Billy Clifford

Billy Clifford (born 1943) is the son of John and Julia Clifford and one of the few Sliabh Luachra musicians whose primary instrument is the flute. He was born in London, surrounded by a large community of Irish musicians, and hearing the music at home as well as in the dance halls at which his parents performed, it was only natural he would pick it up himself.

He frequently visited Kerry on holidays with his mother as a young boy, and at the age of nine he was sent to his grandmother, Mainie Murphy in Lisheen, for an extended stay. It was at this time that he started to learn the tin whistle, and his grandmother gave him his first tune. He was also mentored by the Murphy’s neighbor Art O’Keeffe who played the whistle himself. In fact another local whistle player, who went by the colorful name of Dan Dave Dan Cronin, befriended him as well — it must have seemed to the impressionable boy that the whistle was the predominant instrument of the area! Near the end of Billy’s stay in Lisheen, his uncle Denis Murphy returned from America for a time, and furthered Billy’s musical education.

Not long after, the Cliffords sent for Billy to join them at their new home in Newcastlewest, Co. Limerick. Perhaps upon realizing Billy’s advanced musical ability, John Clifford was inspired to form the Star of Munster Ceili Band in 1955. The core of the group consisted of John, Julia, and Billy, together with Liam, Pats, and Biddy of the musical Moloney family from nearby Templeglantine. The band was soon in demand for dances all over, as far afield as Roscommon and even Dublin. Denis Murphy would sometimes join them for the more prestigious gigs. They even performed on Radio Éireann on a number of occasions, though to his chagrin Billy was disinvited by the producers as they felt the whistle was not a “real” instrument!

Despite the relative success of the band, times were hard, and in 1959 the Cliffords moved back to London to find work. Once more they became fixtures of the vibrant Irish music scene there, and it was around this time that Billy “graduated” from the whistle to the flute, learning from Sligoman Johnny Gorman, among others. His musical development continued with the opportunity to play with the likes of Bobby Casey, Kevin Burke, Raymond Roland, Roger Sherlock, Joe Ryan, and countless others.

In 1969 Billy struck out for himself and moved back to Ireland for good, eventually settling back in Tipperary where he married and began raising a family. He soon became well-known locally as a performer and music teacher. Having lived abroad and traveled so much, Billy’s style and repertoire reflect more influences than just the Sliabh Luachra tradition. Nevertheless, he’s a proud keeper of the flame and a living connection to the previous generation, and as such is rightly regarded as a major figure of Sliabh Luachra music.


Learned from: Art O’Keeffe, Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, John Clifford

ITMA interviews with Billy regarding his time with the ceili band:

Billy’s My Life and Music essay


Julia and Billy Clifford Ceol as Sliabh Luachra 300The Star of Munster Trio 300 Flute Solos Echoes of Sliabh Luachra Now She's Purring


Irish Traditional Flute Solos and Band Music from Kerry and Tipperary

Billy Clifford – flute
Matt Hayes – Accordion
Catherine Ryan – Drums

Topic – 12TS312 – 1977

Topic stretched the criteria somewhat in order to make this the fourth in the ‘Music from Sliabh Luachra’ series, but Billy Clifford’s lifetime of exposure to the music of that region is very much evident in the solo material on this album. The solo polkas here feature the best playing of these tricky tunes in the Sliabh Luachra style that I have heard on the flute, and as Sliabh Luachra polkas played on the fiddle mimic the ornaments of the melodeon or accordion, Billy Clifford in turn uses the flute to play the fiddle, incorporating the idiosyncratic and heavily accented legato bowing of his mother Julia’s fiddle playing into his own unique and really lovely style.

The other side to the album is the material recorded with Catherine Ryan and Matt Hayes, featuring the eponymous band music from Tipperary. There are a number of quite outstanding tunes, such as the dubiously titled ‘Michael Coleman’s’, as well as a number of other reasonably well-known but interesting, even slightly unusual tunes. Between the two styles of playing there is some really great music on this album. — Rob Ryan

SAMPLE: Billy plays Matt Hayes’ polkas in his lovely flowing manner:

Download this classic, out-of-print album here:

Maida Sugrue

Maida Sugrue (born Mary McQuinn in ~1933) was raised in the townland of Fiddane, Ballyegan, Nohaval Parish, near Gortatlea, Ballymacelligott, Kerry, on the “Low Road” between Castleisland and Tralee. The McQuinns were a musical family: her father played the concertina and accordion, and her uncle John McQuinn was a well-considered flute, piccolo, and concertina player. Two neighbors, brothers Jim and Matty Sullivan of nearby Maglass, would sometimes visit their home in the evenings to play tunes. Jim saw Maida’s interest in the music and let her try a tune on his fiddle, and upon seeing that her desire to play was in earnest, gave her the loan of his fiddle on which to learn. She soon showed great promise, and when she was about twelve years old the renowned Pádraig O’Keeffe was enlisted to take her on as his pupil.

She recalls Pádraig’s sporadic visits with fondness. Whenever he happened to be travelling through the area he would stop in to the McQuinn home. She remembers him writing out tunes in his own tablature, but he encouraged her to learn standard notation as well. She recalls that he was easy-going and funny and a great teacher. Often he would come late at night when the children were already in bed, and while her mother made him a bite to eat he would play the fiddle. The family all loved his visits and could listen to him playing forever. Lessons with Pádraig continued for about three years.

In her teens, her musicianship was already highly regarded and she took part in many local music and singing competitions. She won the very first “Crock of Gold” competition put on by the Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) in Tralee, and she was briefly a featured singer for the original lineup of the Brosna Ceili Band. However, subject to the economics of rural Ireland at that time, she emigrated Chicago in December, 1952. She was “sponsored out” by a cousin who happened to be a sister-in-law of Cuz Teahan. Neither were playing much music at that time, but upon meeting, they bonded over their shared tradition and both having been students of Pádraig. Cuz was delighted to hear stories of and new tunes from his old teacher. Inspired by this new connection, they struck up a musical partnership.

In Cuz’s book The Road to Glountane, he recalls:

Maida is an excellent musician and step dancer. She can sing anything in any style and she knows the Gaelic. You can really hear O’Keeffe’s style in Maida Sugrue’s playing. You might have four or five fiddles and most of them are carbon copies of each other, but when their bows are going down, hers is going up. O’Keeffe started most of his music with an up, and the way he taught was you had to keep your right hand very close to your side. You had to keep your right elbow almost on your hip, and bow with your wrist pressed firm. You press the strings firmly at right-angles with your left hand so there wouldn’t be any vibrations, and keep your thumb away from the finger-board. You hold the fiddle with your chin – not the wrist. If you were persistent in bowing widely, he’d tie a cord around you to hold your arm in close.

Maida also played and sang with the live band that performed on Jack Hegarty’s Irish Hour radio program each week. For a while, after marrying Denny Sugrue in 1957, she became less active in Irish music circles, but when her children were grown she started to perform publicly again. She and Cuz formed a group with two other fiddlers, Úna McGlew and Mary McDonagh, that played in the Chicago area for some time.

In 1985 she recorded Maida: An Irish Country Girl, an LP of songs, a number of which are her own compositions. Sadly, it was a limited run and nigh impossible to find now.

Though now retired from performing, Maida is currently still involved in the Chicago Irish music community, appearing at local events on occasion. She recently attended the Patrick O’Keeffe Festival in Castleisland, to great acclaim. She spoke and played at the Fiddle Meitheal where Paddy Jones, a fellow pupil of Pádraig’s, was delighted to meet her.


