Hugely popular singer Paddy O’Brien recently met with Con McGrath to discuss his life and to relive some of his experiences in the entertainment business, which began for him professionally some 33 years ago.
To encounter Paddy O’Brien is to meet with a truly gentle soul, a complete gentleman, and a man who always puts others before himself. He is very humble and is surprised that there would be interest in his life story, let alone his music career. Yet the facts speak for themselves: numerous No. 1 hits, performances on stages all over the world, and by 2017, an incredible 32 albums and 16 DVDs under his belt.
Yet the extraordinary thing about Paddy O’Brien is that, even if he had never achieved fame as a singer, his life story would none-the-less be remarkable and worthy of telling. This is because he has overcome numerous life experiences and setbacks, more than enough to break any man. Twice, in fact, he was at death’s door. Yet Paddy is a man possessed with great courage and inner strength, which has seen him overcome all these obstacles. It is the appreciation of these facts which make him a true icon, not just in country music, but in life’s long struggle too.
Paddy was born Patrick Finbar O’Brien on 6 November, 1954, in Aglish, Co. Waterford. As is obvious from his middle name, Paddy has Cork connections: “My father, John O’Brien, was from Clonpriest, outside Youghal, Co. Cork. My mother, Elizabeth, nee Hickey, was from Glenville, Co. Cork.”
Paddy was born the youngest of five children. “Before me were my sisters Norah, Carmel, and Mary, who sadly died in 1978, and my only brother John.”
From an early age Paddy knew that his vocation in life was to be a singer, and his musical influences were Marty Robbins and Slim Whitman – both of which he listened to on a dry battery radio. His mother and father also gave him a lot of encouragement, and his father would sing occasionally at social occasions.
Paddy’s upbringing was one of simplicity and humbleness, a trait he still retains to this day.
He worked on farms at weekends and during school holidays. He taught himself to yodel by singing into a big steel 600-gallon diesel tank, which produced a perfect echo across the valley. Slim Whitman’s Indian Love Call was the first song he perfected, and yodelling remains one of Paddy’s trademarks to this day.
Paddy will be the first to tell you that he is very lucky – not just in his career, but lucky to be even still alive. Given two very close encounters he has had with death – ‘close calls’ which could have put an end to his singing career before it had even begun.
It was soon after he began his first job at the age of 16, in a bacon factory in Cappoquin, that Paddy was the victim of a really bad motorbike accident. Fortunately he survived, having spent five months in hospital, and in 1972 Paddy formed a group which played mainly on the local scene.