Dermot O'Brien passed away on 22nd May 2007 in his hometown of Ardee, County Louth, in the Republic of Ireland, following a long battle with cancer. For many years he had lived in New York, but had returned to Ireland following the death of his wife Rosemarie in January 2005.

A legend of Irish show business, Dermot O'Brien was a many faceted individual, well known not only as an accordionist and singer, but also a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, arranger, producer and sportsman (captaining County Louth at Gaelic football). After becoming All Ireland Accordion Champion in 1954 and 1959, O'Brien turned professional, fronting Dermot O'Brien and the Clubmen, a show band whose repertoire ranged from pop music to traditional jazz. In 1966, O'Brien's vocal/accordion single The Merry Ploughboy went straight to number one in the Irish charts, a feat only otherwise achieved by Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Dermot O'Brien was the most accomplished and commercially successful accordionist Ireland has produced to date, and his recordings sold in large quantities throughout Ireland, Britain, the USA, and other parts of the English speaking world.

He was the first Irish accordionist to make recordings of non-Irish music, and his LPs The Laughing Accordion, Dancing Fingers and The Three Dimensions of Dermot O'Brien popularised a broad range of accordion specialities music to a wide audience.

His was, in fact, a very individual style of playing that influenced a whole generation of accordionists in Ireland and the UK. Although a product of the Irish traditional music scene, O'Brien's accordion style was not 'mainstream', and reflected his interest in Continental music, jazz and swing bands.

Few accordionists worldwide could match Dermot O'Brien's stage presence, and his ability to entertain was second to none. He had a huge personal following, and performed in every major theatre in Ireland and the UK, including several top of the bill appearances at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

In the middle and late 1960s, Dermot O'Brien and his band were one of the biggest draws in Ireland and were regularly featured on records, radio and numerous T.V. shows. They toured regularly in England, Scotland, the USA, Canada, Germany, and even in the United Arab Emirates. In Scotland, where Dermot was especially popular, he was known as the 'King of the Accordion'. His 1974 LP Tribute to Scotland was dedicated to his many Scottish fans.

Dermot O'Brien had his own show Irish television for many years, and his guests included Bing Crosby and Jimmy Shand. He has also appeared as guest on many other shows, including Irish language programs, as he was a keen Gaelic speaker. O'Brien wrote several pieces for accordion, including Alpine Ski Run, The Laughing Accordion, and Alpine Slopes. Alpine Slopes has been performed and recorded by countless accordionists in many countries. He also wrote many songs, including Connemara Rose, Farewell to Galway, Dublin '62, There Has To Be an End, etc. One of his compositions in Irish, Neansai, won the International Pan-Celtic Song Contest in 1980. Other artistes including Paddy Reilly, Brendan Shine, Dermot Hegarty, Bridie Gallagher, and Daniel O'Donnell have recorded many of his songs.

O'Brien moved to New York in 1983. He was already well known on the American Country & Western circuit, having toured and performed with Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Buddy Herman, Hank Snow, and Bill Haley and the Comets. O'Brien quickly established himself as a favourite on the Irish American club and festival circuit, where his ability to transform any gig into a carnival atmosphere was especially welcomed. He recorded a St. Patrick's Day Special for television with Bing Crosby in Dublin, which was shown coast to coast in the United States.

In later years, O'Brien inherited the family home in Ardee, and thereafter divided his time between America and Ireland, making frequent short tours of the UK, appearing as a guest at accordion clubs and festivals. In 1991 he was, with Finland's Veikko Ahvenainen, chief guest at Malcolm Gee's Caister Accordion Festival. He also memorably shared the concert stage at The Wyre Accordion Festival in Fleetwood with Italy's Gervasio Marcosignori, and with fellow Irish accordionist Fintan Stanley at the Bolton Irish Centre.

Dermot O'Brien made a large number of recordings, from the 1950s to 2005, and many of these are available on CD. There is also a DVD of a concert in Dublin in 1992. Fortunately, Dermot O'Brien's name, reputation and music will live on through his many superb recordings and compositions.

Author: Rob Howard