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Billy McComiskey

Billy McComiskey & Friends

Irish Baltimore, Maryland
Photo Credit: Tom Pich Photography
Billy McComiskey

Billy McComiskey is a world-renowned accordion, or “box,” player and composer. The 1986 All-Ireland senior button accordion champion, Billy is a revered figure in his adopted hometown of Baltimore. Across more than four decades, he has first helped to establish and then to nourish the city’s distinguished Irish music community, playing regularly at local sessions and passing his knowledge on to future generations.

McComiskey was born in 1951 in Brooklyn, New York, to a family steeped in Irish music, and in a region to which masters in Irish fiddle, accordion, flute, tin whistle, and dance immigrated. In early 20th-century New York, Irish traditional music was brought from more informal settings to the performance stage. Each summer, Irish musicians and dancers would congregate in the Catskills Mountains north of the city, a place significant to McComiskey’s musical growth. It was there that he met the great Sean McGlynn, a master of the East Galway style of Irish traditional music. McGlynn played his Paolo Soprani accordion for 14-year-old Billy, a moment, he recalled, that felt like a “horse kicking my head.” He then became McGlynn’s “sidekick,” learning intricate fingering and phrasing techniques.

In the mid-1970s, McComiskey was invited to play a weekend gig at the Dubliner in Washington, D.C., by Lou Thompson and Peggy Reardon, who were interested in growing an Irish music community in the region. Soon after, Billy played at the Smithsonian’s Bicentennial Festival of American Folklife, and after meeting his future wife, Annie, they settled in Baltimore. Over the decades, McComiskey has played an integral role in building the now thriving Baltimore-D.C. Irish traditional music scene. Billy continues to teach musicians all over the world, as well as in his home state, and has been invited to share his outstanding talents at the White House and the Kennedy Center, and throughout the U.S., Ireland, and beyond. In 2016, he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s highest honor for folk and traditional artists.

Billy will be joined by other leading members of Baltimore’s Irish traditional music and dance community, including several of his protégés: flutist Laura Byrne, Myron Bretholz on bodhrán, and Donna Long on fiddle.

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