Damien & Sally Connolly

Damien_07Damien Connolly grew up in a family steeped in music. His grandparents, Michael Connolly (flute) and Lena Connolly (melodeon) created for themselves one of the liveliest houses for Irish music you could find in Co. Clare. Great musicians would come from far and wide to play in their old house, and of course it was into this music saturated homestead that Martin Connolly (Damien’s father) was born. By the time Martin arrived, his elder brother Seamus had already been gaining a reputation as a very promising fiddler, well on his way to an unprecedented 10 All-Ireland Championships. Martin began teaching himself the melodeon and soon followed along the same lines as Seamus, rapidly becoming a leading box player in Ireland.

Damien’s mother, Klaire Fitzgerald, is the daughter of the well known musician Dick Fitzgerald -legendary not only for his abilities on virtually any instrument, but also for his being one of the few people in Ireland who could actually play the ivy leaf! Klaire passed her tunes on to Damien and his brother Karl in the kitchen, lilting out the notes of the tunes as they struggled along.

Damien began learning the accordion when he was 11 years old, taught of course by his father Martin, and was coached here and there by his elder brother Karl, who had begun before him. At age 13 his family moved to the town of Ennis, Co. Clare where he came in touch with many people his own age who played music. He competed in the Fleadhanna with his friends in the groupai cheol and ceili band competitions, with a group under the direction of Deirdre O’ Brien Vaughan. At age 16, he took up the fiddle, under the tutelage of his step-mother Maureen Glynn. In 1997, Damien took first place in both the Under-18 All Ireland accordion and melodeon competition held in Ballina, Co. Mayo. The following year, Damien recorded three melodeon tracks on his father’s CD entitled Back to Brooklyn. In 2000, he recorded his first accordion and melodeon CD, Tippin Away, accompanied by guitarist Pete Mancuso of NY. This CD was generously praised by Joe Burke, Joe Derrane and Bobby Gardiner.

In 2003 Damien moved to the US and now resides in Fairfield, CT with his wife Sally and their two sons Colman and Tiernan and daughter Clara, with a fourth addition to arrive this coming August! Being far away from home, Damien enjoys the company and musicianship of his uncle Seamus, who has long since been living in America. In Connecticut, he gigs periodically at Anna Liffey’s Pub in New Haven as well as at the Playwright Pub in Hamden. He also hosts a very popular intermediate session on the last Wednesday of every month, in addition to eaching private accordion and fiddle lessons from home, and works full time as a Religious Studies teacher at Lauralton Hall, an all girls Catholic High School in Milford CT.

In 2005 Damien was asked to teach at the Catskills Irish Arts Week in East Durham, where he was an instant hit,  and has been much in demand there every year since. At the same festival the following year, he met Roxanne O’Connell, professor of visual communication at Roger Williams University, who encouraged him to write an accordion tutor. The Irish Accordion Tutor, completed in the summer of 2008, was widely praised for its innovative and unique approach, immediately set a new standard of excellence for such projects.

Sally Connolly grew up in a home steeped in folk music. Her father and mother, Will and Katie Tressler of Easton CT, led the Old Time Jackson Pike Skifflers band and are known in the area for their annual hootenanny which they hosted at their barn. Sally took up the silver flute at the age of 10 and began to show interest in the Irish (wooden) flute during her sophomore year at Brown University, where she attended an Irish Music session. That year, Sally also began to learn Irish ballads and has since been gracing sessions with a song or two. In 1999 Sally received a scholarship to study Irish music in Ireland for a year, where she spent a great deal of time with legendary flute player Catherine McEvoy. That was the year she met her future husband Damien. Besides rearing 3 children (with one on the way) Sally works as a speech language pathologist, gigs and teaches private music lessons from home.