Paddy Keenan was born in Trim, Co. Meath, to John Keenan, Sr. of Westmeath and the former Mary Bravender of Co. Cavan. The Keenans were a Travelling family steeped in traditional music; both Paddy's father and grandfather were uilleann pipers. Paddy himself took up the pipes at the age of ten, playing his first major concert at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, when he was 14. He later played with the rest of his family in a group called The Pavees.
At 17, having fallen in love with the blues, Paddy left Ireland for England and Europe, where he played blues and rock. Returning to Ireland after a few years, he began playing around Dublin with "Seachtar" (the Irish word for "seven") This group consisted of singer/keyboardist Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, singer/guitarist Micheal O Dhomhnaill, fiddler Paddy Glackin, flute player Matt Mollov, accordion player Tony MacMahon and then guitarist Donal Lunny.
After a couple of personnel changes, the band also took on a new name. Micheal O' Dhomhnaill had recently returned from Scotland, where he happened across a photograph taken in the 1890s of a group of tattered musicians. "The Bothy Band," it was titled, in reference to the migrant Irish laborers who worked in England and Scotland and were housed in stone huts known as "bothies." Micheal suggested that the band take this name, and the others agreed. Thus was born one of the most influential bands of the 1970s, The Bothy Band.
The Bothy Band forever changed the face of Irish traditional music, merging a driving rhythm section with traditional Irish tunes in ways that had never been heard before. Those fortunate enough to have seen the band live have never forgotten the impression they made - one reviewer likened the experience to "being in a jet when it suddenly whipped into full throttle along the runway." Paddy was one of the band's founding members, and his virtuosity on the pipes combined with the ferocity of his playing made him, in the opinion of many, its driving force. Bothy Band-mate Donal Lunny once described Paddy as "the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes"; more recently, due to his genius for improvisation and counter-melody, he has been compared to jazz great John Coltrane.
Paddy's flowing, open-fingered style of playing can be traced directly from the style of such great Travelling pipers as Johnny Doran; both Paddy's father and grandfather played in the same style. Although often compared to Doran, Paddy was 19 or 20 when he first heard a tape of Doran's playing; his own style is a direct result of his father's tutelage and influence.
Paddy's style has continued to mature in the intervening years since the break-up of The Bothy Band as he has pursued a solo career. Recently he has played at several festivals and weekends, including Gaelic Roots I and II at Boston College; the 1995 Eigse na Laoi at University College, Cork; Green Linnet's Irish Music Party of the Year; and twice at the Washington Irish Folk Festival at Wolf Trap, including a concert performance there in 1995 with accordion player James Keane and guitarist John Doyle which was videotaped and has been broadcast worldwide. He has played the Stonehill College Festival in Boston and the Philadelphia Ceili Group's Irish Music and Dance Festival, as well as various concerts, benefits and tionals (piping festivals) around the US, in Canada and in Ireland, and even plays an occasional ceili (dance).