Dan O’Connell (1921-2009) was from Tureenclassaugh (usually called Tureen), just outside of Knocknagree village, Cork. He spent his youth immersed in athletics, but when it came time to retire from sport in 1957, and unable to work as a farmer due to an injury, he set his sights on the life of a publican. He took over O’Herlihy’s pub in Knocknagree, then one of 14 pubs in the village, and rechristened it with his own name. Knocknagree, just over the county line from Gneeveguilla, was the site of a popular cattle fair and therefore a natural rendezvous for the local population. Nonetheless, the new pub was not instantly a rousing economic success, and Dan had to supplement his income selling milking machines and farming equipment. One night inspiration hit on a visit to Cahill’s Bar in Rathmore, where Johnny O’Leary and Denis Murphy provided the music for a rousing evening of set dancing. Dan came away determined to bring that energy to his own place. He built an extension onto his bar with space enough for a large number of sets, and on St. Stephen’s Night, 1965, the set dancing began at Dan Connell’s, and never stopped for 40 years. Dan poached Denis and Johnny away from his competitor, and they soon began a regular occupancy playing for the weekend set dancing. (Johnny’s LPs “Music for the Set” and “Dance Music from the Cork-Kerry Border” were both recorded there, as well as “In Knocknagree” by Tony MacMahon and Noel Hill.) When, a decade later, Denis Murphy died of a heart attack in 1974, he was replaced by fiddler Mickey Duggan. Mike and Johnny continued playing there until Christmas 2002, when Johnny had to retire due to illness. The following May, Dan hosted a blow-out of a party for O’Leary’s 80th birthday (which was sadly to be his last.) It was a raucous night of music and set dancing, with an incredible 35 musicians from Cork, Kerry, Clare and Limerick in attendance.
Once the dancing at Knocknagree caught on, Dan became an enthusiastic admirer, and then a tireless supporter, of the music and dance of Sliabh Luachra. In a 2004 issue of the publication Set Dancing News, Dan was quoted as follows:
“Culture is far different here in Sliabh Luachra. A lot of people thinks now that culture is only music and dance and singing and things like that. Culture was a complete way of life which the people had to develop and grow within ’em to meet the hardships and the trials of living here in Sliabh Luachra. We suffered more than any part of Ireland from evictions, executions, emigration. Something must have kept our spirits alive. A culture was a way of life which the people had perfected. We’re not a culture from a small area, from one village or town. It was a culture that came in from part of Leinster and all Munster into Sliabh Luachra as a haven because ’twas the only place they had a refuge from British rule. Here they developed a way of living. The way they handled death, the way they handled starvation, the way they handled their problems, the way they treated their neighbours, the whole combined with music and with song and with dancing.”
Dan O’Connell received the Friends of the Culture Tradition of Sliabh Luachra Award in 2005. In July 2007 the O’Connell family decided to close the public house, thus ending an era. Some feel that there has never been such a strong focus for the music and dance of Sliabh Luachra as when O’Connell’s was in its prime.