A hidden treasure of the Sliabh Luachra discography, this LP was produced by the Kerry CCE and given a relatively limited release in 1978. It features a number of well-known figures of the area, including Nicolas and Anne McAuliffe and John Brosnan, as well as some lesser-known folks. The playing throughout is of a high standard, and, perhaps surprisingly for a CCE production, the Sliabh Luachra character shines through (on some tracks more than others.) All in all, an excellent album, and a valuable snapshot of the state of The Kingdom from bygone days.
Many thanks to Friend of Sliabh Luachra Ray Dempsey for making this long lost LP available once again!
Produced as a companion piece to Terry Moylan’s book of the same name, this is a very good recording of Johnny O’Leary in his natural element, playing at Dan O’Connell’s pub in Knocknagree. Though the guitar backing can sometimes feel obtrusive and some of the chord choices misguided, the rhythm is steady, and the box is quite clear throughout. Johnny’s playing is spot-on, as always. The sound of dancing heard on a number of tracks only adds to the ambiance and doesn’t obscure Johnny’s lively music.
SAMPLE: Johnny plays The Annaghbeg Polkas, eliciting whoops and hollers:
Johnny O’Leary was born in 1924 in Maulykeavane which is about half-way between Killarney and Ballydesmond, in the centre of Sliabh Luachra. He has lived in the area all his life, and has spent his whole life learning and playing the local music. It is an area that has surely produced more musicians for its size and population than any other part of Ireland. Johnny has played with them all, learning tunes and passing on tunes and creating with his fellow musicians an unequalled tradition of music-making. He started picking out tunes on the melodeon at the age of five and by his early teens he was regularly playing for local dances. By the time he was 15 he had struck up a musical partnership with Denis Murphy that was to last a remarkable 37 years, ending only with Denis’ death. In 1964 Johnny and Denis accepted an invitation to play in Dan O’Connell’s newly opened pub in Knocknagree, and Johnny has been playing for the sets there ever since, every Friday and Sunday night.
The great scholar of Irish traditional music Breandán Breathnach had for many years been visiting Sliabh Luachra and collecting music from Johnny. He intended to publish this material because he regarded Johnny’s playing as preserving the style and repertoire of the area and of its famous musicians Pádraig OKeeffe, Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford, Tom Billy Murphy, Din Tarrant & Thadelo Sullivan to name only a few. Breandán’s project was taken over by myself after his death in 1985 and was brought to completion in July 1994 when a collection of 348 of Johnny’s tunes was published by the Lilliput Press in Dublin.
This recording is intended to complement that publication. The numbers in brackets after the tune names in the notes refers to the number of the tune in the book. I hope that the issuing of these recordings, in association with the printed collection, will assist in making Johnny’s tunes, and his way of playing them, as well known and popular as they deserve to be. His reels, jigs and hornpipes are generally part of the broader national store of music, but his polkas, slides and barn-dances are often quite unusual and little known. Also, with his style of playing he is able to invest such apparently simple forms with considerable complexity. They always sound far more interesting in his hands than in the hands of others. This is an observation that applies to other local players also. The Sliabh Luachra musicians seem to be able to get more out of these tunes than musicians from outside that tradition. As his playing here demonstrates, he can also inject an infectious energy into the music without a crude resort to excessive speed. He has always been regarded by discerning dancers as a joy to dance and listen to. I hope this recording will enable you to understand and share that joy.
Johnny is joined on these recordings by guitarist Tim Kiely, who has become Johnny’s regular partner in recent years. A player of great drive and ability, his restrained and effective backing adds considerably to the overall sound. As well as being a superb accompanist he is also a very fine ballad-singer. He is married to Dan O’Connell’s daughter Mairéad.
1. John Walshe’s Polkas (260/261)
A set of polkas that Johnny always plays together, and always in this way.
2. A Night at the Fair (28) / The Cat in the Corner (348)
Two jigs that, again, Johnny usually pairs. These came from Bill the Weaver, Denis Murphy’s father.
3. Murphy’s / The Greencastle (305)
This recording of Murphy’s Hornpipe is the first time I had ever heard Johnny play it. A version from Sonny Brogan is included in Ceol Rince na hÉireann Vol. 1.
