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Felix Dolan, America’s preeminent piano accompanist for traditional Irish music, was born in the Highbridge section of the Bronx in 1937. His father Felix was from Manorhamilton, County Leitrim and his mother Bridget from Castlebar, County Mayo. Bridget played the button accordion, and that became Felix’s first instrument. He put the accordion aside for a while when he joined the De La Salle Christian Brothers as a novice. He had a change of heart before taking any vows, however, and returned to the Bronx, having used his time at the Brothers’ Formation House to start playing the piano.

Back in the Bronx, Felix joined Ancient Order of Hibernians’ accordion band but soon concentrated on the piano (he would later learn to play the flute). Largely self-taught, he developed an understated but always harmonically correct style and honed his skills at sessions of the Paddy Killoran Club at the Irish Institute. His finishing school was a seven-year gig on the bandstand at Manhattan’s City Centre Ballroom in orchestras led by Paddy Noonan and Brendan Ward.

Though he was well able to play for ballroom foxtrots, quicksteps and waltzes, Felix’s real love was traditional music, and he became the favoured accompanist of New York’s Irish musical and step dancing elite. With Larry Redican, Paddy Reynolds and Andy McGann, he played for Gaelic League céilidhe, and with Redican at practice sessions of the McNiff Dancers. It was at the McNiff sessions that he met his wife Joan, an immigrant from County Cavan. They married in 1960 and would have four children: Phelim, Siobhán, Brendan, and Deirdre.

In 1957 button accordion great Paddy O’Brien and fiddle legend Paddy Killoran chose Felix to accompany them at a “Night of Shamrocks” benefit for sick and deceased local Irish musicians. The following year, he joined O’Brien and other top New York musicians to form the New York Ceili Band, which competed at the 1960 All-Ireland fleadh in Boyle, County Roscommon.

Felix began a long career at IBM in 1963 and, between raising a family and making his way up the corporate ladder, withdrew a bit from his intense involvement in the New York Irish music scene. But he made time in 1965 to join fiddler Andy McGann and button accordionist Joe Burke on the LP A Tribute to Michael Coleman. Recorded in mono in a single session with no editing, it is widely regarded as one of the finest Irish traditional music discs of all time. He accompanied button accordionist Bobby Gardiner (then living in Connecticut) on a 1968 LP, and in 1970 backed Paddy Reynolds and Charlie Mulvihill, and separately James Keane, on the Rego Irish Records LP Sweet and Traditional Music of Ireland. 1979 brought a reunion with Joe Burke and Andy McGann on the Shanachie LP The Funny Reel.

In the early 1980s, Felix’s work for IBM took him to Europe. On his return, however, he found himself in constant demand to perform at dances, concerts, and festivals, and on recordings with artists who included Séamus Connolly, Jack Coen and Martin Mulhaire (Warming Up, 1966), Joe Derrane, Catherine McEvoy, John Whelan, Tom Doherty, and Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin and Patrick Ourceau. Felix’s last commercial recording was with Joe Burke and Brian Conway on the 2007 CD A Tribute to Andy McGann. He passed away at the age of 76 in 2013.

  • The banks of Lough Gowna, jig ; Sonny Brogan's, jig / Andy McGann ; Joe Burke ; Felix Dolan

  • The New York jig ; Contentment is wealth, jig ; The Killimor jig [comp. Seán Ryan] / New York Céilí Band [Paddy O'Brien, accordion ; Andy McGann, fiddle ; Larry Redican, fiddle ; Jack Coen, flute ; Gerry Wallace, piccolo ; Felix Dolan, piano]

  • King of the clans, reel ; Golden keyboard, reel [comp. Martin Mulhaire] ; The peeler's jacket, reel / New York Céilí Band [Paddy O'Brien, accordion ; Andy McGann, fiddle ; Larry Redican, fiddle ; Jack Coen, flute ; Gerry Wallace, piccolo ; Felix