Note: Sadly, PV O'Donnell passed on January 28, 2011. He left a legacy of Irish music and culture through his teachings, concerts, sessiuns, and example. The Milford, CT branch of Comhaltas was renamed the P.V. O'Donnell Branch of CCE in honor of the beloved PV.
Thanks to Seamus McBride for much of the following biography.
P.V. O'Donnell came from Inishowen in County Donegal - the most northerly peninsula in Ireland. He was born in Buncrana. Both his parents were local. His father spent a period in the USA before returning to open a successful garage business and afterwards a shop and ballroom in his native town.
P.V. O'Donnell debuting at four years old.
He was a fiddle player who performed at "big nights" in Cilithe houses and the family, because of his father's association with New York, were known locally as "The Broadways". P.V. was introduced to the fiddle at a very early age and performed his first recital on stage at a local concert in Buncrana at the tender age of four.
P.V.'s parents encouraged him to continue with formal lessons both on fiddle and Irish dancing. He became highly proficient in both and in 1958, while still a schoolboy, he was invited to join "The Little Gaelic Singers" from nearby Derry on an extended tour of America. This was his first taste of the New World -- the place where he was to spend the most of his adult life.
After graduating from school, he joined the Northern Ireland Civil Service and was posted as a Revenue Tax Officer in Coleraine. However, his love for music flourished and in the early seventies, he left the day job to concentrate solely on a professional career as a fiddle player and a teacher of traditional music.
P.V. was instrumental and involved in the forming of the first branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann in Buncrana and through that, he became involved and learned a great deal from the legendary Inishowen fiddler, the late Pat Mulhern of Fallask. P.V. traveled weekly to Pat's thatched home deep in the Inishowen hills and learned much of the unique style of this self-taught old man.
P.V. shared vivid memories of that time, playing by the open fire on the hearth with the oil lamp hanging on the wall (electricity had not yet intruded into this cozy place).
In the early seventies, amid the great folk and traditional music revival, he joined a local folk band called "Ten Penny Bit" and toured extensively in the northern part of Ireland. Later he formed "Barley Bree" and was their main fiddle player for many years.
The troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height at this time and travel and procuring work was both difficult and at times hazardous. The band decided to try their luck in Canada, and so in 1977, they bade farewell to Erin.
For the next ten years they traversed the north American continent from coast to coast with great success from their base in Nova Scotia. During that time they released eight successful albums and fronted a weekly TV series called "Barley Bree" which lasted for a record two years.
In 1987, P.V. decided that the grueling travel and hectic schedules they had to endure while on the road would be terminated and so he moved to Connecticut where he resided in Manchester outside of Hartford until his death in 2011. While living in CT, P.V. became immersed in the local traditional music scene and hosted a very successful weekly session in downtown Hartford CT. It became one of the most popular events in the New England area and many musicians and followers of the tradition traveled distances to attend.
PV taught music to many pupils who had little connection with Ireland but who had been greatly influenced by P.V.'s mastery and skills.
In his later years, his more leisurely lifestyle allowed him to attend selected festivals on the east coast of the USA.
P.V.'s mastery and style of playing evolved from the early days with Pat Mulhern and through study of other great traditional players such as John "Simie" Doherty and Bobby Casey. P.V. returned to Ireland regularly to refresh his tunes and to play with many of the modern day musicians and to swap tunes with them. But it is obvious when he sat in at sessions in his own Inishowen he was really happiest. His recollections and reflections on his "Reflections" CD were much evident on a recent visit when he traveled back along the old roads and byways of his youth to the now silent and empty mountain cottage of his old mentor, Pat Mulhern. The aroma of the turf fire on the hearth, the aging thatch on the roof, the open door, the amber glow from the ancient oil lamp are now long gone but the memory lingers on.
RIP, PV. You have left a wonderful legacy of Irish music on the world.