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

Transcript of Paddy Jones lecture on Sliabh Luachra

Paddy Jones:  The Music of Sliabh Luachra (Watch it here)

First of all, for the uninitiated, we’d have to say where Sliabh Luachra was.  Some people think that Ciaran MacMahuna introduced Sliabh Luachra to the world, with his lovely tough way he says, “A few weeks ago I was down in Sliabh Luachra”, and, this music came on the scene and suddenly people began looking for Sliabh Luachra.  And they came into places like Castleisland and Killarney, and they were asking the publicans in places there, “Where’s this village of Sliabh Luachra?”  And, of course, the people there knew there was no village, because they didn’t know anything more about Sliabh Luachra.  And they said, “Yerra, it is over there, around Gneeveguilla or some damned place like that.”  And that’s about all they knew about it.

But Sliabh Luachra is going back in history a long way.  There was a time, when the English, or the British, ruled the place, and Sliabh Luachra was described as a place where ‘the Queen’s writ couldn’t run’.  In other words, ’twas a vast area of bogs and swamps and forest, with no roads through it, so that these lawless people ­— they were lawless from the British viewpoint because they were trying to take back, by daring and courage, what had been stolen from them, legally, in Britain’s eyes — but they could run into this place and the Queen’s armies couldn’t go in after them.  So that’s why Mr Griffith built some of these roads that run through this territory.

Anyway, a time came, after the release of The Star Above the Garter, when Sliabh Luachra became nationwide, it became one of the most notable parts of Ireland.  From a place that was totally obscure, now it was the leading traditional exponent of Irish music.  And people from all over started learning it.  And, from obscurity, it almost engulfed the whole country, as Connie Houlihan said in his lecture.  There was no boundaries to its areas, but it spread and spread, and Connie said, it was in danger of engulfing the whole country.

So, not only that, but even parts of America ­— I’m going to show you a t-shirt here, that’s maybe a little bit the worse for wear, but it was given to me in a place near Albuquerque, and if you could read the label there it says, ‘Greetings from New Mexico’.  But it says, ‘Sliabh Sandia’.  Now, ‘Sandia’ is the French for water melon, or the Spanish, sorry, for water melon, but you can see even the influence, ‘Sliabh’.  They were used to dancing Sliabh Luachra sets.  They called their club Sliabh.

Now, talking about Sliabh, I’m going to now read the sleeve notes of The Star Above the Garter.  (Excuse me for all the stooping up and down.)  This is the cover of the original LP that put Sliabh Luachra on the map.  And ’tis a bit the worse for wear, because it is around with thirty or more odd years.  But I’m not going to read it because I’m a better reader than you are, but I’m going to read it because it makes some very interesting points that need to be made.  So, with your permission, I’ll read it.

“In the Kingdom of Kerry there are many principalities and many princely lines.  We speak here, not of the aristocracy of blood, for it would be a brave man who could, or who would, draw comparisons between the proud genealogies of the South West.  Our concern is, rather, with the arts — poetry and story-telling and good talk and, of course, music.  Even here, or perhaps especially here, one must tread warily.  Only a fool indeed will rush into judgment on the relative claims of greatness of say, Corca Dhuibhne, and Uibh Rathach.  But I believe even the most loyal partisan of Piaras Feiritéar would concede the primacy for poetry to the area known to generations as Sliabh Luachra. For here was the little fatherland of Aoghán Ó Rathaille and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin who are, by common consent, the two finest poets that Kerry can claim, and Aoghán, at least, was one of the great poets of Ireland.  But that was long ago, you may say, and since English became the language of Sliabh Luachra, the high poetry is gone.  True.  But the music remains.

Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford, his sister, are from Eoghan Rua’s own native place, Gneeveguilla, near Killarney – not that Eoghan would have spelt it like that.  The link is not just one of coincidence, as you will so learn if you spend the evening listening to Denis, not just playing the tunes that the poets sang to, but telling the stories about Eoghan and the others that still live in the place.  It’s a place of long memories and there was no better man to keep the memories fresh and the stories sharp and salty than Pádraig Ó Caoimh, Beannacht Dé Leat Ar A Anam, who passed on the great tradition in words and music to his pupils.  Pupils we say advisedly, for Pádraig was one of the last of the fiddle masters, who are the scattered fellows of an unendowed, unhoused, unrecognised academy of Irish music and tradition for perhaps two hundred years.”  (We will be dealing with that aspect later on.)  Pádraig Ó Caoimh had many pupils, some of them brilliant, but none more brilliant that Denis and Julia.  Here is their music to prove it.  Among the twenty items listed, pride of place must, of course, go to the airs.  Here we have four melodies of great beauty and no little antiquity.  The air Caoine Uí Dhonaill, the Lament of O’Donnell, side 2 band 9, is a deeply moving lament, and along with O’Rahilly’s Grave, side 1 band 7, is a fine example of the tradition we have been discussing.”

But we needn’t go any further with this at the present time . . . of course he mentioned The Blackbird, a slow air as well.  But, these notes were written by a man called Seán Mac Réamoinn, and certainly this man knew what he was talking about, because in the world today, it’s almost all, sessions have become almost reels completely in certain places, and of course in lots of places.  But in Sliabh Luachra the tradition always was the variety: slides, polkas, slow airs, marches.  If you look at some of Ó Caoimh’s books you’ll find quicksteps, two-steps, waltzes, mazurkas, barn dances — you’ll find all sorts of tunes as well as the reels and the jigs and the hornpipes.  So for Ó Caoimh, and in my estimation, a good fiddle player should be able to play all sorts of tunes.

Now I’ll tell you of my own experience of coming to this music.    First of all, my father was a next door neighbour of Pádraig Ó Caoimh’s, so he knew Pádraig intimately and had gone to school to him as a pupil.  He was there the day Pádraig lost his school.  And later on, he used to cut his hair, and he knew Pádraig very well and could tell a lot of stories about him.

But, when I was a young lad he used to say, when you heard Ó Caoimh playing the fiddle, you never again thought anybody else could come anywhere near what he was doing playing the fiddle, because he had some dríocht, was the word.  Now there’s loads of aspects to music, but the way my father described it, he had a magic in his playing.  And my grandfather, who was known as Old Jones, he was Tom, he said, “When Ó Caoimh plays” he says, “you’re not listening to music, he’s talking to you.”  And my grandmother ­— they all lived near him and they danced at house dances — she said, “The people around here don’t appreciate Pádraig’s playing” she says, “but when he’ll die, they’ll all be talking about him.”  And she was right.

Now, I have a little word that I’ll say about Ó Caoimh himself.  I was lucky in that I went to him for lessons when I was about ten years of age.  It was a journey of at least six miles maybe, if not seven, from the top of Killcushana down to the main road, and from there to Glauntane Cross.  And he was a grand old gentleman at that time.  He was nearly seventy years of age at that time.  He died in 1963.  But he was a courteous and a gentle and a kind man.  He didn’t take very much trouble in teaching.  He usually wrote out of his head whatever tune he thought was appropriate.  And paper, that’s such an abundant commodity in the world today, was very scarce that time.  Sometimes he wrote on the back of calendars and he’d draw the lines with a bow, with a pencil.  And then he’d write the tune out of his head.  And he’d play the tune through, maybe once, slowly, and your lesson was over.  The lesson was usually over in about five minutes flat.  And you could walk away the six miles home then again.  And it was written in tablature; there was no such thing as staff notation.  So the only obvious problem with tablature – does everybody know what tablature is, or must I explain it?  Tablature is a system that’s still used in parts of America for teaching 5-string banjo.  The 5 lines – you can use the standard manuscript book – but the 5 lines are used, and the spaces in between represent the strings.  In other words, the space at the top represents the first string, the next space down the second, then the third and then the fourth.  And whatever number is written in represents the finger that’s to go on that string.  Now I have books of it here, and it’s a bit worse for wear —  I wonder, you can’t see it very clearly — but you can see these are written out with all letters.  And these are all collected.  I have collected these down the years, starting from Pádraig himself, and then when he died, I went to other people and I found a lot of tunes, and I copied them all down in these books.  So I thought I’d bring them along to show you this as well.

So, about the stories: one of the stories I used to enjoy was, Ó Caoimh was playing at a ploughing match one day, down in Cordal, and the people —  and of course you must realise the standard of music was very poor at that time – and that’s not bringing down Ó Caoimh accomplishments — but the story was the people left their horses and ploughs and ran over to hear this music.  So, a touch of Orpheus.  Orpheus, in Greek legend, was such a mighty musician that trees uprooted themselves, and rocks, to follow after him, to listen to him.  Yes.  So he was a mighty man.