Two tracks from the album Traditional Irish Music In America: Chicago. She plays The Queen’s Polka (aka The Top of Maol) and sings Táimse im’ Chodladh (I Am Asleep).

Paddy Cronin – Copley recordings

Ellen O’Byrne, born about 1875 in Co. Leitrim, emigrated to New York City at only 15 years of age. There she married Dutch immigrant Justus DeWitt and they opened a real estate and travel agent business together in 1900. Ellen was evidently an irrepressible fan of her native music, and the travel agency soon began to retail sheet music, instruments (including high-quality Italian-constructed accordions made by Paolo Soprani and Baldoni but rebranded under the O’Byrne DeWitt name,) and the few recordings of Irish music then available. In 1916, Ellen O’Byrne persuaded Columbia Records to start producing more authentic Irish recordings, starting with Eddie Herborn and John Wheeler, accordion and banjo. In doing so, she is considered to have essentially created the Irish-American recording industry. Soon, the O’Byrne DeWitt shop started offering Irish recordings on their own label.

After Ellen’s death in 1926, one son, James, inherited the New York store, and another son, Justus Jr., moved to Boston to open his own enterprise under the O’Byrne Dewitt name at 51 Warren Street, Roxbury. The O’Byrne DeWitt business flourished in Boston as it had in New York: an unlikely hybrid of travel agent/music shop. Under a new label, Copley, he soon began recording some of the local talent, and in the early 1950s, Paddy Cronin recorded a number of sides (solo fiddle with piano except for a few duets with flute player Frank Neylon) that became very popular and were essential in creating his worldwide reputation as a musician of note.

Here’s a sample — Paddy Cronin plays The Doon reel and Quinn’s reel:

Note: A number of these discs are labeled with names other than the ones in common use today, and others are entirely mislabeled. I’ve tried to use the correct names on the mp3 files, but can’t make any guarantees!


Paddy and the boys in the recording studio:
Paddy and the boys

Download the complete Paddy Cronin Copley recordings here.

Thanks to the members of the Irish Traditional Music at 78 RPM Facebook group for info and resources!

Paddy Cronin on Radio Éireann, 1949

In 1949 Séamus Ennis was working for Radio Éireann making field recordings of traditional musicians and singers. He recorded Paddy Cronin in a farmer’s house in nearby Ballyvourney. It’s said that Paddy never heard these recordings broadcast as he emigrated to America soon after. These tracks document his playing in his “purest” Sliabh Luachra style. He sounds very much like his neighbor Denis Murphy here, especially in the reel playing. Contrast with his recordings made after he arrived in America and began to incorporate the Sligo style which was prevalent among his peers there.

SAMPLE: Paddy tears through two reels: The Dairymaid and The Morning Star:

Note: It’s possible that not all of the tracks linked here are from the Ballyvourney session in 1949, but some of them were unlabeled when I received them and as they all have a similar sound and style, I’ve lumped them together. If they are mis-attributed, I apologize.

Download the Paddy Cronin 1949 recordings here.

Johnny Cope

Guest contributor Nicolas Brown presents his thoughts on one of the Big Tunes in the Sliabh Luachra tradition:

Johnny Cope,
where did you walk?

“Johnny Cope” from Cold Blow and the Rainy Night by Planxty, 1974

Most of us probably first heard the epic six-part Johnny Cope as it opened Planxty’s third album, “Cold Blow and a Rainy Night”, but Johnny’s journey starts much earlier than that.

Johnny Cope_Broadside

Image 1. Broadside from Bodleian Library collection

The tune is strongly associated with Irish traditional music, but actually began life in Scotland. The song sung by Planxty originated with Adam Skivring, who wrote it in 1745 to lampoon Sir John Cope, commander-in-chief of the English forces in Scotland at the Battle of Prestonpans at the start of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, where he was very decisively defeated by Bonnie Prince Charlie. If the lyrics are any judge, he was more than a bit of a coward about the whole thing, although the court martial did find otherwise. There are opinions that the melody was derived from an even earlier tune, rather than composed by Skivring (see the Johnny Cope entry at the Traditional Tune Archive that references Samuel Bayard’s book Dance to the Fiddle). However, for the sake of containing the article, let us put this as the starting point of Johnny Cope’s march from Scotland.

Johnny Cope_Aird

Image 2. Johnny Cope from Aird’s Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs, vol. 2, p. 19

The trail of Johnny Cope’s passage can be traced to page 19 of the second volume of James Aird’s 1792 collection of Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs, where a four-part version is found that bears quite a strong resemblance to the current favourite setting. Aird published his collections in Glasgow, and prominence was given to Scottish melodies, and in addition the title refers to an event of significance to the Scottish, so the tune surely started life in Scotland. The question then becomes, how did this Scottish melody become so paradigmatically Irish?

Johnny Cope_O'Farrell

Image 3. Johnny Cope from O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion, vol. 3, p. 51

The tune shows up in one of the early Irish bagpipe music collections, O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes (“Being a Grand Selection of Favorite Tunes both Scotch and Irish etc”), in Vol 3, page 51, published between 1804 and 1810, where it is almost identical to the setting in Aird’s, and this may be the first instance of the tune found in a primarily Irish context. However, there was a lot of “borrowing” (nowadays we would likely call it plagiarism) and O’Farrell did label this one as “Scotch”, so it’s unlikely that it was thought of as Irish, yet.

Johnny Cope_Edinburgh

Image 4. Johnny Cope from the Edinburgh Repository of Music, vol 2 p.30

The melody appears again in Scotland, this time in the Edinburgh Repository of Music, vol 2 p. 30, published around 1818. This is once again a four-part setting, however there are significant differences, and especially the fourth part in this version has changed significantly.

Johnny Cope_Howe

Image 5. Johnny Cope from Howe’s The Musician’s Companion part 2, p. 49

Another setting of the tune is found in Howe’s The Musician’s Companion part 2, p. 49, published in Boston in 1843. This one is a bit of an oddity, and features a whopping eight parts. It’s worth noting this version because it shows that the tune had spread to America. Also curious is the note that it is “A favorite English Air.”

Johnny Cope_Ross

Image 6. Johnny Cope from Ross’s Collection of Pipe Music

Back in Scotland we find the Ross’s Collection of Pipe Music, where a martial version of the melody is presented in five parts, published around 1869.

Johnny Cope_Kerr

Image 7. Hey! Johnnie Cope from Kerr’s Merry Melodies, vol 3, p. 41.

In the 1880s, James Kerr published twelve volumes of music, four of them called Merry Melodies, which include jigs, reels, and other lively tunes. Volume 3 contains a two-part version of Johnny Cope. John Chambers’ has provided abc notation and kindly included a photo of the page on his website.

Johnny Cope_Kohler_1

Image 8. Johnny Cope – Reel from Köhler’s Violin Repository, vol. 1, p. 23

Johnny Cope_Kohler_2

Image 9. Johnny Cope from Köhler’s Violin Repository, vol. 1, p. 57

Two additional Scottish versions are worth mentioning, from Köhler’s Violin Repository, vol. 1, p. 23 and p. 57, the first a two-part reel and the second a six-part tune just labeled “Variations”, published in 1881 in Edinburgh. I should clarify that I have found references to additional settings in other collections, but these are the ones I have been able to verify myself.