4. The Kenmare Polka (297) / Sweeney’s (282)
This track and the following five were recorded while Johnny played for a polka set (the Sliabh Luachra Set). The figures of sets usually do not come in tune sized sections, so the playing in some of these figures ends in mid-tune. But it is dance music and you are hearing it here employed for its primary purpose. Also, Johnny is too well acquainted with the structure of the figures to be caught unprepared and always brings the playing to a satisfying halt, no matter what part of the tune has been reached. He associates the second tune here with John Clifford.
5. Jerome Burke’s (298) / The Cobbler (80)
The Cobbler was learned from Din Tarrant, Jerome Burke’s from Jerome Burke.
6. The Gallant Tipperary Boys (129) / The First Cousin of the Gallant Tipperary Boys (130)
Johnny learned these two tunes from Pádraig O’Keeffe, and always pairs them.
7. The Annaghbeg Polka (18)
Another tune learned from Din Tarrant. It is played here for the fourth part of the set, as Johnny mentions in his book.
8. The Hair Fell Off my Coconut (135) / Thadelo’s Slide (76)
Two slides that Johnny learned from Thadelo, Tim O’Sullivan of Annaghbeg, who used to play them on a concertina. The first is more commonly known as A Hundred Pipers. A verse associated with it goes as follows:
Oh the hair fell off my coconut.
The hair fell off my coconut.
Oh the hair fell off my coconut,
And how do you like it baldy?
9. Thadelo’s (246) / Turkey in the Straw (247)
Two more of Thadelo’s tunes, barn-dances that Johnny often uses for the hornpipe figure of the set.
10. The Campdown Races (346)
As this item illustrates, the traffic in tunes between Ireland and America wasn’t all one way. Johnnys version of this tune, which he learned from Jack Sweeney, is a great example of how a simple tune from one tradition can be so elaborated in another as to become almost unrecognisable.
11. The Sean Bhean Bhocht
Collected by Bunting and printed in his 1809 collection, this tune has been used for Irish political songs since the early 19th century. Donal O’Sullivan refers to a tune published in Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion in 1759 as being probably the first time it appeared in print.
12. The Bicycle (15)
Learned from Mickín Dálaigh, this is another tune that Johnny associates with a particular figure of the set. He usually reserves it for the fifth figure and reckons that only fairly competent dancers can cope with it.
13. Pádraig O’Keeffe’s New Reel (304) / Pádraig O’Keeffe’s Woman of the House (210)
These are two tunes that Pádraig O’Keeffe developed out of Speed the Plough and The Woman of the House.
14. Barrack Hill (320) / If I Had a Wife (128)
Slides seem to share with slip jigs the quality of being easy to fit words to, often fairly risqué ones. These two are no exceptions; the first has the following verse:
Oh, the cat jumped into the mouse’s hole.
The cat jumped into the mouse’s hole.
The cat jumped into the mouse’s hole
And didn’t come down till morning.
The second has:
If I had a wife, the plague of my life
I’ll tell you what I would do.
I’d buy her a boat and put her afloat
And paddle my own canoe.
Johnny says that Denis Murphy knew scores of these verses. Alas, only the odd scrap seems to remain.
15. Bill the Weaver’s (219) / The Blue Ribbon Polka
Johnny associates these tunes with Julia Clifford. A version of the Blue Ribbon Polka may be found in Matt Cranitch’s Irish Fiddle Book.
16. Paddy Spillane’s (50/49)
This and the next four sets of tunes were played for the West Kerry set. The different sound from the dancers reflects the fact that this set is danced in quite a different way to the local Sliabh Luachra set. Paddy Spillane is a neighbour of Johnny’s, from Knockbeag.
17. The Knocknagree Polka (27) / John Collins’ Fancy (262)
When recording this set of tunes Johnny revealed to us that he had composed the first himself. John Collins is a box-player from Cnoc na Gaoithe.
18. Mick Mahony’s (90) / The Kilcummin Slide (91)
The first is sometimes named If I Had a Wife. Johnny heard both from Mick Mahony of Kilcummin, a part of Sliabh Luachra that, he says, produces most of the slides and polkas.
19. Dan O’Leary’s / Dan Sweeney’s (48)
The first is another tune I had not heard from Johnny before this recording session. It seems not to have been recorded before. Dan O’Leary was Johnny’s uncle, Dan Sweeney is a box-player from Tuar Mór.
20. Keeffe’s Slide / Pádraig O’Keeffe’s (132) / Julia Clifford’s Slide (133)
The first has been recorded previously by Jackie Daly (Topic 12T358), but this is the first time I heard it from Johnny. The other two were part of Julia Clifford’s repertoire.