Now there is another funny one.  A Greek goddess asked Zeus —  meaning no disrespect to the people of the cloth as they say – for the gift of music.  And Zeus ran to her —  these are only legends — with the gift.  And the gods looking on, when they saw her playing they laughed, because she used to make faces while she played.  Now it wasn’t the fiddle, maybe, maybe a lyre or whatever, but the gods laughed at her.  So I notice, myself sometimes, we do make faces, and a few times, a bold person in an audience might come up after and say, “You’re saying something when you’re playing music”, and of course, I say — I don’t like it very much — but I don’t tell the people that, but I say, “Well now, if you come up, and put your ear up, you’ll hear something very important”.  That’s all I have to say on it.

But poor Pádraig, he finally died.  And, it was amazing.  The people, that knew his life was very limited in resource, they were all surprised that this man — it’s amazing the amount of people I met that told me afterwards, “We thought this man would never die”.  In fact, my mother had a picture of De Valera on one side of the fireplace and a picture of the Pope on the other, and these were her two heroes, but when Ó Caoimh died, herself and my father, it used to come up in conversation, and they used to say, “That man should never die”.  He was the only one, except one more.  There was another man that died, Joe Cooley, he was a box player from Peterswell in Galway, and the same thing, when he died, the story was, “That man should never die”.  So you can see how important musicians were to the people of Ireland.

Now, we’re talking now about the music itself: why had it such an effect on the people?  You know, I mean, music is such a common thing in the world today.  Why did it have such a profound effect on those people?  It’s very simple when you think about it.  If Van Gogh or Salvador Dali, who could easily have been living around the locality, were there, and he made a great picture, the people could come and look at it and say, “Oh, that’s beautiful”.  Or a great sculptor, he could do something, but what would it have done for the people?  It would be great art, and of course it has intrinsic value in itself, but from the world viewpoint its value is that it’s a collector’s item.  But the music was where the real treasure-house was, and for several reasons.  Now, I’m going to introduce you to a man again, and people could say, “Well he has nothing in the world to do with Irish music”, and he hasn’t, but he is a beautiful gentleman, Yahudi Menuhin.  He was one of the world’s greatest fiddlers for years upon years.  But in a little sentence here, he gives the answer to why music was so important, not only for the people of Sliabh Luachra but for everybody.

Now to take these in little sections we have to use our imagination a little bit, because I’m taking this from the end of a paragraph here, and it says, “The refinement to which I believe we all aspire is genuine only so long as it contains a levelling of spontaneity and a sense of common humanity.  Music, which exhibits this, remains in touch with the emotions and desires of more, rather than fewer, people.  On the other hand, art which turns its back on the often bleak life which very many people endure, simply cannot last.”

So now, when you think of the people of Sliabh Luachra, we’ll go back to that in a minute, but I’ll maybe just, as I have the book in my hand, I’ll read another note that may be pertinent, and it’s on page 12 here, it says, “The violin is the poor man’s instrument, but it is strangely enough also the instrument which offers to the individual the greatest and most immediate means of expression.  It enables a person, a people, to speak for and of themselves.  I recall visiting a museum for folk instruments in Moscow, and I could not believe my eyes when I saw hundreds upon hundreds of varieties of violins.  Every conceivable size, shape, design, form – some of them did not even look like violins – yet all were played on four strings, with a bow, and were made by the village carpenter, or village handyman, and could be carried about the place.  These hardworking, hardwearing fiddles were rustic folk instruments of infinite resource.  Such an instrument was sturdy; if it got wet or damaged it could easily be repaired or replaced.”  So now, when we’re talking about the music of Sliabh Luachra, I thought that would be a good point, because we’re basically talking about violins, you know, nearly all the time, in what’s related to what I’m presenting here tonight.

