Honored February 6, 1998
Born into a musical family on 13th January 1923 in Co. Laois, Bill is the son of musicians. His father played both fiddle, which became Bill’s instrument, and melodeon as well as being a renowned Sean Nos singer, and his mother played concertina. Bill’s entire life has centered on music and Ireland’s Gaelic games – he attended his first All-Ireland hurling final at age 10. His early days were spent in Dublin, where he spent much of his free time at the Stonybatter home of Jim Seery, later among the founders of Comhaltas.
Bill also linked up with the late Leo Rowsome and joined the Piper’s Club at 14 Thomas Street, serving as its Runai in 1947-48. During this time Bill fell in love with the lovely Lily Kelliher from Lixnaw. Co. Kerry, and they were married on 21st February 1950.
After living in Kerry for four years, they followed in the steps of so many Irish before them and in July 1954, set sail for America, arriving on 10th July. Bill and Lily are parents of five daughters and four sons and now are proud grandparents of 24 children. Bill heard about the Michael Coleman Irish Music Club, which met in the Bronx. He joined both the Coleman Club and the Paddy Killoran Club (which met at the old Irish Institute on Manhattan’s 48th Street). In March 1972, a letter to Bill from Ireland told him Comhaltas was anxious to expand into the US and led to meetings with then CCE President Labhras 0 Murchu. The late Diarmuid O Cathain was sent from Lixnaw to New York to aid in starting a Comhaltas branch and a concert tour. On his arrival Bill took him to meet Tom Connolly, president of the Irish American Center in Mineola and they appeared on Tom’s radio show and Harry McGurk’s show from Rockaway. Bill then helped organize the first Comhaltas concert tour of North America and, in April 1973, chaired the Comhaltas organizing meeting, at the Tower View in Woodside.
In 1975, with Labhras O Murchu, Bill organized the first New York Fleadh Cheoil, in Mineola, and the next day the first Midwest Fleadh. That year five charter flights carried Americans to Fleadh Cheoil Na hEireann. Bill’s efforts laid the foundations for Comhaltas in North America, and for the next quarter century he presided over its growth to a membership of more than 2,500. Bill’s 25 years of dedication have culminated in the establishment of North America as a full Province of Comhaltas with more than three dozen branches, in five regions, covering the US and Canada from coast to coast, and Bill as its first Cathaoirleach.