“A National Treasure” is how, Ireland’s top music magazine, Hot Press, describes Robbie O’Connell, “… a man blessed with an enviable turn of phrase and a gift for melody bestowed on only the few.”
Robbie O’Connell was born in Waterford, Ireland and grew up in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, where his parents had a small hotel. He began to play guitar and sing at age thirteen and soon became a regular performer at the hotel’s weekly folk concerts. He spent a year touring the folk clubs in England before enrolling at University College Dublin where he studied Literature and Philosophy. During school vacations Robbie worked as an Irish entertainer in the USA. A nephew of the Clancy Brothers, he began touring with his uncles in 1977 and recorded 3 albums with them. In 1979 he moved to Franklin, Massachusetts.
With the release, in 1982, of his first solo album, “Close to the Bone,” Robbie emerged as an artist of major stature. Soon after, he began touring extensively with Mick Moloney and Jimmy Keane, and also with Eileen Ivers and Seamus Egan in the Green Fields of America. In 1985, the trio’s first album, “There were Roses,” was released. Robbie also participated in The Festival of Mountain Music and Dance on a five-nation tour of Latin America. In 1987, the trio followed up their very successful first release with the album, “Kilkelly,” the title track of which was voted “Best Album Track of the Year” in Ireland. 1989 saw the release of a live concert recording of the Green Fields of America.
Robbie has taught songwriting at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshop in Elkins, West Virginia, Gaelic Roots Week at Boston College, Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Swannanoa Gathering and at the Summer Acoustic Music Week in Boston. His album of original compositions, “Love of the Land,” was voted the #1 acoustic album of 1989 by WUMB in Boston. In 1991, he won a prestigious Boston Music Award as Outstanding Celtic Act and was also featured in the highly acclaimed TV series “Bringing It All Back Home.” In 1992 he performed at Carnegie Hall with the Clancy Brothers and was also seen by an estimated 500 million people worldwide on the telecast of a live tribute to Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden, a performance that Rolling Stone magazine described as “breathtaking.”
“Never Learned to Dance,” his 1993 album of original songs, was critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1994 he headlined a celebration of Boston based Irish Music at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “Older But No Wiser,” his last CD with the Clancy Brothers was released on Vanguard in 1995, followed in 1997 by the “Clancy, O’Connell & Clancy” CD and, in 1998, by “The Wild and Wasteful Ocean” CD with Liam and Dónal Clancy. “Robbie O’Connell, Live, Humorous Songs” and “All on a Christmas Morning” with the group Aengus, were released in 1998. “Recollections,” a twenty-year retrospective collection album was released in 2001. Fiddler George Keith joined Robbie for numerous concerts over the next decade. In 2009, the second Green Fields of America was released.
In 2006 he began an ongoing collaboration with his cousins Aoife and Dónal Clancy. The Clancy Legacy, their first CD together was released in 2010. In 2015, following Dónal’s return to Ireland, fiddler Rose Clancy began to tour with Robbie and Aoife.
After 40 years living in the USA, Robbie retired to Ireland and now lives in County Waterford where he continues writing songs and doing occasional concerts and television shows.