Now, like Jesus himself, I’m going to use an analogy, or a parable, because He was the greatest teacher of all time.  So I am going to use the analogy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and people could look up and say, “What’s that got to do with Sliabh Luachra music?”  Well it has, because when you think that this little princess all of a sudden found herself inside with these seven dwarfs.  And if we believe the story as it was told, it seems that she washed and cooked and looked after these — they weren’t seven dirty old men — they were seven filthy dwarfs!  And they went out every morning down a mine, so they came in fairly rough and ready, and you know, I wonder was the story true?  Well, Walt Disney’s take on it was a way better altogether.  Walt showed that she didn’t do the work at all.  This little princess got all these dwarfs, Grumpy and the whole lot of them, to do the work.  But they worked with such a will, because they were delighted that this beautiful feminine being was among them.  And the work became light.  You couldn’t imagine Grumpy saying to Snow White, “Snow White, you must dig the spuds today at 12 o’clock, and you must weed the turnips!”  It would hardly happen.  But Walt Disney got it, when you saw that all of a sudden these people had something beautiful to come home to, and they had something to get up for, they had something to live for, and she made them laugh and she got them to work.  Now, the music of Sliabh Luachra did exactly the same thing.  These were a people that were oppressed.  These people had one real worry when they got up in the morning, and that was where the next morsel of food came from.  Because if you didn’t look after the potatoes, or you didn’t look after the pit of potatoes, and turnip, well when the spring came you’d have nothing to eat.  So these people were constantly working.  And even as romantic as saving hay seems, looking back on it now, the weather then was basically the same as it is today; if you didn’t make hay while the sun shone, you were working very hard.

So, these people were now, they were oppressed by religion as well.  With all due respects, these people were given to believe that we were living in the vale of tears, or a valley of tears.  It’s not true.  We are living in a place of incredible gifts and goodness.   Now, with all due respect to the Church, they meant well, but sometimes the message got a bit garbled and they tried to curtail people who were coming together, to have a dance or something, as well.  So unfortunately, that is the history.  And the thing is, the people worked so hard, and while they worked they had this music to sustain them, and this looking forward to the night of the dance or the wedding.  So that’s how, in a sense, it became like Snow White in their imagination.

Now, my mother used to tell a story and I’ll just elaborate on that point a little bit.  Up from where my mother lived in Knocknaboul, there were a family of Tarrants, and these people used to try to rush through saving the hay with one express purpose, of getting it shot with, to go in to practice music.  And also, Paddy Cannon, Paddy was a grand fiddle player from County Clare, and his neighbours used to talk about Paddy because Paddy would bring his fiddle out to the meadow, and of course for neighbours he wasn’t a very practical man.  If Paddy was learning a new tune, that he’d heard someplace, he’d bring out his fiddle, you know, to play in the meadow.  Peter Horan loved the music so much that his farm fell into disrepair a little bit, because the fiddler is often away making people happy when he should be at home minding his own business.

So this was our Pádraig.  Pádraig was the same.  My father used to say he was the laziest man he ever saw.  He was so last that he’d put the pint down, he wouldn’t even move it from one place to another.  He’d just pick it up.  So, the poor man.  We’ll talk about him later on, but he had a big problem with drink.  But you can think of him, you can think of all these people, as loving the princess, loving the music.  Now of course it wasn’t Sliabh Luachra music above in Sligo, but they all loved music so much that it became the focal point of their lives.

Now, they lived unaware of themselves.  It was only afterwards, looking back, that it’s been sort of glorified.  But these people lived in the real world and they were totally unaware of themselves.  And they were as joyful as children, and they enjoyed their life.  But there’s a story that I’ll tell you that actually proves that.  There’s a woman, I’d say she’s only 4 or 5 fields away, she was, her name was Molly Myers.  She came from behind, the top of Farranfore, Killeagh, a place called Killeagh between Farranfore and Cullane, and she was a student of Tom Billy Murphy’s.  And she didn’t have much time for Pádraig.  She thought Tom Billy was a way better musician, and of course I think Molly was judging more from the moral standard than from maybe the musical standard.  But she told a story where she was at a wedding one day, and Pádraig and Denis were the two fiddle players playing at the wedding.  And of course Pádraig was a very astute observant man, and my father used to say that, watching people at dances, he could tell who were going to get married eventually, and he was very good at appraising people, so he probably knew the people very well even before he went.  And he was the kind of man that if refreshments didn’t keep coming on a fairly regular basis, he wouldn’t be so happy.  And in fact my mother used to say that he’d slow down and he wouldn’t be playing so well unless he got encouragement.  So, Molly used to tell that at the wedding anyway, she hated him for it, “He was a terrible man”, she said that “that day he decided to leave the wedding.  And not only that”, she said, “he got up and did his best to take Denis off with him as well!”  But Denis was such a lovely courteous man that Denis didn’t go.  But Molly had a very dim view of Pádraig because of that day.  So, as far as the people at the wedding were concerned, these were two run of the mill musicians that were a penny a dozen.  It was only afterwards, looking back as we say, that they’ve become famous.