Johnny Cope_O'Neill_1

Image 10. Johnny Cope from O’Neill’s Music of Ireland

Johnny Cope_O'Neill_2

Image 11. Johnnie Cope from O’Neill’s Irish Music and the Repository of Scots & Irish Airs

We’ll now check back in with Irish music collections, and start with largest collector of Irish music, the Chief himself, Captain Francis O’Neill, collector of music, and Superintendent of the Chicago Police. In O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (published 1903) we find tucked away in the Marches and Miscellaneous section, #1812, p. 340, a curious two-part tune called Johnny Cope. In his Irish Music (published 1915 and arranged with piano harmonies), we find a reprint of a version published in a mysterious collection called The Repository of Scots & Irish Airs, with a note from O’Neill regarding the Irishness of the tune: “A footnote in Wood’s Songs of Scotland states that this old air originally consisted of one strain. The chorus or burden of a silly song, adapted to it was the first strain repeated an octave higher. The simple air although claimed as Scotch is in the Irish style and known all over Ireland. The above setting without the harmonization was copied from, ‘The Repository of Scots and Irish Airs’ – printed in 1799.” This setting is listed as being in March time.

Johnny Cope_Joyce

Image 12. Johnny Cope from Joyce’s final manuscript

One of Chief O’Neill’s contemporaries was P. W. Joyce, and more information can be found about him at the Irish Traditional Music Archives. The ITMA has made tunes available from his “final manuscript”, which was found at his bedside at his death in 1914. Found within this collection was another four-part version of Johnny Cope.

Johnny Cope_Roche

Image 13. Jonny Cope from Roche’s Collection of Irish airs, marches & dance tunes, vol. 3

Also from the Irish Traditional Music Archives one more two-part version of Johnny Cope was found, this time coming from Roche’s Collection of Irish airs, marches & dance tunes, vol. 3, first published in 1912.  This is the last version that I could find of Johnny Cope published prior to any recordings of Pádraig O’Keeffe.

Johnny Cope_Treoir

Image 14A. Johnny Cope from Treoir Magazine, Vol 7 No. 3, 1975

Johnny Cope_Treoir 1997

Image 14B. Johnny Cope from Treoir Magazine, Vol 29 No. 1, 1997

Pádraig O’Keeffe’s setting of Johnny Cope was published in Breandán Breathnach’s Ceol Rince na hEireann, vol 3. P. 95, #208 as notated from Sean Keane and in Johnny O’Leary of Sliabh Luachra p. 163, #285, edited by Terry Moylan.  It was also found on the Comhaltas Traditional Music Archive, listed as being published in Treoir magazine in 1975 and again in 1997, and these sources are shown above.

“Johnny Cope [hornpipe]” from The Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master by Pádraig O’Keeffe. Recorded 1949, released 1993. Track 5 of 16.

That’s enough for published scores, what about recorded sources? The first recording of the Irish version appears to be from Pádraig O’Keeffe, recorded by RTE in 1949. Subsequent recordings from Julia Clifford, Seamus Ennis, and eventually the recording by Planxty mentioned at the beginning of this essay have cemented the six-part O’Keeffe version as the definitive Irish Johnny Cope. Note that there are also many Scottish and Cape Breton recordings of versions of Johnny Cope, but for the sake of this article we’ll focus just on the Irish ones. (Well, with one exception which we’ll get to later.) A good listing of recordings of O’Keeffe’s version can be found at Alan Ng’s site, although he hasn’t indexed Planxty, and a listing of all included recordings of a tune by the name Johnny Cope can be found at Planxty’s recording might be the most widespread of the six-parter. Liam O’Flynn, the uilleann piper in the band, was good friends and roommates with Seamus Ennis, and there is a recording of Ennis playing this version, so it’s very likely that he got the tune directly from Ennis. The liner notes to that record mention that it was collected by Seamus Ennis from Pádraig O’Keeffe, so we can be pretty sure that he got the tune directly from O’Keeffe. This is also what Alan Ward wrote in his Music from Sliabh Luachra. So we can conclude that the six-parter came at least from Pádraig O’Keeffe, but we don’t know how it got to be in the form it is before his recording. There is speculation that O’Keeffe may have got the tune from his uncle Cal O’Callahan, either the full six parts, or a shorter version O’Keeffe then embellished. There also seems to have been a copy of Ryan’s Mammoth Collection  and New and Scientific Self-instructing School for the Violin by George Saunders (published Boston in 1847) in the Sliabh Luachra area , so it’s reasonable to assume that there may well have been other collections circulating in the region from which O’Keeffe could have gotten either the full six parts or a shorter version. Unfortunately neither collection includes Johnny Cope (by that name), so they are not the proverbial smoking gun.

Ward’s Music from Sliabh Luachra actually mentions that a musician named Joe Conway “played the standard march as a quadrille polka and the last two parts of Pádraig’s version as a barn dance which he named The Doon Roses”, which lends credence to the idea of embellishment. Further, it seems that O’Keeffe only ever wrote down a two-part version for students or as manuscripts, further influencing the idea that perhaps he (or his uncle) used creativity to arrive at the Big Tune.  Patrick Cavanagh drew my attention to a recording of North Kerry fiddler Tom Barrett playing a local version of Johnny Cope that consists of two parts, the first of which is fairly similar to O’Keeffe’s fifth part, and the second of which only bears a passing resemblance to O’Keeffe’s second or third part. A very similar setting of Barrett’s tune is included in the reels section of Sliabh Luachra on Parade, p. 86, #166, as “The Far Away Boys”,  published 1987.  The tunes in this collection come from Cuz Teahan, and this one has the note “This is another very old piece”. It isn’t known when Barrett or Teahan first started playing or heard this tune and so it’s not known if this came before or after or at the same time as O’Keeffe’s version, however Teahan’s note leads me to suspect it is older.

excerpt from “The Grand Ould Man/Johnnie Cope/Wrens Hornpipe” from Lios A’Cheoil by Tom And Kerry Barrett. 2002. Track 18 of 20.

The above are what we can reference from printed and recorded sources, with published data to back it up. In other words, these are, as much as can be said for certain, the facts. So where did O’Keeffe’s version come from? Is the six-part an embellishment of the two-part tune or just a tangentially related version? What kind of a tune is it anyway? What follows is speculation and conjecture, or more favorably an educated opinion based on written scores… And the first thing to do is compare written sources to Pádraig’s setting.

Let’s compare settings found in published sources with our O’Keeffe version, starting with the Aird/O’Farrell (we’ll call this the AF4) setting – these two settings are so close as to not be worth differentiating. This setting is almost in the same key (only lacking the F#), is in common time (4/4), and has quite a few similarities to O’Keeffe’s setting (let’s call it PK6 from now on). Comparing parts, we find that the first and second parts correspond fairly well to the first and second in PK6, and furthermore the third part corresponds pretty well to the fourth part in PK6. The last part in AF4 does not really match anything in PK6. Since there are no markings in either collection to indicate a rhythm, dance, or tune type, it can be guessed, but the melody and structure feel to me to be fairly march-like. Jumping out of order to Joyce, it can be seen that the setting found at his deathbed is note-for-note identical to that found in O’Farrell’s. Both O’Neill and Joyce copied tunes from older collections, so it seems likely that this setting is merely a copy of AF4, and in any case since this manuscript of Joyce was never published, it is not likely to have been the source for O’Keeffe. Moving back in order, to the Edinburgh Repository setting (ER4), we see that the setting has switched to 2/4 time, likely indicating or emphasizing the use as a march, and has some embellishments to make feel to have more of a melodic flow, but otherwise nearly identical to AF4 in the first and third parts, and only a bit more different in the second part. However, the fourth part of ER4 is what becomes interesting: the shape of this part follows very well the shape of the third part of PK6! Also interesting is the addition of some occasional F# accidentals in the second and fourth part.

