Paddy Jones

Paddy Jones is the youngest of Pádraig O’Keeffe’s students. He was born not far from Pádraig’s home in Glountane, and he showed an interest in the music from a young age. He took lessons with the fiddle master for only three short years, but they were to have a long-lasting effect. Though he discontinued the lessons out of frustration with his master’s peripatetic lifestyle, he nonetheless maintained a fondness for Pádraig, and helped look after him in his last days. He later continued his musical education with Pat and Willie O’Connell in nearby Cordal, and learned to read staff notation while in school which enabled him to expand his repertoire and scholarship considerably. As he developed in his music, he was able to play with a number of the older generation, including Jack O’Connell of The Lighthouse who mentored him and encouraged him to study of the music and heritage of Sliabh Luachra, but also to appreciate good music no matter where it came from. His great curiosity led him to explore the world, both geographically and intellectually, but he has always maintained a particular love and interest in his native music. It was perhaps only natural that he himself would become a teacher and lecturer, and he has developed a great number of the younger generation into excellent and thoughtful members of the Sliabh Luachra tradition. He was honored for his lifelong commitment to the culture of Sliabh Luachra at the 2016 Patrick O’Keeffe festival in Castleisland.

Learned from: Pádraig O’Keeffe, Pat and Willie O’Connell, Jack O’Connell

An interesting lecture by Paddy on the music of Sliabh Luachra. You can read the transcript here.

Paddy Cronin

Paddy Cronin (1925-2014) was originally from Ré Buí (Reaboy) near Gneeveguilla and a student of Pádraig O’Keeffe. He is best known for his fiddling, but played the flute as well. He came from a musical family–his brother younger Johnny would become a celebrated fiddler himself. Their mother Hannie (née Nagle), originally from Gortdarrig, far to the south, was a concertina player and singer, and both parents encouraged their children in taking up the music. Con McCarthy was also a frequent visitor to the household and an early influence on Paddy. A fiddle was procured for his use, and soon it was decided to send for O’Keeffe to train him. In later life, Paddy recalled their first encounter, when Pádraig came around to the Glountane School and called in through the window, “Send out young Cronin!” He soon impressed O’Keeffe as an eager and talented student, and it wasn’t long before young Cronin was brought out to local house dances (“biddy dances, snap apple nights, thresher dances and the like,” in Paddy’s recollection) to play with his teacher and his fellow students Denis Murphy and Johnny O’Leary.

In 1948 Seamus Ennis was collecting music in Sliabh Luachra and he recorded Paddy in a farmer’s house near Ballyvourney playing a pair of slides which were later played on Radio Eireann. Soon after, realizing he could no longer support himself in the struggling Irish economy, Paddy emigrated to the U.S. in 1949. He would spend about 40 years in the Sligo-dominated Boston music scene. In his formative years in Kerry he and his friend Denis Murphy had studied intensely the recordings of Coleman and Morrison, but now he was immersed in that tradition. His mature style developed to incorporate both the Sliabh Luachra and Sligo influences. He also seems to have absorbed some aesthetic aspects of the playing of musicians from Nova Scotia. While living in Boston he recorded a number of influential 78s and LPs. He became well respected for his high standard of playing, for his deep knowledge of the music, and for his distinct and well-crafted tune settings. He eventually returned to live in Killarney where he enjoyed a place of honor at every session and musical event until his death in 2014.