Now, I’ll tell you another episode that exemplifies how important this music was.  Pádraig had an uncle called Cal Callaghan.  Now Cal was a very famous man in his own right, because Cal must have been born sometime after the Famine.  You see people have the concept that the Famine was a long, long time ago, but the Famine wasn’t so far back at all.  I knew a man for thirty years — in other words, I was thirty years old when he died — but his father had to be born near the time of the Famine.  Hard to believe it, but it is true.  He was my grandfather.  He lived to be almost a hundred years; he was only five months short of a hundred when he died.  But, he was born in 1878, and he died in 1977.  So his father had to be born near the time of the Famine.  Yes, that’s how near it is.  So, Cal Callaghan was a famous fiddle player and he went to America and it seems — Donal, I think Patricia, had more knowledge on this than anyone — Donal was actually from the townland of Doonasleen, which is between Kiskeam and Cullen, and some other village as well, I think, but Call became a buffalo hunter at the time of the slaughter of the buffalos in America, and he met a lot of Scottish and Irish fiddlers.  And if you listen to a lot of the Kerry polkas — and even there’s one, Farewell to WhiskyFarewell to Whisky was composed by a fiddle player called Neil Gow, he was the most famous Scottish fiddler, and there’s a picture of him here — you can look at all these things after — oh dear, he got lost somewhere along the line, I’m afraid.  Anyway, I have a picture of Neil Gow, he could be going back to, I suppose, 17-something, that’s how far back.  He composed some of the tunes that were played for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the march south into England.  But he composed Farewell to Whisky as a slow air, as a lament, because one night, having drank too much whisky at some get-together, he sat on his fiddle on the chair and broke it.  So that was why he composed it.  But in Kerry they changed it to a polka.  Now, several of the polkas, if you examined them, you’ll find that they actually began life as Scottish marches and they were changed, and there’s a good chance that Cal Callaghan would be the prime agent in that, because Cal came back from America and lived out the remainder of his life in Doonasleen.  And when Pádraig was a young man, he was reared in Doonasleen, for quite a while before he moved back to Glauntane, where his father and mother finally built a house.  So the story was that these men were hard-working farmers, and they used to go up to a shebeen that was not far from their place of residence, and their fiddles were hanging behind the counter, and they used to take down their fiddles, I won’t say every night but maybe a lot of nights per week.  And the story was, sometimes if their hands were very cold after working, digging ditches or whatever for the day, when they’d make mash for feeding cows — they used to hand-make mash out of bran or whatever stuff with boiling water — they’d warm their hands in the boiling water so that they could actually go up and play their fiddles.  So, Pádraig grew up with that.  They used to take him up there to the shebeen, and of course they trained him to have a little drop of drink as well, when he was young.  So unfortunately the problem escalated.

Now the story though — like Micho Russell I digressed a little bit — one of the uncles happened to be in Knocknagree at a fair one day, and of course the fair was a great venue that time because travelling musicians came, and the people went, and they might hear a new tune.  So Cal’s brother was there and he heard the travelling man playing some nice tune, and he was trying to get it in his head, and of course he drank too much and he stayed too late.  And coming home, he fell in a ditch.  And when the time went too far that he should be home, he hadn’t turned up.  So they finally went looking for him and they found him in a short cut.  It was easy enough to find him, because he would have come home this way, so they found him inside in a ditch, and they started to pull him out, and he said, “Hold it a minute!” he said, “I nearly have it.  Hold on a minute!  Wait!  I nearly have it!”  So the poor man, the music was so important to him that he wanted to be let rest where he was.