21. Crowley’s Reels (309/310)
Johnny attributes these to the great box-player Joe Cooley.
22. Dan O’Leary’s (140)
Another tune that Johnny learned from his uncle Dan O’Leary, who had it from Tom Billy Murphy.
23. Thadelo Sullivan’s (189)
Thadelo Sullivan seems to have had a large number of unusual tunes. Johnny often plays this one in a set with the two at 9 above.
24. Molly Myers’ (330) / Jack Connell’s
Molly Myers, another fiddle student of Tom Billy’s is the source of the first tune here. Like Jack Connell she is from the Ballydesmond area.
25. The Green Cottage (236)
Previously recorded under this title by Julia and Billy Clifford, and by Jackie Daly who knows it as one of the Glin Cottage Polkas.
26. The Cornerhouse (335) / Come West Along the Road
Two fairly infrequently published reels, Breandán Breathnach has versions of each of them.
27. Connie Fleming’s Polka (145)
This is another polka that has not, to my knowledge, been recorded or published before.
28. The Old Grey Goose (172)
Things are never static in Irish music. Captain O’Neill’s account of how this jig assumed its modern form is a nice illustration of the point:
More than a third of a century ago a renowned Irish piper named John Hicks, a protegé of the sporting Capt. Kelly from the Curragh of Kildare, came to Chicago to fill an engagement at a Theatre. He electrified his audiences and received much newspaper notice when he died. Among the tunes memorised from his playing was . . . . . . . the lst and 3rd parts of No. 1000. Many years after, I heard James Kennedy play the lst and 2nd parts for a jig. When dictating the three parts to James O’Neill I discovered he had an old manuscript setting of it in six parts. As a compromise we accepted his last three parts, and the present setting is the result. Kennedy called his tune The Geese in the Bogs but as we had a jig well known by that name another compromise resulted in The Old Grey Goose.
Recorded in Dan O’Connell’s public house in Knocknagree, co. Cork
on the 8th and 9th of December 1995.
Recorded and mastered by Harry Bradshaw
Produced by Terry Moylan and Jerry O’Reilly
Notes and photographs by Terry Moylan
All tracks traditional arranged by Johnny O’Leary and Tim Kiely
Special thanks to:
Tim and Mairéad Kiely, Dan O’Connell, John O’Connell and friends, and Anne and Olive Keane.
Gael-Linn CEFCD 132, 1989. Recorded in 1989 in Sullane, Co. Cork.
Notes by Ciarán MacMathúna.
Maybe the best of Johnny O’Leary’s albums in terms of the listener experience, as the recording is clear, with no background noise, and no accompanist muddying the waters. Johnny is playing really well here, and gives us an excellent selection of tunes from his seemingly infinite repertoire. Some are well-known classics, some are lesser-known, even today. It also boasts a pretty bad-ass cover photo.
SAMPLE: The eponymous first tune, a version of The Orange Rogue:
“Gerry Harrington and Billy Clifford have had a lifelong affinity with the music of Sliabh Luachraand have been making the music ‘purr’ in its sweetest most lyrical form for many years.The first time I heard Billy Clifford play was when himself and his mother Julia took to the stagein The Cork Opera House in the early 1980’s to play a set of slides in a concert celebrating thecomposer Sean Ó Riada. It’s a performance that still burns bright in my memory. Their music wasdelicate, sweet, full of personality and devilment and at times deceptively simple. What I heard intheir music became a standard bearer in my own endeavours to learn the music of Sliabh Luachra.It drew me into a wonderful journey of exploring the music of The Murphys of Lisheen. A journeywith no end. Billy’s playing does that to people. It gets you thinking. It reminds you of previousrecordings of The Star of Munster Trio in which he played with Julia and his father John Clifford and the many other musical webs that his mother wove with Denis, Pádraig Ó Keeffe and JohnnyÓ Leary.
