Johnny O’Leary (June 6, 1923 – February 9, 2004) was born in Maulykeavane (Mholl uí Chíobháin, known locally as “Jib”), a few short miles through the fields from Gneeveguillia, in the very heart of Sliabh Luachra. He started picking out tunes on the melodeon at the age of five and by his early teens he was regularly playing for local dances. He played the Paolo Soprani box in C#/D tuning, using the “press and draw” style. He had much of his early tutelage from his uncle Dan O’Leary, and had his first accordion lessons from John Clifford, but later he was a student of Pádraig O’Keeffe. While a teenager he struck up a friendship with Denis Murphy that lasted 37 years, ending with Murphy’s death. Together they were a fixture at Dan O’Connell’s pub in Knocknagree. Breandán Breathnach visited Sliabh Luachra for many years and collected music from O’Leary, and after Breathnach’s death in 1985, Terry Moylan took up the work and published his collection of O’Leary’s music in 1994. Through this book and his commercial recordings, Johnny earned rightful honor as the foremost Sliabh Luachra box player of his generation, and his influence continues to this day.
Learned from: Pádraig O’Keeffe, Dan O’Leary, Din Tarrant, John Clifford
Taught: Mick Culloty
Played with: Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Mick Duggan