One of Ireland’s most famous ballad singers and the man who delivered the definitive version of the Fields of Athenry, Paddy Reilly is turning 80 this month. He shares memories of his colourful life and career with Kay Doyle.
It’s a dreary October afternoon in south county Dublin and while it’s lashing down cats, dogs and whatever else Mother Nature can offload on us outside, Paddy Reilly is cosily tucked up indoors. A voracious reader, lying all around him is a wide selection of reading material, from books on Winston Churchill to newspaper supplements saluting his beloved Dubs’ recent “drive for five” success.
“I read everything,” he reveals, “I even finished a Jeffrey Archer last night at 2.00am and while I have read everything he has ever written, he still manages to knock me out of the bed with a twist in the last line!”
As his 80th birthday approaches, Paddy is in ebullient form. He has had a tough year healthwise, seeing the inside of hospital walls far more regularly than he would care to. But sometimes the body takes a direction of its own, and he just has to roll with whatever road that takes him down.
“I suppose one of my greatest achievements is survival,” he jokes as acknowledges his big birthday is no longer a dot on the horizon. “There have been great times and memories down the years. Playing Carnegie Hall in March, 1977, was one of them. I did the first half of the show and The Wolfe Tones did the second. It was one of the finest places I have ever sung. Though the greatest auditorium in which I have sung is the Royal Albert Hall in London. I see it during the Proms night with 2,000 classical performers, and I think what a spectacle I must have been sitting up there on a high stool with a guitar!
“I love classical music. I’ve never been to the Proms, and I really want to go. To hear the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and they playing Pomp and Circumstance, even if you had no blood in your body it would make the hair stand on your head!”
Paddy was born and raised in Rathcoole, County Dublin, on October 18th, 1939. He had two sisters, Jean and Linda. Linda sadly died at the young age of 26, when Paddy was still a teenager. His father worked in the Swiftbrook Papermills, the main employer for the area, and whose claim to fame was to have produced the paper on which the 1916 Proclamation was printed. His mother was a homemaker and both were fond of a singsong, especially at house parties.