“I’ve known Gerry Harrington since my teenage years back in the early 1990’s. We first played together at the Patrick Ó Keeffe festival in Castleisland when The Smokey Chimney comprising of Gerry, Eoghan Ó Sullivan and Paul de Grae were to the fore front of performing and recording musicfrom the Sliabh Luachra survives in its purest form. His recent recording of accordionist Timmy Connors ensured that Timmy’s contribution to our music was properly documented and archived. Another feature of this recording is that most tracks were recorded on Julia Clifford’s iconic Stroh fiddle that Billy had restored and brought back to life. Hearing it in full health brings back lots of memories and it contributes to the mood of the album. Gerry’s deep respect for generations that have handed us the torch is evident in this recording Now She’s Purring, a reference to Pádraig Ó Keeffe’s expression when the music was sounding good and all was well with the world. Gerry displays a great understanding of Billy’s style of playing and the result is an excellent duet album. The tunes are played in settings many will not have previously heard and the accompanying notes give a complete history. It’s a recording that will stand the test of time and I highly recommend it.” –Paudie Ó Connor
In 1961 Denis Murphy was home on holidays from America and looking forward to meeting up with his old friend and teacher Pádraig O’Keeffe. Jack Lyons’ pub in Scartaglin was the closest thing to a local that Pádraig had, and was the usual spot for the two to meet for a drink and a tune. As it happens, someone (maybe Séamus Ennis?) fortuitously recorded this session, and we can now listen back to this musical conversation between two of the great men of Sliabh Luachra music.
Here’s one of the 38 tracks: Pádraig and Denis play a unique setting of The Bucks of Oranmore
This recording came to me through circuitous means, and and as such I had no knowledge of who the original tape belonged to, or what sort of travels it had before it ended up with me. They were labelled as “secret” recordings, but for whom and from whom was the secret meant to be kept? Though these questions remain unresolved, recently it has come to light that it’s more of an “open secret” than I had realized. I spoke to someone who was given the recording early on, and is largely responsible for it being more widely known, and this person made a convincing case for sharing the recording freely. Seeing as how this is an important part of the cultural heritage, and that anyone with a keen interest in this music deserves to hear it, I’ve decided to post it here. It is an informal recording, not a performance, and some of the playing is rough and off the cuff, but I don’t think it can possibly diminish the reputation of either of these two giants.
If anyone has more information about the context for this recording, or some of the missing tune names, or anything like that, please comment here or email me!
Special thanks to Gerry Harrington tracking down some tune names and supplying some of the history behind this beautiful recording.
LP produced in the late ’60s (with poor-to-middling sound quality, I’m afraid) by Fleetwood Records, a small Massachusetts record label not particularly focused on Irish traditional music. They were notable for their “Sounds of Auto racing” LP and other sports-related albums, as well as some drum and bugle corps recordings. Maybe this is a member of the corps adding a fairly bombastic snare drum to the fiddle, flute, and piano. Paddy seems to have mostly refused to record without accompaniment for reasons of his own, but it’s a shame that the backing generally adds nothing and only serves to obscure or even drown out the sound of the fiddle. On the flute, it’s Paddy himself double-tracking as he did on some later albums. Strangely, there are a couple of tracks that are repeated, first with just fiddle, and then with flute added. What?! The explosive drumwork is credited to George Shanley, and Edward Irwin on the piano manages to keep up and match tempo with Paddy, but the chord choices are often… creative? The two of them were stalwarts of the Boston ceili band scene. OK, I won’t say anything else about the backing, except to say that if you can ignore it, you’ll hear that Paddy is really bringing his A game on most of these tracks! This would’ve been his first 33 rpm LP, and first commercial recording since his 78 recordings for Copley. At this point he seems to have largely moved on from the Sliabh Luachra repertoire and is mostly playing well-known tunes from the general Sligo-influenced New York/Boston scene. He plays with tons of energy and creativity. I’d say this album doesn’t offer a lot to the average Sliabh Luachra polka-and-slide maniac, but fans of Paddy Cronin who can listen past the rest of the noise will find a lot to love on this record.
SAMPLE: Paddy scootched a little closer to the mic to record The Cuckoo’s Nest and you can hear him pretty well over “the noise.”
This LP released in 1971 is a step up from the Music in the Glen album. Paddy is still obsessed with glens and the things you find in them, but he’s ditched the snare drum, moved to a new record label, and has even included a few polkas and slides as a nod to the “baby music” fans. Though the recording quality is only a shade better, the album as a whole is much more listenable. There are a lot of nice tune choices in addition to the aforementioned polkas and slides, and the quality of the playing is consistently very good throughout.
SAMPLE: Paddy Stack’s Favorite (a distant cousin to Morrison’s Overplayed Jig) and Apples in Winter
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:
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!
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:
The Radio Éireann Mobile Recording Unit
Séamus Ennis in 1950
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.