Cal O’Callaghan, “Doon Reel”s and Pádraig O’Keeffe

SQCal OCallaghan2
Cal O’Callaghan

(The following is cobbled together from many sources, with some added speculation on my part. Corrections, further information and indeed further speculation are very welcome).

Around the middle of the 19th century a journeyman carpenter from Kenmare by the name of O’Callaghan settled in Doon, near Kiskeam, County Cork, and married a widow called Mrs. O’Connor.  They had five children, four girls and a boy. One of the girls, Margaret, married school teacher John O’Keeffe about the 1880s, and they had a daughter and four sons, one of whom was Pádraig O’Keeffe (1887-1963).  Margaret’s only brother was called Callaghan O’Callaghan, or Cal for short, and he was young Pádraig’s music teacher.

Earlier, around about 1860, Cal had disagreed with his own father and gone to America, settling in Ohio in a largely Scottish community (Paddy O’Brien knows a great deal more about this than I do).  Cal stayed away for over twenty years, returning home around the same time as Margaret got married.

“Home” was, as mentioned above, a place called Doon; the several Doon Reels in the Sliabh Luachra repertoire, as well as the several Callaghan’s reels and hornpipes, are all associated with either Cal or Margaret. These tunes are the only real clues that I’m aware of as to what tunes Cal actually passed on.  I’ve speculated (and I think Paddy O’Brien agrees) that Cal might have been the source – via the Ohio Scots – for Johnny Cope, either in its original Scottish form, or in the elaborated setting which is generally attributed to Padraig O’Keeffe.

On the basis of Cal’s influence, it has occasionally been suggested that the Sliabh Luachra style “really” comes from Ohio, and I’ve heard the late Dan O’Connell of Knocknagree cited as the authority for that idea (which I must say sounds unlikely).  But Sliabh Luachra music is more than just Padraig O’Keeffe, outstanding genius though he was; there were several other key figures.  And anyway Cal’s (and thus Padraig’s) musical lineage is not dependent on the Ohio Scots alone.  In Ireland, Cal and his siblings learned from the famous Corney Drew (b.1832, a tenant farmer and music teacher from Kiskeam), who in turn was taught by a blind itinerant fiddler named Timothy O’Grady, from Tipperary.  Young Pádraig was fostered out, as was the common custom, to his mother’s family home in Doon, where he was taught music by Cal; Pádraig said on many occasions that his music came from his mother’s family, by which he mainly meant Cal, though his mother also played concertina and sang.

It’s no secret that a great many Sliabh Luachra polkas and slides turn out to be Scottish tunes originally (with all due reservations about the word “originally”); while Cal almost certainly introduced some Scottish tunes, there are other likely sources also, such as fife-and-drum bands, printed collections, and so on.

So, if Dan O’Connell did indeed attribute the Sliabh Luachra style to Cal Callaghan’s Ohio Scots neighbours (and I never heard him say so), he was not entirely incorrect, but he was being jovially extravagant.  In Ireland, as no doubt elsewhere, verbal inventiveness is not the same as telling lies, but neither should it be confused with hard fact.

The Sliabh Luachra setting of Johnny Cope neatly illustrates the difficulty of assigning origins to tunes in our shared repertoire.  What “nationality” is a tune learned by Cal O’Callaghan from a Scottish musician in America, as played today by a young Sliabh Luachra musician who learned it from a recording of Padraig O’Keeffe?  Irish?  Scottish?  American?  And what is it when Paddy O’Brien plays it in Ohio: a local tune?  It’s arguable that a tune’s real identity is in the way it’s played at any given moment, whatever its previous known history might be – bearing in mind that its previous history is likely to be incomplete, because based mainly on a paper trail which inevitably can tell little about the “folk process” by which a tune is naturalised in a community.
Very little is known of Cal’s time in Ohio, so I can’t say whether or not he also picked up tunes from vaudeville players there, as has been suggested; but if he was like his nephew, he picked up tunes from everywhere.  There certainly seems to have been a copy of “Ryan’s Mammoth Collection” in circulation in Sliabh Luachra, and it may well have been brought back by Cal: a clue is the Chorus Jig (actually a reel), the last tune in “Ryan’s”, which passed into the Sliabh Luachra repertoire, via Cal and Padraig, as one of the aforementioned Doon Reels (recorded by Paddy Cronin on a 78 as Doon Reel No.2).

Another American collection in use in Sliabh Luachra, and probably brought by Cal, was “New and Scientific Self-instructing School for the Violin” by George Saunders, published Boston in 1847.  Dan Herlihy has this book, or a copy of it.

As well as these American influences on Sliabh Luachra, it would be interesting to pursue the Tipperary connection.  Tipperary, as the heartland of B/C accordion style in modern times, might be considered the musical antithesis of Sliabh Luachra, but as noted above, there is a musical lineage stretching back from Pádraig O’Keeffe through Cal O’Callaghan and Corney Drew to Timothy O’Grady, who left Tipperary under a cloud and moved to Rockchapel in the early 19th century.  O’Grady had been a big house retainer, a fiddle master and a dancing master, and may have been one of the people involved in the adaptation of the formal quadrille to local taste, i.e., the very beginnings of the polka sets which are central to Sliabh Luachra music and dance.

Another tantalising glimpse of a connection between Sliabh Luachra and Tipperary is the fiddle style of Edward Cronin (c.1838-c.1918), a near-contemporary of Corney Drew (b.1832).  Cronin was from Limerick Junction, County Tipperary, but emigrated to America, eventually settling in Chicago where he became one of Francis O’Neill’s most important sources.  O’Neill’s cylinder recording of Cronin playing the jig Banish Misfortune clearly shows Cronin’s use of the “four notes in the time of three” figure which is a characteristic feature of Sliabh Luachra jig playing (the recording is now available on the double CD, “The Francis O’Neill Cylinders”, issued by The Ward Irish Music Archives in 2010).

Paul de Grae, August 2013

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