What about the Howe’s setting (HO8)? Despite having eight parts, to my ear this setting has less of a similarity to PK6. HO8 has a somewhat broadly similar first and second part, but these almost appear to be repeated as variations for the third and fourth part. The fifth part again seems almost a variation on the first part, and the sixth part finally changes to something new (corresponding to the fourth part of PK6 or third of AF4). The seventh part is also new, with possibly a hint of the fourth part of ER4, and the eighth part seems completely new, or maybe a heavy variation on the sixth part. The marking labels this an “English Air”, but this doesn’t really help categorize the tune. As an aside, these last two parts bring another tune to mind, the Drunken Sailor.  And to add another (further) aside, the Groves Hornpipe is very close to being a major key version of the Drunken Sailor, and so may also be related to Johnny Cope.

Chronologically, the next setting found was a five-parter in Ross’ Collection (RP5). Ross was a highland pipe major, so by inference the key of the setting is likely to be A mixolydian, as two sharps are assumed, but not written. The setting is essentially one part (the first) and three variations (second, fourth, and fifth) of that part, with a second part (the third) in the middle. The first and third correspond loosely to the first and third in AF4, but otherwise this setting appears to be departure away from PK6 rather than closer to it. The title is actually shown as Johnny Cope, March, and the structure definitely feels quite march-y; indeed certain features of the tune are reminiscent of another Scottish march, The Burning of the Piper’s Hut, if only slightly. Kerr’s Merry Melodies (KM2) is the first two-part setting found, despite O’Neill’s note about the original being one strain, but this may be due to holes in the research above. The KM2 setting is moved up to Bm, but otherwise corresponds reasonably well to the first two parts of AF4 and PK6. The endings of both parts show elaboration, and a similarity to the ending of the fourth part of HO8, which features a rising motif, but it doesn’t appear that this version has influenced PK6 at all.

This brings us to Köhler’s settings, KR2 the two-parter and KR6 the six-parter both in G minor (aeolian). The KR2 version doesn’t appear directly related to Johnny Cope all that much, but it does seem similar to the Drunken Sailor.  Curiously it’s also marked as composed by W. B. Laybourn. The KR6 setting at first glance also appears to be unique, but in fact is identical, after adjusting the key to match, to the last six parts of the setting in Howe’s. Additionally, the setting found in O’Neill’s Irish Music (ON6), also a six-parter, and also in G minor (aeolian), is almost exactly the same as KR6. This setting was copied from a publication O’Neill said was published in 1799, and it turns out to be The Repository of Scots & Irish Airs, Strathspeys, Reels &c. by John McFadyen, meaning this key and the six parts are older than HO8, strongly implying plagiarism (or copying) on the part of Köhler, but even more perplexingly, making one wonder what exactly W. B. Laybourn arranged. There is no marking for KR6, but O’Neill included the marking “March Time” for his setting. In any case, this setting is definitely from a Scottish source.

Joseph Cormier plays ‘Johnnie Cope’, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1990, recorded by Alan Govenar

You may recall I mentioned there would be one exception to recordings mentioned: Joseph Cormier, a Cape Breton fiddler, recorded a version of Johnny Cope in 1974, and was recorded again in 1990. His recorded version is almost note for note the version found in McFadyen’s and Köhler’s, and I believe this version is still known well in Cape Breton musical circles, as are a couple more. The Traditional Tune Archive includes a note that the setting in Köhler may have been the source or inspiration for Pádraig O’Keeffe, but to my ear they are not similar enough. The note continues and mentions that it may have been the inspiration for the Drunken Sailor – this is believable, as there are definite similarities, as I remarked upon above.

There are two more printed settings to be examined – the curious two-part version tucked away in the march and miscellaneous section of O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (ON2) and the two-part version found in the Roche Collection (RC2). These versions are very different from the previous settings. The two settings are almost note-for-note identical, except that ON2 is notated with a key signature of A and RC2 of G, and the third last bar in the B part is slightly different. Both settings start with an E-A figure not found in previous settings of Johnny Cope and the B part is quite a bit different from anything found in other settings. Otherwise, there are apparent similarities in the A part, especially to KM2. This version is very similar to the polka recorded by Denis Doody (and more recently by Bryan O’Leary) in A dorian, which matches the key signature of RC2.  Also of interest, the opening figure, and the shape of the A part, strongly suggest the Battle of Aughrim.

[Editor’s Note: Though I don’t have any direct evidence to support it, I have a strong suspicion that the polka played by Denis Doody is the same as Joe Conway’s “quadrille polka” referenced in the Ward booklet.]

Excerpt from “Johnny Cope’s/Din Tarrant’s [Polkas]” from Kerry music by Denis Doody. Released: 1978. Track 1 of 23.

The setting (or settings) from Barrett and Teahan are different again, but as mentioned above have one part that is reasonably similar to the fifth part of PK6. [Heavy speculation alert: the RC2 setting could be the two-part one played by Joe Conway, and even perhaps written down by O’Keeffe, as mentioned above in Alan Ward’s writing. Alternatively, the Barrett/Teahan setting could have been the two-part barndance.  And a third possibility is that this referenced version may be a completely different two-part tune. This setting, and its origins, are even more mysterious than that of O’Keeffe’s, so not much more will be said about it.]

Johnny Cope_similarities

Image 15. A visual representation of similarities between parts of the various settings.

Not much has been said so far about the fifth and sixth parts of PK6.  Ward’s booklet makes reference to there being a standalone barndance of these two parts.  However, there are similarities between these parts and the other parts of O’Keeffe’s setting.

Johnny Cope_O'Keeffe

Image 16. Transcription of some parts of O’Keeffe’s setting.

In the above image, note that the sixth part starts with what is essentially an inversion of the fourth part—A to E instead of E to A.  The endings starting at the second half of the second-to-last measure of the fifth and sixth parts nearly matches that of the second and third parts.  Finally, the fifth part follows the same general pattern of the first part: both start with two measures of a mode centered on A, followed by two measures centered on G, except that in the case of the fifth part, the notes played are the fifth of the chord, rather than the root.  There are enough similarities and differences that to my mind, one of three possibilities (or a combination thereof) exists:
1. O’Keeffe borrowed and modified some or all of the proto-barndance and/or modified the existing four parts of Johnny Cope enough to make the two “new” parts fit.
2. He created one or two new parts completely.
3. Or he happened upon a chance bit of the universe where coincidences happen and the existing tune just fit as-is.
It’s also possible that someone else, such as perhaps his uncle, did any of those three things.

Here’s where the really heavy speculation starts. To sum up all of the observations above: from Ward’s booklet and the Barrett recording, it seems that it could be possible that O’Keeffe used an existing barndance for one or both of the final two parts of his version.  He could also have created one or both of those parts to suite the tune.  There are enough similarities between the early four-part printed versions (especially ER4) to suggest that he got the first four parts of his setting either from a collection or transmitted via the oral tradition from a Scottish source. Cal O’Callahan’s sojourn to the U.S. may have been the source, or some other unknown collection may have given inspiration. There are enough differences to conclude that there was definitely an amount of creativity and variation at work, and it is my opinion that it was O’Keeffe’s creativity that made it his own, even while it’s also possible that he didn’t completely invent any of the source material.

The only firm conclusion that can be made at this time is that the version we all know and love can be traced pretty conclusively from Planxty (and Liam O’Flynn), to Seamus Ennis, back to Pádraig O’Keeffe.