Now, we’ll let the princess rest for a while, as well.  We’ll come back to her later.  But it’s an interesting analogy, so think about it.  Now, as Jesus used to say, “Then the Kingdom of the Heavens became like a man that found a rare treasure”.  So I’m going to use another parable again.  So people say, “What’s that got to do with Sliabh Luachra music?”  Well it has.  There was a lovely writer called Hans Christian Andersen and he wrote a beautiful story called either The Nightingale or The Emperor and the Nightingale.  ’Twas so long ago I can’t remember, but it was to do with a nightingale.  And there’s a very interesting line in this — I’m talking about The Nightingale – that Pádraig had a story about a nightingale.  He used to tell this story.  Now he didn’t tell it to me, but he told it to some of the older people around Glauntane.  Pádraig used to claim that if a true musician went out in the middle of the night, to an isolated place, on his own, and he played Mrs McCloud’s Reel, the nightingale would come and sing with him.  What a story!  Now, there’s a good chance that very few have tried it, because of fearing the outcome.  Maybe they feared the outcome as much as they feared the dark.  So, we’re not saying that it is true.  But, I never heard the nightingale.  Did anyone here ever hear a nightingale?  Did anyone ever hear a nightingale?  Yes, so there we are.  Now, the cuckoo sings all night long outside where I live.  People don’t know, but the cuckoo sings every whole night.  I come home from gigs at every hour and the cuckoo sings.  And the skylark sings, in the bog, in the summer-time.  But man, if the nightingale is a better singer than the skylark, she must be a mighty singer.  But anyway, this is a very interesting and funny story by Hans Christian Andersen.

This Emperor lived in a country, long ago, and a man said to him one day, “Your most excellent pre-eminence,” he said to him, “it says here in a book that there is a bird that sings in one of your woods in your property, the best songster in the world.”  And the Emperor said, “What?” he says, “and I’ve never heard her?  Well, has she been presented at court?”


“Well, she’ll have to be got.”

So they set out looking for her, and they were looking for the bird.  And people said to them, “What are you doing?  You’re going looking for a nightingale in the middle of the day?  That’s a total waste of time.  You’ll have to search for the nightingale at night-time.”

So they started to go out at night-time and they went through fields and they slipped on cow pats, and one of them fell over a cow, and the cow gave a moo, and he shouted, “Oh,” he said, “thanks be to God we finally found it!” he said.   “What a strong voice she has!”  And another man turned.  He said, “Will you be quiet!” he said.  “That’s only a cow, you eejit!” he said.  You’d nearly think it happened in Ireland, wouldn’t you?

So, it happened that a little girl worked in the kitchen, and she lived away in a remote place.  And she had heard the nightingale.  And, as luck would have it, the people found out through this girl that there was such a bird, and they went with her.  And the whole army, with nets, they finally captured this nightingale and brought it back.  And it was hard to make it sing for the Emperor, because she didn’t like to be put in a cage.  And the Emperor thought she should sing every time he told her.  And people said in the finish, “The nightingale only sings at night-time.”  So, he finally heard the nightingale sing, and man, it was such a beautiful thing to hear the nightingale sing.  And the nightingale was very, how would I say, contrary.  The Emperor thought she should sing any time he wanted.  So people said, “Look, the nightingale has to sleep and she has to rest and she has to get exercise.”  So he appointed twelve footmen to take her for walks in the park, with a rope tied around her leg, during the day-time.

And this went on for a while anyway, but there was a very clever man looking at all this happening.  And this man happened to be a jeweller and a watch-maker.  So, he thought of a great idea.  He worked day and night for weeks and he finally made a toy nightingale.  And he put jewels in it, jewels for its eyes, and it was brightly coloured.  And through influence, he finally got introduced to the Emperor.  And the people were amazed to see this beautiful bird.  “Oh, it’s so beautiful!  It’s far more beautiful than the real bird.”  And, not only that, but he put a key into the side, and he wound it up, and it sang a song.  Ah!  The people, they couldn’t contain themselves.  And during the whole hubbub, all the people rushed in to hear this bird, the toy bird now I’m talking about, and the real nightingale escaped back into his wood where it belonged.  So that was fine.  The Emperor said, “Well, she’s a very ungrateful bird to run away like that, after all I did for it.”  But now he had a bird that he could wind up any time he liked, and it would play.  And after a while everybody knew the tune that the bird was playing.  They played it over and over again.  And the only trouble was that after a time the people got kind of fed up with the same tune, and the clockwork began to wear down a bit, so that they could only play it once a year.  But the real nightingale was back in the wood where she belonged.