Learned from: Pádraig O’Keeffe, Con McCarthy

An episode of RTE’s The Rolling Wave on the subject of Paddy Cronin:

A fairly hilarious yet informative lecture on Paddy Cronin given by Nicky McAuliffe with an introduction by his friend Donal O’Connor, with numerous interjections and digressions from the man himself, as well as a number of clips of his early recordings. (audio only)

Excerpted from the above lecture, Paddy plays a setting of the O’Carolan composition Colonel Irwin. (audio only)

Paddy plays his own reel (audio only)


Paddy Cronin Rakish Paddy 300  Paddy Cronin Kerry's Own 300 Paddy Cronin Radio Éireann in 1949 Paddy Cronin Copley recordingsPaddy Cronin - Music in the GlenPaddy Cronin - The House in the Glen

In his own words: Paddy Cronin – My Life and Music

Link: A very interesting and well-researched article by Matt Cranitch on Paddy Cronin’s fiddle style

Danny “Ab” O’Keeffe

Danny Ab O’Keeffe (~1906?-?) lived in Tureencahill, not far from the Murphys of Lisheen. He played the flute and whistle and was known to lilt a tune as well. He may have got his music directly from Tom Billy Murphy, or perhaps indirectly through his mother who could have been a Tom Billy pupil herself. He was a frequent visitor to the Weavers’, and a young Denis and Julia could get him to teach them tunes from his unique repertoire in exchange for endless cups of tea.

Johnny O’Leary remembered him: “He was a small little man that lived alone above, up the road from Denis Murphy. Danny Ab, he used to do a bit of mending in clothes. That’s how he lived, the poor man. Danny Ab, and he was an awful man for music. He never played. He had a bit on the tin whistle all right. He could start the tunes on a tin whistle. But, Jesus Christ, when Denis Murphy and them got to know him right, they followed lots of his tunes, and Art O’Keeffe the same way. He’d the nicest slides that was ever. Handed down to him. Seemingly his mother’s people used play. She was supposed to be a Welsh woman. But she had all traditional tunes. And ’tis she handed them over to him. […] I declare to Christ he started diddling the tunes and Denis above one day. And Denis said, ‘Where did you get that one Danny?’ ‘I have a share of them’, he says to Denis. And Denis started at him. Denis went up with the fiddle the following evening. Sure he got the world of slides from him, man. He called three or four of them Danny Ab’s slides.”

Art O’Keeffe

Art O’Keeffe (born sometime around 1903), sometimes called “Aut”, was a neighbor and family friend of the Weaver Murphys of Lisheen. As a fellow musician, he would have shared many a tune with that storied clan. It’s probable he was at least a sometime pupil of Tom Billy’s, though he could have got his music from any number of less exalted sources. He is known today as having been a whistle player, though he also could play the fiddle and was a respected singer as well. He was a member of the Lisheen Fife and Drum Band captained by Bill “The Weaver” Murphy, and long after the band was defunct he could still play the tunes and arrangements with composed passages from the old days. In 1952, when Billy Clifford was sent from his home in London to stay with his widowed grandmother, Art O’Keeffe befriended him and no doubt shared with him the music Billy’s family had played in the generations before him. In 1974 he played a tune at the funeral of Denis Murphy, but after that I have no records of his doings, and I have not been able to determine the date of his death. He was recorded singing two songs for the BBC in 1947, and also provided a number of tunes to Breandán Breathnach’s collection, but in general he was not as celebrated a personage as his neighbors, the Murphys. However, a number tunes in the common repertoire still bear his name, so in that way, at least, he left his mark on the tradition.

LEARNED FROM: Tom Billy Murphy  

PLAYED WITH: Bill The Weaver, Danny Ab, Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford  

TAUGHT: Billy Clifford

Art O'Keeffe surrounded by Waivers
Art O’Keeffe surrounded by Waivers

Mick Buckley

Mick Buckley (~1925-1950) was a student of Pádraig O’Keeffe from Knocknageeha, just north of Gneeveguilla. He was known to be a gifted musician, and could be found Sunday nights playing at the dance hall at Lackagh Cross with Pádraig, Denis Murphy, and John Clifford. Johnny O’Leary played a few polkas which he reckoned he got from Buckley. Whether he would have turned out to be as acclaimed a musician as his neighbors, we will never know, for he died of tuberculosis at a young age.

