – March 25, 2006) named this tune “The Rossmore Jetty” after the pier on the river Shannon near his hometown of Woodford in East Galway. This tune is also called “Father Kelly’s #1.” He was an accordionist, composer, and missionary in Fiji, Australia and Pakistan. He started composing tunes in the 1960’s, but never tried to collect money for his compositions though they were performed and recorded by the Chieftains, De Danaan and other world-class bands. He composed over one hundred tunes, more than thirty are often played in sessions, including “Lough Derg Jig,” “The Ben Hill and Derrycrag,” “Mulvihill’s,” and a series known simply as “Kelly’s No. 1,” “Kelly’s No. 2,” etc. According to Nicholas Carolan, of the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, the archive contains “over 110 commercial recordings carrying the name of Father Kelly in their track-listings, not to mention non-commercial recordings.” There is even a tune book entitled Father Kelly’s Favourites – A Musical Tribute to composer Fr. P.J. Kelly which includes both tunes he composed and those he loved to play. The RTÉ radio show “Ceili House” on Saturday 23 March 2013 broadcast the annual Céilí band competition Ard-Ghaisce na mBuíontadid, and did a tribute program to Father Kelly on the one year anniversary of his death. In Denver sessions they play this tune with Garret Barry’s Reel.
For the ABC click Father Kelly’s Reel