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Kathleen Collins was born in Manhattan in 1940. Her father Bill was keen to give his children a solid Irish music and dance education, so took Kathleen and her brothers Dan, Dave, and Billy to dance classes given by Kerry master James McKenna and fiddle lessons with Mayo man John McGrath. Of the four siblings, Kathleen was the standout, both as a fiddle player and dancer. She received a TCRG certificate in 1961 and taught step dancing in New York until she moved in 1965 to Ireland with her then-husband, button accordionist Joe Burke. Living in east Galway, Kathleen taught music and supplemented the Sligo-oriented repertoire she had learned in New York with some of the distinctive compositions of local fiddlers Paddy Fahy, Paddy Kelly and Eddie Kelly.

In 1966, she became the first American-born musician to win a senior All-Ireland fiddle championship at the fleadh held that year in Boyle, Roscommon. She followed up that feat by winning the prestigious Fiddler of Dooney competition in Sligo in 1967 and the inaugural Fiddler of Oriel competition in Monaghan in 1969. Kathleen returned to New York in 1973 and, with piano accompanist Jimmy Mahon, recorded Traditional Music of Ireland, a much-praised LP released in 1976 on the Shanachie label. She resumed her involvement in step dancing and received an ADCRG adjudicator’s certificate.

In the 1980s, Collins joined the set dancing revival sparked by visits to New York by dancing master Connie Ryan, conducting classes and dances in the Bronx. She performed at occasional concerts at the Eagle Tavern and Blarney Star, often in partnership with her brother Dan, an able fiddler in his own right. 33 years after her first recording came out, Kathleen Collins released My Book of Songs, a CD full of rarely heard tunes that was produced by pianist and guitarist Gabe Donohue, one of her young pupils in Galway in the mid-1960s.

  • The jug of punch, reel ; Eddie Kelly's reel [comp. Eddie Kelly] / Kathleen Collins, fiddle ; James Mahon, piano