Patty Conway Furlong

Honored May 11, 2013

What do Irish traditional music teaching and nursing have in common? Each protects and promotes health. In the case of Irish traditional music, the focus is on preserving respect for the past, cultivating renewed vitality for the present, and inspiring individuality for the future. Indisputably, Patty Conway Furlong excels in both of her professions. 

Of the two, Patty is far better known as an instructor and performer of Irish traditional music. Born and raised in the Bronx, she initially received encouragement from her father, Jim, a button-accordion player from Castlebar, County Mayo, and her mother, Peggy (née Egan) from Beaufort, County Kerry, who brought Patty to dance classes. Instrumentally, she began on piano, then switched to piano accordion, then fiddle, and finally button accordion, becoming the first button accordion student of Ballyloughlin, West Limerick, fiddler and teacher Martin Mulvihill (1919-1987) in the Bronx. Under his tutelage Patty blossomed quickly, winning an All-Ireland solo button accordion title in 1975 and an All-Ireland trio championship with tenor banjoist Gail Mulvihill and fiddler Peter Wynn in 1978. Patty also won an All-Ireland title with the Glinside Céilí Band assembled by Martin Mulvihill, and she performed with that céilí band on the Martin Mulvihill School’s 1977 album, Irish Music: The Living Tradition, where she was also accorded a solo track of reels, “Joe Cooley’s/The Gravel Walk,” backed by Mick Moloney on guitar. 

Primarily a C#/D button accordion player who’s equally adept on the B/C box, Patty appears on such other recordings as the multi-genre compilation The Wheels of the World, fiddler, guitarist, and composer Sean Quinn’s Stick to the Tar, and the ground-breaking Cherish the Ladies: Irish Women Musicians in America, where she plays on the titular jig “Cherish the Ladies” as an original member of what would become the band known as Cherish the Ladies. But it is her own solo album, Patty Furlong: Traditional Irish Music on Button Accordion, where she shines the brightest. Combining exemplary taste with extraordinary technique, this 1999 recording deservedly received wide, strong praise and re-asserted her mettle among her own musical influences, including Billy McComiskey, Martin Mulhaire, Jackie Daly, Pat Mahon, John Nolan, John Whelan, Joe Derrane, and Nicky and Anne McAuliffe. 

A former member of the bands Atlantic Bridge, who featured Mayo fiddler Fiona Doherty and Waterford singer Karan Casey, and Coolmagort, who included pianist Brendan Dolan, Dublin vocalist-guitarist Eamon O’Leary, and Tyrone banjoist-mandolinist Frankie McCormick, Patty has not slowed down a whit musically. In 1996 her reputation prompted the Chieftains to invite her as a guest performer at three of their U.S. concerts. On many occasions she has also played with just Brendan Dolan and Frankie McCormick as well as with the Pride of Moyvane Céilí Band, led by flute and whistle player Margie Mulvihill and fiddler John Reynolds. And with Galway flutist John Creaven, Patty leads a lively Sunday session from 5 to 8 p.m. in Emmett’s Castle at the Blue Hill Golf Course in Pearl River, N.Y. 

For nearly 20 years Patty has taught the button accordion. She was certified as an Irish music teacher after completing the TTCT course given by CCÉ in Dublin and has been an instructor at various summer schools in the U.S. and at Scoil Éigse in Ireland. Patty also completed an adjudicator course in Ireland, and she has adjudicated at the 2012 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the U.S. Midwest Region Qualifying Fleadh, and numerous feiseanna throughout the United States. Currently she has several students arriving every week for lessons at the Pearl River, N.Y., home she shares with her banjo-playing husband, Kevin, and their 16-year-old stepdancing daughter, Catriona. With Rose Flanagan and Margie Mulvihill, Patty co-directs the influential Pearl River School of Irish Music, from whose ranks have emerged several All-Ireland champions as well as the band Girsa. 

Patty’s credentials in her other profession, nursing, are no less formidable. She has an R.N. degree from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, a dual master’s degree in Nursing Administration and Teaching from New York University, and Acute Care Nursing Practitioner and Healthcare Finance post-master’s certificates from NYU. An assistant professor of nursing at Dominican College, where she’s been on the faculty for six years, Patty is currently pursuing a doctorate in Nursing Practice at Fairleigh Dickinson University. 

Juggling an over-full schedule of performing, teaching music and nursing, studying for a doctorate, and participating in various CCÉ events, Patty is nothing short of amazing in her commitments and the energy and enthusiasm she devotes to each. In my brief liner note for her solo CD, I referred to her as “one of New York’s finest Irish musicians.” But that’s much too limiting. Patty Conway Furlong is one of the world’s finest Irish musicians. 

– Earle Hitchner, The Wall Street Journal

Patty Conway Furlong, right