James Keane (musician)

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James Keane (Irish: Séamus Ó Catháin; 7 February 1948) is an Irish traditional musician and accordion player. The Italian Castagnari company issued and continues a line of signature instruments called keanebox in his honor.[1]

Early life[edit]

James Keane was born in Drimnagh, south Dublin City in Co Dublin. He reportedly began playing at age six, and lilting since before he could talk. The Keane house in Dublin was a musical landmark on the traditional music scene in the 1950s and 1960s. Keane's mother and father were both fiddle players from musical communities in County Longford and County Clare, and would play host to the legendary players who traveled from all over Ireland to perform in the capital city. These guests greatly affected James and his brother Seán Keane, the fiddler with the Chieftains, as did their summer trips to Longford and Clare where they encountered the music at its roots.

By the age of ten, James had become a fixture on the late 1950s Dublin traditional scene regularly performing with Séamus Ennis, Leo Rowsome, Sonny Brogan and Tommy Reck, honing his skills under their guidance. While still in his early teens, James co-founded what would become one of Ireland's most heralded music ensembles, the Castle Céilí Band with Mick O'Connor, his brother and others. The band would go on to win numerous Oireachtas competitions, and the All-Ireland Senior Céilí Band competition in Thurles in 1965.

He won the senior Accordion Championship while still a junior in the Dundalk open accordion championships in 1964, 1965 and 1966. He won the All-Ireland junior (under 18) Championship at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Mullingar in 1963. It was in this period that accordion virtuoso James Keane from Dublin became a band-member and contributor of traditional music to the ballad-focused trio. Shortly after Keane left the band, Ryan's Fancy split. Keane moved to New York City where he became part of the traditional scene there through the 1980s to the present day.

Move to the United States[edit]

Keane emigrated to the United States where he performed in numerous bands, including the Ellis Island Céilí Band, which was formed for the Smithsonian Institution's Centennial Celebration honoring the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. In 1991, Keane was made Traditionalist of the Year by The Irish Echo, and his album Sweeter as the Years Roll By was chosen as one of the top twenty traditional albums of the last twenty years by Irish America magazine in their anniversary edition.

He is a founding member of Fingal, the critically acclaimed [2] group with Randal Bays and Dáithí Sproule, he tours regularly, performing music and lecturing in colleges about the history of Irish traditional music. He has been flown back to Ireland on numerous occasions for awards and performances, including a trip to participate when the City of Dublin was deemed a European Capital of Culture by the EU. In 2004 an event to honor Keane was organized by Luke Kelly's biographer--Des Geraghty—held at Liberty Hall, and attended by dignitaries including Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, prime minister of Ireland.


Solo albums
Group album - with Randal Bays and Dáithí Sproule
Artist Compilations
  • Live at the Embankment (1965) Keane accompanied by Dónal Lunny
  • Sweet and Traditional Music of Ireland (1971) classic album also featuring fiddler Paddy Reynolds and button accordionist Charlie Mulvihill.
  • Irish Traditional Instrumental Music (1997) Rounder Records
  • The Rights of Man (1991) The Concert for Joe Doherty
  • Atlantic Wave (1997) Kells. Track listing at irishtune.info.
  • The Boston College Gaelic Roots (1997) Kells Music
  • The Tocane Concerts (2000) with Kieran Hanrahan
Books & CD
Session Work


  1. ^ http://members.shaw.ca/chieftains/sean_k.html
  2. ^ http://www.irishtimes.net/newspaper/theticket/2008/1114/1226408595581.html[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ The album title Sweeter as the Years Roll By is taken from the song composed by James Keane, which has no connection with the gospel blues song of the same name.

External links[edit]