Joe de Georgeo is a second-year Northeastern architecture student. He’s also one of the world’s best Irish fiddlers

Joe de Georgeo plays the fiddle in front of a mural.
Northeastern student Joe de Georgeo, 22, plays the fiddle in Centennial Common on Friday, March 31, 2023 in Boston. De Georgeo won the 2023 Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal competition in Cork, Ireland which featured fourteen fiddle players from around the world who competed for the medal and the €2,500 prize. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

In a fast-paced rhythmic tune, Joe de Georgeo strings along the fiddle—striking multiple chords simultaneously—to a traditional Irish song. 

The performance won the second-year Northeastern University architecture student first place in the Seán Ó Riada competition in Ireland that draws people from all over the world. When he is not in class or studying, he plays at The Druid bar in Cambridge every Sunday. 

“I wasn’t expecting to win,” de Georgeo says. “It caught me off guard. It was definitely a surreal experience.”

The final took place last month, featuring 14 fiddle players from around the world who competed for the medal and the prize of about $2,700.

De Georgeo played two reels at the competition, “The Primrose Lass” and “The Bloom of Youth.”

Joe De Georgeo’s winning song on SoundCloud.

How did De Georgeo go from future architect to world-class fiddler?

He is from Minneapolis and began playing classical violin at 4. His first exposure to Irish traditional music occurred at age 5 when his family moved to Galway for a year, and his father started tin whistle lessons. 

When the family returned stateside, de Georgeo and his sister began lessons with Jode Dowling at the Center for Irish Music in St. Paul, Minnesota. When de Georgeo entered high school, he focused exclusively on traditional music and competed in various fleadhs or Irish fiddle competitions. 

Over the pandemic, his love for playing blossomed when he could no longer play hockey—leaving all his free time to play the fiddle. 

“Pretty much all I was doing was playing a fiddle,” de Georgeo says. “Listening to old, archival recordings and old 78 RPM records.”

Dowling, fiddle player James Kelly and flute player Seán Gavin, a former competition winner, all influenced de Georgeo’s playing. 

Gavin told de Georgeo about the competition and urged him to enter. Each year the competition cycles through different instruments, including flutes, accordions, pipes and harps. This year, it was the fiddle.

Winning the competition was also weird, de Georgeo says. During the competition, everyone spoke Irish, also known as Gaelic. Then, the national radio hosts broadcasted the winners in their native language—one that he couldn’t understand.

“The host guy comes up and says some big things in Irish, and then all I hear is Minneapolis,” de Georgeo says. That’s how he knew he won. 

“It was really cool,” de Georgeo says. “I had friends in Ireland come down, who are my age, to watch. It was really, really fun.”

On the side, de Georgeo produced an album called “Star of the North” with his friend from back home, Ian McKenna, who plays the accordion. 

The duo recorded the album in 2020 with one of their teachers, Brian Miller, through the Center of Irish Music. The intent of the album was just to allow them to record a few things for themself but it got shared around Bandcamp and is on Spotify. 

Now, people listen to the album on Irish radios, with broadcasters contacting him (well, his father) for copies of the music. 

De Georgeo adds, “(My father is) pretty jazzed about it.”

De Georgeo admits there is a weird disconnect between living in America and never being able to hear his music on the radio, played on traditional Irish stations across the Atlantic. 

“I’ve heard back from a lot of musicians that I look up to and respect,” de Georgeo says. “It’s a great honor to be appreciated.” 

Beth Treffeisen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beth_treffeisen.