One comment on the type of tune: Ward labeled Julia Clifford’s recording of PK6 as a hornpipe, but noted that it “is referred to as a hornpipe for convenience, though if Julia’s performance is anything to go by it would have been more for listening than dancing to.” Seamus Ennis’ and Planxty’s recordings are also classified as a hornpipe, but this may be simply for convenience as well. After listening to some of the other recorded versions I would conclude that this tune falls somewhere on a spectrum, sometimes closer to a march, sometimes maybe a barndance, and other times more decidedly as a hornpipe.

Much information at the Traditional Tune Archive regarding Johnny Cope’s path through history is referenced from Samuel Bayard’s book Dance to the Fiddle. Since this book is a compilation of music from Pennsylvania, perhaps there is a link to be found between the story of Cal O’Callaghan and his stay in Ohio. There are also other collections of music where Johnny Cope may be found hiding that could shed more light (or just add more to the confusion) on the setting from O’Keeffe, as well.

As they say, further research is needed.

Nicolas Brown, Ferndale, MI

Nicolas Brown is “an excellent piper who incorporates smart, subtle touches in his ornamentation and regulator work to yield a smooth, gentlemanly style.” (The Irish Echo) He was born in Illinois and raised in Ontario, and first started playing Irish music when he was in his late teens. A friend lent him a practice set of uilleann pipes, with which he proceeded to torture his extremely patient and understanding parents. Norman Stiff (a student of Chris Langan) started teaching him and gave him two CDs: one of Willie Clancy and one of Seamus Ennis. Nicolas proceeded to listen to these two recordings on repeat for the next year. Eventually, he got his own set of pipes and a flute (and some more CDs!) and set out on his journey down the Irish music rabbit hole. Over the last 15 years, Nicolas has not only become a very proficient musician, but has also developed a vast knowledge of Irish music history, about the old musicians, tune histories, Irish music in America, and more. Nicolas has performed and given workshops at various venues and festivals in Canada and the US.  Nicolas plays a hybrid concert pitch “D” set of uilleann pipes, a Joe Kennedy flat pitch “B” set of union pipes, an antique Wylde concert flute, and a John Gallagher B flute (the first modern 8-keyed B flute, as far as he’s aware!)

Jimmy O’Brien’s Pub

Before it closed its doors in 2013, Jimmy O’Brien’s pub in Killarney was an important focal point for the local music community. The following essay tells the story well:


The Closing of Jimmy O Briens Pub in Killarney, June 18th, 2013, by Weeshie Fogarty

Let me say at the very onset I am very much aware that the closing down of one single public house in College Street Killarney is, in the overall context of events in the great wider world a very minor matter and of little significants to most people. However on the other hand for thousands of others from home and abroad who were fortunate to have frequented this particular house either on a continuous basis or just once in a while during the course of the last fifty two years the demise of this hightly popular institution has left a massive void in many lives. I refer of course to Jimmy o Brien’s renowned football and musical pub which served its last pints last Saturday week, June 8th. Indeed this very newspaper considered the event so momentous that it was granted front page prominence just a couple of week ago.

Regular callers to Jimmy’s did not regard the house as just a pub, no; it was so much more than that. It was for many an institution, a place of refuge, a meeting place, a drop off and pick up point, a post office where mail was collected and left, football matches and musical weekends were advertised. GAA clubs weekly lotto cards were always available. It was in essence a home from home, a place where one could while away the hours participating in conversation where the troubles of the world but in particular Kerry football and traditional music were generally the main topic of conversation. To others it was a refuge from the hustle and bustle of Killarney life. Step inside the brown paneled door and you entered a totally different world. Just a couple of steps from the pavement and you had entered a sanctuary of peace and calm far from the madding crowd. I have even heard mutterings that a preservation order should have bee slapped on the place.

And yes, two topics of conversation dominated morning, noon and night here! The first is football, mainly of the Kerry variety. References to Cork or Dublin football are endured only if spoken of in jest or ridicule but despite that a genuine and warm welcome awaited GAA players and followers, past or present, here. This little watering hole has become a place to where many Kerry exiles regularly made a pilgrimage in search of spiritual renewal and sustenance to help them survive in lonely outposts far from the homeland. They returned to their homes in Cork and other strongholds of the enemy fortified with hope and resolve and with a steely glint in the eye after assurances from the several icons of the game who are regulars in Jimmy’s that the Green-and-Gold will rise again! The other passion and topic of discussion here is traditional music and the pub is regarded as the unofficial embassy in Killarney of Sliabh Luachra, an area unusually rich in traditional music and song.

But the real secret, the real treasure, the heart and soul of this remarkable establishment lay not with its wonderful furnishings, magnificent creamy pints or the stunning collection of photographs and memorabilia which adorned the walls. Indeed no, the real essence, that special character of the place was inspired by its exemplary owner and landlord Jimmy and his lovely son Jim, or as he is known affectionately to us regulars as “Jim Bob”. It was always for me their forever warm welcome, their cheerfulness, optimism and brightness even during those dark, dreary, gloomy winter days or following demoralizing Kerry defeats which drew the faithful into its comforting embrace.

Jimmy o Brien as he often told me “was born on the side of a bog”, Lyretough bog to be precise in the eastern part of Kilcummin parish. His home was a house of music and song and it was here that his tremendous love for all things traditional was engrained into his life. He qualified as a mechanic in Culloty’s garage in Killarney, immigrated later to America with his future wife Mary Cronin who sadly was to die as young woman in later years. They both worked hard far away from their native land and at the first opportunity after two and a half years Jimmy as he remarked to me once “faced the horse for home”. He answered an add in The Kerryman, rang Killarney solicitor Con o Healy who was selling a pub, the deal was struck over the phone and the price was agreed at 2,750 pounds. Mary and Jimmy returned in 1961 opened the pub and as they say the rest is history.

I have met callers from all over the world in Jimmy’s from both the musical and sporting world. Legendary musicians have all either performed or called to worship at the shrine of Jimmy o Brien’s renowned establishment. Ciaran Mac Mathuna recorded there, Sean o. Riada, Con Houlihan, The Dubliners, Johnny o Leary, Denis Murphy, Jimmy and Paddy Doyle, Johnny o Leary, Liam o Connor and many more too numerous to mention. I have been privileged to have presented two memorable Radio Kerry Terrace Talk shows live from there and was honored to have a galaxy of GAA and Sliabh Luachra legends take part in the programs. When packed with the faithful on such occasions as this it generates this amazing atmosphere which is rarely experienced anywhere else.

But of course Kerry football and indeed hurling dominated everything else within those hallowed walls and this message, Jimmy’s all consuming passion for his county was announced loud and clear to one and all in the most blatant manner possible. The building sandwiched between The Royal Hotel and McSweeney’s is painted in the county colors, a beautiful vivid green and gold from top to bottom. Enough said. And boy would you want to know your football from a to z when you venture inside. Frequent visitors included Kerry greatest such as Tom Long, Mick Gleeson, Donie o Sullivan, Ambrose o Donovan, Paudie o Mahoney, Din Joe Crowley and the late Garry McMahon whome I often heard regaling the crowd with one of his fabulous Kerry football songs. On one memorable occasion following some big victory I counted thirty eight All Ireland senior medals having been won by men scattered around the bar. I could literally have written another two thousand words in honor of a man and his place that was for years a massive part of my life. So finally our dearest wish is that Jimmy and his son will have a happy and long retirement and enjoy special times with his family and close friends from the world of the GAA and Sliabh Luachra. No two people deserve it more.