LEARNED FROM: Pádraig O’Keeffe

PLAYED WITH: John Clifford, Denis Murphy

Two polkas from Johnny O’Leary of Sliabh Luachra

John Clifford

John Clifford (1916-1981) grew up as a neighbor of the Weavers of Lisheen. Like the Weavers, his own family was deeply imbued in the music: his parents and siblings all played or danced or sang, so it was inevitable he would pick up the music from an early age. He played whistle in Bill Murphy’s  fife-and-drum band, but he soon gravitated to the button accordion. His first tutelage came from his older brother Tim, but as he progressed, he was sent to learn from Pádraig O’Keeffe.

As a young man he was Denis Murphy‘s first musical partner. In John’s words: “Denis was working over in Co. Cork or something for a while you know, and he came on holidays or something… I don’t know whether he heard the music out in the road or not and he came in and he had the fiddle… he couldn’t get over it. I played the reel called The Broom… God he was delighted, he thought ‘Now I got a companion now and I got a mate who can play.’ And then we started. Every week one of us’d go down to Killarney. We’d get into D.F.O’Sullivan’s or Hilliard’s and get one record. We made up a collection of’m. We’d every one that Coleman made… Morrison, Killoran, Paddy Sweeney…” Around 1933 the pair began playing in local dance halls where they soon earned the admiration of the dancers and other local musicians.

It’s unclear what sort of training he received from Pádraig, but at least as far as technique on the two-row box, he seems to have been largely self-taught. He was playing on an instrument tuned D/D# and played from the inside row. This gave him the options for ornamentation and phrasing available to the modern C#/D player, but had the somewhat unfortunate result that what he played came out a half-step sharp from concert pitch. Denis would be forced to tune the fiddle up to play with him, often resulting in broken strings to Denis’ consternation. Despite this drawback, John became regarded by many as the best box player in Sliabh Luachra at this time. He was invited to perform on a number of occasions on the radio, and Johnny O’Leary, when he began on the box, came to John for lessons. In later days, and long after John’s death, Johnny would extol the virtues of John Clifford to any visiting box player who would listen. The story goes that Johnny would bend the ear of the great Joe Burke about him any chance he got. One day Joe asked Johnny ”but, was he really that good?” And Johnny was said to reply: ”You’re lucky he’s dead from you, Joe!”

As with so many others, the economy of the day forced John to emigrate to London in 1938 in search of work. Upon his arrival, he looked up his former neighbor and friend, Julia Murphy, who had moved to London not long before. She was able to find him work as a porter in the hotel where she cleaned for her own living. She had already begun playing music at some of the smaller London dance halls in various groups and combos. John, who had apparently sold or otherwise lost his old instrument in one way or another along the way, bought a new button accordion and joined Julia at one of these early dance hall gigs. To his surprise and dismay, this new box was tuned to a different system and his usual fingering made it impossible to join in with the other musicians. He also soon realized that these dance hall bands were sometimes called upon to play other types of music in a variety of keys, and that the free-reed instrument of choice amongst the local squeezers was the piano accordion. He took the ambitious and fated step of purchasing and learning this new instrument, which on the one hand made it possible for him to enter the dance hall scene, but also would change the sound of his music for good.

The piano accordion, being a unisonoric instrument (playing one note per key regardless of the bellows direction) does not lend itself to the bubbling staccato quality of Irish dance music, and even less the particular drive of Sliabh Luachra polkas and slides. Perhaps there is a kinship of sorts between the rapidly changing direction of the fiddle bow and the similarly rhythmic press and draw of the button box played along the row? In any case, the piano accordion player must exert extra energy and skill to counteract the inertia of the larger, more massive instrument. It seems John Clifford was unaware, unable, or simply unwilling. In any case, upon switching instruments, his playing became more versatile and louder no doubt, but comparatively lethargic, dragging, and muffled.

Despite these qualities, John was able to find work as a musician with his new musical partner Julia. They hit it off musically and personally, and in 1941 they were married. They soon had two sons, John Jr. and Billy, and the young family settled in the Cricklewood area of London.

