HE IS an Irish riddle. Although he has neither recorded an album nor performed a solo concert, Paddy Fahey's name recurs at sessions, concerts and festivals throughout the world. He is a fiddle player and popular composer, but who can name one tune he has composed?
Like many musicians of his generation, he does not seek publicity. He is known by his jigs and reels which at the last count was put at over forty.
Born in Kilconnell in East Galway, his father, Jack, played fiddle and was a member of the Aughrim Slopes Ceili Band.
Paddy began playing fiddle at the age of five and in time he too went on to play in the Aughrim Slopes.
His parents engaged a teacher to show him how to read music. He plays in the easy style of East Galway and Martin Hayes counts among his admirers. He farms his land around Killaghbeg House, the scene of many a dance over the decades.
Accordion player Joe Burke describes his compositional skill as a craft. Paddy himself feels his tunes are never complete until played by another musician and gets great pleasure out of hearing them played. Highly regarded and respected by musicians at home and abroad, he is one of a small band of musicians whose own compositions have been readily accepted into the tradition. While he has never made an album, quite a number of tapes of his playing circulate privately.
Farmer at heart
According to Kevin Rohan, broadcaster and fiddler from Athenry, Paddy Fahey "loves his farming." When he writes a tune, he's usually lonely, picking stones or thinning turnips. When he goes in at night, he's able to play the tune, says Kevin. Then he simply enjoys playing them to friends and neighbours in the The Hill pub in Kylebrack.
He doesn't put a name on the tunes, instead he gives them a number. A performing musician may introduce a tune as Paddy Fahey's and later on give the same title to another tune. Others may introduce a tune as Paddy Fahey's No 1 or Paddy Fahey's No 2.
The story is passed around among musicians in Galway of a visiting student who was writing her thesis on the composer. Directed to the fields where he worked, the student asked him where he got his inspiration?
"Well," replied the farmer, "I composed one in that hollow over there . . . another by those bushes in the next field ... and another one on my way from the barn."
He was a close friend of composer and accordion innovator Paddy O'Brien from across the Shannon in Tipperary and the two often made the journey to play together. O'Brien played for a period with the Aughrim Slopes, as did another great East Galway box player, Kevin Keegan.
In August 2000 the Galway School of Traditional Music awarded Paddy Fahey the Hall of Fame title at a special concert in his honour during the annual Fonn music festival. A year later he was given a Composer of the Year Award by TG4, the minority Gaelic language TV station.