Read My Life and Music by Jimmy O’Brien

Listen to a tribute to Jimmy O’Brien on Terrace Talk radio:

Another fine article on O’Brien’s pub and his place in the musical culture of Sliabh Luachra:

Traditional singer, Jimmy O’Brien pictured in the Killarney pub which carried his name – with RTE Radio presenter, Peter Browne. Included are seated: Paddy Cronin, Paudie O’Connor, Aoife Ní Chaoimh and Connie Cronin. ©Photograph: John Reidy 10-9-2006
Dan O’Leary, Julia and John Clifford, and Jimmy O’Brien in O’Briens bar, July 1976

Singer and publican, Jimmy O’Brien giving a bar at the door of his bar in Killarney to Sliabh Notes trio: Donal Murphy, Tommy O’Sullivan and Matt Cranitch. ©Photograph: John Reidy 14-4-1996
The late Johnny O’Leary (right) pictured with the late Ciarán Mac Mathúna (left) with Jimmy O’Brien and Ciarán’s wife, Dolly McMahon on the occasion of the celebration of his 40th year of Radio Éireann broadcasting at the River Island Hotel in Castleisland in March 1995. ©Photograph: John Reidy 11-3-1995

The Pride of Rathmore & The Girls of Farranfore (reels)

Two reels, named for Kerry townlands (both with stations on the Tralee-Mallow train line… coincidence, or not???), a classic Sliabh Luachra pairing, inextricably intertwined. Both in E minor, the two share similar phrases and motifs, which make for an interesting pairing. The set appears to have originated with a recording of Paddy Cronin made sometime in the 1950s for the Boston-based O’Byrne-De Witt/Copley label when he was still a recent arrival in the States. The set seems to have caught on, and was subsequently played in the same arrangement by a number of other musicians. Con Curtin & Edmond Murphy were recorded playing the set by Bill Leader at The Favourite pub in London in 1968. Maire O’Keeffe played them as the opening track of her album Cóisir in 1993, and the pair have been a popular couple wherever Sliabh Luachra musicians are gathered together.

The Pride of Rathmore was in the repertoire of many of Paddy Cronin’s peers back in Sliabh Luachra, but it’s unclear if it became popular primarily because of Cronin’s recording or if it was played widely before that. It was recorded by Julia and Billy Clifford as The Rabbit’s Burrow on their album Ceol as Sliabh Luachra. It was collected by Breandán Breathnach for his book Ceol Rince na hÉireann, Volume 2, from the Glencollins fiddler Molly Myers Murphy in 1970. As she learned mostly from Tom Billy Murphy, it could very well have been from his repertoire. I have one unconfirmed source that says she was also a student of Pádraig O’Keeffe, at least for a time, so perhaps she could have got it from him, or she could have learned it from another source, including Paddy Cronin’s recording, either directly or indirectly. It can also be found in Martin Mulvihill’s collection, sourced from Anne Sheehy (McAuliffe).

The Girls of Farranfore is known to have been in Pádraig O’Keeffe’s repertoire as well as Denis Murphy’s. It may be Pádraig had it from Ryan’s Mammoth Collection: 1050 Reels and Jigs, printed in 1883 in Boston, Massachusetts (where it is called Paddy the Piper), either directly or through his uncle Cal who may have brought a copy of the collection back with him from his time in the States. However, as printed, the tune lacks the distinctive G arpeggio in the third bar of the A part which is present in Pádraig’s playing and is such a singular detail of the tune as it’s played today. When the G arpeggio is absent, the tune is often called The Game of Love (by which name it goes in Capt. O’Neill’s Waifs and Strays of Irish Melody, 1922), but there are exceptions. Paddy Cronin recorded it again as Paddy the Piper on his LP The Rakish Paddy, but in the place of the usual G arpeggio he plays a wobbling descending figure. It’s a very well-traveled tune; Breandán Breathnach collected it from Clare fiddler Peter O’Loughlin in 1966, and in varying forms it exists in Co. Fermanagh as The Aberdeen Lasses, in Scotland as Rory McNab.

There is an aberration, a mutation, an unnatural progeny of these tunes, often called The Gneeveguilla Reel or Considine’s Grove. (There is a two-part reel in O’Neill’s 1001 called Considine’s Grove, sourced from Edward Cronin of Limerick Junction, Tipperary. It is vaguely reminiscent of Rathmore crossed with The Man of the House. Thanks to Friend of Sliabh Luachra Paul DeGrae for catching that!) It is played as a three-part reel, the first two parts being essentially Rathmore, and the third part being the tasty 2nd half of Farranfore’s A part, played twice. It seems to have caught on in a big way with the “straight trad” crowd, which makes it problematic at best to start the two-part Rathmore in the wrong kind of company. The first appearance of this unholy matrimony in a commercial recording seems to be on Mary Bergin’s Feadóga Stáin 2, released in 1993. One hesitates to lay the blame for such a crime against humanity entirely at her feet; perhaps she was led innocently astray by some unnamed source. To be fair though, we could look on this new development as a logical, if indirect, result of Paddy Cronin’s pervasive influence on these two tunes. It seems each time he was recorded playing them, he altered them in small ways or big, always twisting and turning them, changing them up to suit his fancy throughout the years.

Paddy Cronin plays the set on his 78 rpm recording from the 1950s.

Pádraig O’Keeffe plays The Girls of Farranfore with his setting of The Bucks of Oranmore

Denis Murphy plays Farranfore (listed as The Mountcollins Reel) on an old 78

Paddy Cronin again with a very different setting on his LP The Rakish Paddy

Music from Sliabh Luachra Vol. 6

Jackie Daly (C#/D button accordion, concertina)

Green Linnet GLCD 3065, 1992. Reissue of Topic, 1977. Recorded June 1977.

Jackie’s first commercial recording. Considering he went on to record dozens more times, this one is a rare treasure as it is a truly solo offering, no other melody players, no accompaniment, just the man himself doing what he does. Some classic sets on here and the brilliant technique and musicality that made his reputation.

SAMPLE: One of a number of tracks that became instant classics — The Glin Cottage Polkas

Jackie Daly Music from Sliabh Luachra front and back

(a curious detail, the mysterious “Jimmy Connors” shown on the back of the album is in fact Timmy O’Connor of Toureendarby, under an assumed name.)

Still available for purchase from a number of sources.
Full track listing and more at

Liner notes to Music from the Kingdom

Caveat lector: these liner notes are presented as printed—some of the “information” herein is questionable at best!

Back jacket:

Jimmy Doyle and Dan O’Leary play Irish music in the pure Kerry style. They are masters of that idiom that stresses the lively rhythms of the slide and polka as danced in Eastern Kerry. Kerry music maintains a rich full bodied tone and strident drive that give it unique character and those qualities are markedly apparent in Dan and Jimmy’s playing.

Shanachie 29007 ~ 1977 Shanachie Records

Album notes and musically notated tunes played on the album are included inside.