In their early days in London they both worked at a variety of day jobs,and played in a variety of bands and combos at night, playing a mix of traditional tunes and other popular dance music as the tastes of the day demanded. In 1953 homesickness seems to have got the best of them and they moved back to Ireland, first to Lisheen, and then to Newcastle West in Limerick in search of better opportunities and perhaps a return to the faster pace of life they left behind in London. It was here they formed the Star of Munster Ceili Band with the Moloneys of nearby Templeglantine: Pat Moloney on button accordion and fiddle, Liam Moloney on banjo, and Biddy Moloney on the piano, with percussionist Paddy Murphy. Julia’s brother Denis would sometimes sit in, as did young Billy who was developing his skill on the whistle. For a while they were one of the highest rated and most sought-after ceili bands in the southwest of Ireland, playing dances throughout Limerick, Kerry, Clare, and Galway. They also made two radio broadcasts from Dublin. Despite the band’s popularity, it was a source of stress for John, as he assumed the roles of both bandleader and agent, traveling the countryside to book engagements, arrange for transportation and lodging, and all the other minutia that goes into professional performance. In addition, he was never able to make the economics of the enterprise work out, and expenses outstripped income more often than not. After two years the ceili band called it quits.

In 1958 the peripatetic Cliffords returned to London. At first they went back to playing in the dancehalls, now with Billy on concert flute as a full-fledged member of the group, but it was just as the popularity of the dancehalls was beginning to wane, and John quickly realized they’d need to find new venues for their music. With the decline of the dancehall scene came the rise of the Irish pubs in London, where nightly performances and sessions of traditional music were coming into vogue. The scene was different than what they were used to, and though John immersed himself in it with gusto, Julia and Billy often as not stayed home to play together in the kitchen. (It was during this period that they began to develop the tightly knit duet playing which would eventually be heard on their album Ceol as Sliabh Luachra.) At times, though, the three of them would secure gigs as the Star of Munster Trio. The London scene now had its own burgeoning local style and repertoire, and the Cliffords found little call for Kerry slides and polkas. Their old music was to some extent abandoned and forgotten (if only for a time) and they soon proved they could play the popular jigs and reels of the session scene as well as any of their illustrious contemporaries.

In in 1964 and again in 1976 the Cliffords committed some of their music to tape, and in 1977, London-based label Topic published two albums: The Star of Munster Trio and The Humours of Lisheen. John lived only a few more years, but his legacy lives on in these recordings and the memories of his family, friends, and those who danced to his music.

Learned from: Pádraig O’Keeffe

Taught: Johnny O’Leary

Played with: Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Billy Clifford


The Star of Munster Trio 300  Julia and John Clifford The Humours of Lisheen 300

Donal O’Connor

Donal O’Connor (b.1935) was born in Carrigeen, Brosna and can trace his musical lineage back to the travelling fiddle master Graddy through his father Paddy Jerry O’Connor who learned from his mother, Ellen Guiney, from Knockawinna, Brosna, who in turn had been Graddy’s pupil. Donal and his three older brothers were all taught fiddle from an early age and soon were playing with their father in dance-halls, house parties, and weddings in the Brosna area.

In the early 60s Donal and his late brother Patrick founded the popular and prize-winning Brosna Ceili Band. The original lineup of the Brosna Céilí Band included Patrick and Donal on fiddle, Neilus O’Connor, Aeneas O’Connell, ‘Big Pat’ Moriarty on mouthorgan, Nicky McAuliffe; Mick Mulcahy, and Micheal O hEidhin on piano, with vocals from Mary McQuinn (aka Maida Sugrue) and Séan Ahern. They won the All-Ireland in 1972.

Soon after the All-Ireland, Donal tried his hand as a publican at the Sliabh Luachra Bar in the heart of Listowel. For a while it was a popular spot for musicians from all over Kerry to meet and play. Today Donal lives in Limerick City and is a fixture of the music scene there.

Learned from: Paddy Jerry O’Connor
Played with: Nicky McAuliffe; Mick Mulcahy, Denis Doody