Produced by Richard Nevins and Daniel Michael Collins
Recorded at Crescent Studios, Limerick, Ireland
Jacket art by Brian Mor OíBaoigill
Notes and musical notations by Jean Stewart
Chording and orthography by Jennifer Williams

Inside notes:

Recently I saw a classified ad that appeared in The Irish Post, sandwiched among a half dozen “Irish-gentleman-wishes-to-meet-attractive-middle-aged-lady” ads. It read “Kerryman wishes to meet … ” etc. At the risk of overinterpreting a simple statement, the ad seems an eloquent expression of a sense of cultural identity, obviously the man purchasing advertising space regarded as highly significant the information packed away in the single word “Kerryman.” What’s more, the rest of Ireland seems similarly at pains to set Kerry apart. There’s a cultural stereotype which caricatures that county’s people as bumpkins (and worse) … The image in fact seems very close to America’s 18th-century conception of “the Irish” in general. “Kerry jokes” abound throughout Ireland, in the classic —- and shameful —- mold of our own Polish jokes. When I asked a folklorist friend —- an Irishman who knows Kerry well —- what he makes of this phenomenon, he ascribed it at least in part to the “everybody has to have a scapegoat” phenomenon. He pointed out that as an isolated packet, Kerry “got” the English language later than the rest of Ireland, resulting in an especially thick —- some would say “picturesque” —- dialect with distinctive regional idioms and constructions. Add to this the sort of city-slicker-vs.-country-bumpkin dynamic —- especially prevalent whenever the two cultures come into direct contact with each other, as they do every year when the superlative Kerry football team comes to Dublin to compete —- and I suppose a certain degree of “cultural racism” is predictable.

Whatever the stereotype, Kerry is different, wonderfully so. You don’t have to be an anthropologist to appreciate it: you can hear it in the speech, the music, you can see it in the dance. Even the temperament seems different to me; after weeks spent adapting my own very American social expectations to the courteous reserve of the Irish, I found Kerry people unusually warm and, like their music, straight forward …

But what do I mean by “straightforward music?” Let’s compare the tunes and playing style of Dan O’Leary with that of, say, the great Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman (whose playing has come to be identified with mainstream “Irish” music at its best); the two quantities have about as much in common as Jascha Heifetz [ classical violin ] and Walt Koken [ old-time fiddle & banjo ]. Kerry music has none of the elaborate indirection of the Coleman stylists; its tunes are simple, learnable statements, unobscured by triplets, rolls, etc. Kerry musicians seem less concerned with backup than I’ve generally come to expect of Irish musicians, who usually appear to be more comfortable with a rhythm accompaniment (piano, guitar, banjo). Indeed musicians here provide their own “rhythm section”: even unaccompanied fiddle has such a strongly rhythmic pulse that it sometimes reminds me of Scots fiddling or even Scots piping. (Listen to O’Leary’s solo cut, Side A, Track 4. That polka could almost be a piping march!) Probably this has something to do with the fact that in Kerry, tunes are mostly functional: there seems to be little tradition for “listening” (as opposed to dancing) music, apart from the airs introduced by certain well-traveled musicians like Julia Clifford and her legendary teacher Padraig O’Keeffe and perhaps by the pipers, who may have predated the advent of fiddle in Kerry. This close functional tie between music and dance usually results in the development of highly rhythmic musical forms, whatever the culture; hence in Kerry the fiddle adopts a strong, loud rhythmical style suited to its dance function. Certainly strong fiddle-playing must have been doubly important in the days of early dance instrumentation —- fiddle and melodeon, usually —- the latter being a one-row accordion with a thin, light tone rather like that of the fiddle. In fact it could be argued that this comparatively quiet dance instrumentation might be partially accountable for the development of such a noisy dance: the Kerry Set is punctuated by much stamping by the men, which serves to underscore the beat.

In addition to the rhythmic properties (about which more later) and its clear unornamented melodies, the Kerry musical tradition is characterized by the fiddle’s long biting bowstrokes and absence of vibrato. The repertoire itself is totally distinctive, consisting primarily of slides and polkas, which seem to function much as jigs and reels function elsewhere in Ireland, as the basic tune and dance forms. Their frequency of occurrence in Kerry corresponds to their occurrence in the Kerry Set, in which the polkas predominate by a ratio of 4 polkas to 1 slide and 1 hornpipe. (A full set consists of 6 figures, starting with the 4 polkas danced by a set of 4 couples, followed by the slide —- which tends to be regarded as the heart of the set —- followed by a hornpipe.) Rhythmically the slides and polkas resemble jigs and reels in that they are constructed on variations of 3/4 and 4/4 time, respectively: the technical differences are rather subtle (although the ear knows after one measure!). Slides are apparently identical to single jigs, with melodies which often seem to group themselves most naturally in 12-beat (12/8) phrases. To my ear they set themselves apart from jigs in their characteristic pattern of short and held notes, which accounts for their distinctive lilt. As for polkas, they seem close enough structurally to reels to raise the question of which came first. The polkas seem a simpler form of tune [as] they have fewer notes (more quarter-notes, fewer eighth-notes [ – Jean Stewart notates polkas in 4/4 rather than 2/4 ]), with a strong emphasis on the root of the scale as well as the third and fifth intervals. In fact both slides and polkas strike the listener as simpler forms —- and their style of delivery reinforces that impression: they’re played broadly, without embellishment and with a kind of rhythmic snap. If the word weren’t so unpopular, you might describe them as sounding more ‘primitive’ than jigs and reels … Indeed, one highly credible theory holds that the Kerry music played by such “old-style” players as Dan O’Leary and Jimmy Doyle represents an earlier evolutionary form of music than most of what we find throughout the rest of Ireland … We’ve come to equate “traditional Irish music” with the complex sophistication of the Sligo style of with a somewhat homogenized general ‘idea’ of “Irish music” fostered by Irish Musician’s organizations both in Ireland and the States, sometimes overlooking authentic (and often much more interesting!) regional idioms, as Alan Ward has pointed out … It may be that the forerunners of Ireland’s jigs and reels have been quietly carrying on their own tradition for centuries, unnoticed, in the form of the Kerry slides and polkas.

But it would probably be much more accurate and to the point to confine the foregoing generalities about Kerry music to the particular district that spawned Dan O’Leary and Jimmy Doyle: Sliabh Luachra, “The Rushy Mountain” bordering Kerry and Cork. Certainly the richest and best-documented in Kerry, the musical tradition in Sliabh Luachra can boast one monumental figure in the history of Irish music —- Padraig O’Keeffe —- as well as several lesser known lights. Indeed it seems nearly impossible to separate the general character of Kerry music from the particular influence of O’Keeffe, so powerful and pervasive has been his legacy. There’s no question that O’Keeffe (1888-1963) encouraged, if he didn’t originate, a style of fiddling which incorporated long bowstrokes, some use of open-string drones (notably the G and the D), and frequent use of octaves in twin fiddle-playing. Other effects associated with O’Keeffe (correctly or no) include the scarcity of ornamentations (trebling, rolls, etc.), the occasional use of special tunings for certain tunes, and [a] general tendency to tune the fiddle below concert pitch.

Be that as it may, O’Keeffe was a powerful, even mythic figure in his day … An inspired musician, he was also [a] brilliant and eccentric character, given to drink and garrulous discourse. He maintained an impressive roster of students —- including both Julia (Murphy) Clifford and her brother Denis Murphy —- and spent most of his life as an itinerant teacher, traveling from house to house. He was 26 when Dan O’Leary was born near Killarney, and his teaching area encompassed much of Sliabh Luachra. Dan however studied with another teacher, a similarly colorful character who also exerted a powerful influence on the development of a Sliabh Luachra fiddle style, perhaps second only to the legacy of O’Keeffe: Tom Billy.

Born in Ballydesmond in 1879, Tom Billy was both blind and lame. Nonetheless he had a great many students scattered over a wide territory; he traveled by donkey to each student’s home. Dan describes the routine of learning a new tune from his teacher as follows: “He would play the tune and I would write the notes down (by their letter names), then I would play the tune back and he would listen and tell me what was wrong.” Tom Billy himself had learned from one Patrick Tarrant of Knocknagree (“They played a lot together,” Dan says, “more than any two”), about whom I have found nothing … He may or may not be “Paddy Tarrant” the nephew of fiddler Din Tarrant of Ballydesmond. As far as I can determine, Tom Billy was never recorded; Alan Ward speculates that his playing was probably representative of the general Sliabh Luachra style, possibly sweeter in tone.

Dan O’Leary (b. 1914) and Jimmy Doyle (b. 1944) both come from the townland of Gib, near Killarney. Dan describers Jimmy’s family as “the most musical family I know around this side of the country”: his mother played the fiddle, his father and both brothers played accordion, and his sister is a good singer. Jimmy learned the accordion from his neighbor (Dan’s nephew) John O’Leary, whom Ward describes as “rather a law unto himself,” in the originality and authority of his playing.

Both Dan and Jimmy talked with me about the changes that have occurred in the dance and music culture in Kerry … Jimmy remembers a time when Johnny O’Leary would come over with 12 to 14 neighbors to play music or cards … “The nights would be long you know … ” And Dan recalls playing in his own home, for his own solitary pleasure, every night of the week. (“It takes away your worries, you know, you forget —-“) He’d hear a tune on the radio and play along with it and in two or three days he’d “have it.” … That was 20 years ago; no one plays in the homes much anymore. “If you want a session you’ve got to go out to a pub.” Why the change? Television, they said. People don’t want to listen to the old music these days, they’d rather watch tv … If you play at home, you bother them. It’s a statement I heard echoed all over Ireland … One aging piper near Dublin confided to me that he hadn’t played his pipes in his home for years, not since his playing had been the focal point of a domestic confrontation in which his wife and kids said they couldn’t hear their tv programs … The crisis had ended in an ultimatum: he was not to play his pipes in the home when his family was there. He shook his head, as hurt as if it had happened yesterday: “I think they just don’t like the old music,” he said.

( Not that Jimmy’s and Dan’s homes are fraught with strife over the issue of their playing at home. On the contrary, Jimmy’s home, for example, was alive with music (and little boys, 4 of them) the night we visited. Two adolescent nieces from the States were also visiting that night, one of them an accomplished fiddler … The little ones were bedded down at a decent hour but one who wanted to be closer to all the excitement chose the kitchen floor instead and sprawled like a puppy on this belly, sound asleep in the front of the sink. There was music long into the night, and warm good feeling … Nor can I imagine two less confrontational types than Dan O’Leary or Jimmy Doyle. Dan is gentle, courtly, diffident, a soft-voiced man of slender frame and twinkling smile … Jimmy is likewise immediately appealing, full of boyish energy and goodheartedness. )

Some intriguing comparisons can be drawn between the musical traditions of Kerry and America. Listen to Dan and Jimmy playing in octaves (as Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford did and as O’Keeffe, Tom Billy, Patrick Tarrant and others had done before them), accordion taking the top part, fiddle the bottom. See if the sound doesn’t remind you of, say, the twin fiddling of the Riendeaus of New Hampshire (French Canadian in origin), or even of early Cajun twin fiddling (French Louisiana), where the second fiddle, in between passages of unison playing or pure “seconding,” occasionally catches bits of the melody played an octave below the first fiddle. Listen also to the simplicity of the slides and polkas and see if you don’t hear Burl Hammons playing West Virginia fiddle tunes. And while you’re listening to old Burl playing ‘Old Sledge’, listen to the “backbeat” in his playing —- how the bow constantly returns to that offbeat note which functions as a kind of drone similar to the fifth string on the old-time banjo … That characteristic backbeat is a strident presence in southern American tunes in 4-time, serving to underscore both the rhythm and the tonal base of the tune … Now play the ‘Blue Ribbon Polkas’ (Side A, Track 1) and hear the upbeats. It’s not hard to pick out the resemblance, given Jimmy’s snappy accentuation of the 2-and 4-beats on accordion.

To any traditional music historian familiar with the Scots-Irish roots of America’s southern mountain music, this striking similarity to the music of Kerry raises some interesting questions. Is it due to nothing more than evolutionary coincidence, or does Kerry music trace its origins to the same (Scottish) source? —- which would of course explain the distinctive Scottish sounding rhythmic drive one hears in Kerry tunes. And if Scots influence truly found its way down to the farthest reaches of southwest Ireland, how did it manage to leave no recognizable trail of Scots-influenced musical styles in bordering regions?

A study of the Kerry tune repertoire might shed some light in this regard; if the Scottish musical tradition did indeed make its mark on Kerry music it would presumably have left a tune legacy as well. In the absence of such research one can only speculate … Certainly the temptation is great to link the Appalachian and Kerry traditions to the same source, but as a colleague said to me, “strong rhythmic bowing is one way to do it. There are lots of ways for music to evolve.” And it’s not uncommon for diverse cultures in geographically separate regions to evolve similar musical forms.

* * *

Dan O’Leary and Jimmy Doyle have been playing regularly together for years, in the dance halls and pubs of Sliabh Luachra: their tune selections here are representative of their repertoire of indigenous slides and polkas (and two jig tracks). Jimmy plays a B/C Italian accordion, though he says he’d rather have a Hohner … Certainly they are two of Kerry’s finest and best-known musicians still playing the old tunes in the old style.

Inquiries in tune origins yield two basic sources: Tom Billy (‘Baile An Tsanhraidh Polka’, ‘Weaver’s Delight’, ‘Gibb Polka’, ‘Bog Road’, and ‘Tom Billy’s Jig’), and Denis Murphy (‘Denis Murphy’s Slides’, ‘Brosna Slides’, —- Denis had got them from three unidentified players from Brosna —- and ‘Padraig O’Keefe’s Slide’). Many remain unidentified: the ‘Listry [Lisheen, do doubt] Slide’ comes “from Gneevgullia evermore”; ‘Thrush on the Strand’ comes from Jimmy who’s been playing it for years and doesn’t remember where he got it, ‘Doyle’s Favorite’ is apparently Jimmy’s own tune, about which Seamus MacMathuna once wrote in ‘Treoir’ that the tune was his (Jimmy’s) favorite polka. Jimmy has since “put a few trims into it.” As for the ‘Blue Ribbon Polka’, Dan says he got it from a James Morrison record brought over by his sister from America. Jimmy says he first heard it played by Johnny Clifford, Julia’s brother [husband!], on piano accordion … To confuse the issue, there’s another polka (not on this recording) by the name of ‘The Blue Riband’, documented by Ward, which John Clifford says he learned for “Dan O’Leary” who says he got it from a recording of Mike Hanafin and Danny Moroney. Perhaps they’re the same tune? Oh well.

* * *

All those interested in further pursuing the music traditions of Kerry owe it to themselves to read Alan Ward’s extraordinarily comprehensive and well-researched (and well-written!) “Music from Sliabh Luachra” (published in coordination with Topic Records’ three[6]-volume Kerry Music series, and also as a part of ‘Traditional Music Magazine’ No. 5, 90 St. Julian’s Farm Rd. London SE27 ORS), on which I have drawn heavily for information. Thanks also to Brendan Breathnach, Mick Moloney, and Barry O’Neill and to William Collins of Cork (now living in Loughrea), who gave us two additional fine tunes for inclusion with the musical notations. ~ Jean Stewart