Now, what has that got to do with Irish music of Sliabh Luachra?  Well it has, because Sliabh Luachra wasn’t heard of until this record was released, around 1971 or ’72 maybe, I’m not certain of the date.  It doesn’t say it on it.  But I remember I was coming through Limerick city from up the country somewhere, and I saw this in a music shop.  And of course the cover grabbed my attention.  And there’s a fiddle player and his daughter is now drawing this picture, and children can draw so beautifully, she can capture the essence of this lovely psychedelic sort of a picture.  But, at that time — I left out a point from my story — at that time I hadn’t much appreciation of Sliabh Luachra music, because when I had gone to London, I went down of course to Fulham Broadway, to a pub called The King’s Head, and there Sean McGuire was playing two or three nights a week.  And man, Sean McGuire I suppose was the greatest exponent of technique, fiddle technique, of any fiddle player anywhere in the world, in Irish music anywhere.  So I was thinking to myself, “Well now, what do the boys in Sliabh Luachra know about music compared to what this man can do?”  I was right, from what I knew at the time.  And of course this idea persisted for years upon years, until this record came on the scene.  And when I started listening to this record for a while I thought, “What’s happening?  What kind of music is this?”  And after a while I began to see what my father had been telling me years and years before, that there was a magic that happened in this music that didn’t happen in any other music I ever heard.  Now, that’s a very strange fact.  As far as technique goes, I mean, I’m not going to fault the technique of these musicians, but technique never entered into their concept of music.  It was something that was by-the-by.  The music itself was what counted to these people.  And that’s what happened with this record.  So it was then, for the first time, that I understood what my father had been saying a long time before that.

Now, records.  So now, the story of the nightingale is beginning to unfold a little bit now.  The people, with the Emperor, they had the wind-up music.  They could hear it, they could turn it on whenever they liked.  So this is what happened.  The people of Sliabh Luachra are no longer there, but they can hear this music.  And of course, there’s drawbacks to that as well.  Now I’ll tell you a funny story about it.  This happened.  One night Pádraig ­— I call him Pádraig O’Keeffe, the old people used to call him Patrick or Pádraig — he called to a house, Paddy Connell’s (there’s none of the family here) and the man of the house was Paddy Connell.  And Paddy had got a record that had come across the ocean from America, of maybe Michael Coleman or James Morrison or Paddy Killoran playing Irish music, and for the first time this had happened.  And Pádraig said, “Can I see that, Pat?”  Paddy Connell used to love to tell this story.  Pádraig caught the record and Paddy Connell said, he put his thumb like that and broke it.  You know, Paddy used to tell different versions of the story, you know.  Why did he do it?  Paddy thought sometimes that he did it out of envy, and he thought other reasons, but what take had Pádraig on it?  What do you think?

Anyway, we’ll come back to it later.  We’ll talk about records now for a minute, because this is where the subject is going.  So, this record wasn’t the only record that came across the ocean.  Around the mid-’forties, and on up along, until the ’fifties, some people that had relatives in America received in the post maybe these records.  Now, I should have explained better about Pádraig’s records though.  These records were made from pressed wax.  They were 78s.  They had to be spinning at a very high speed and they were played on the old wind-up gramophones.  And you didn’t even have to look crooked at them, you could look straight at them and they’d crack.  It happened to me a few times, you know, so whether it was a mistake or whatever, it could be anything.  But anyway, it’s the influence that these records had that we’re interested in here, because now, for the first time, people in all the regional parts of Ireland, like Sliabh Luachra, were hearing music of a different calibre altogether, a different kind of music, and of course, this music was of a tremendous standard, because it was played by the greatest fiddlers that went to America, and it was done with the best possible resource and studio work that was available at the time.

And of course, very soon it became that only Sligo fiddle players came – Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Hugh Gillespie, Paddy Killoran, the Dowds would you believe, there was a lot of those.  I didn’t hear them, because . . . but other musicians around, later on I found that that’s how they learned a lot of their music.  But, the downside of it was, and this is what people didn’t realise, was that in the making of these records they had to be speeded up.  So the music that was coming across now was at a far faster tempo than ever had been the case previously.  And it was so fast, and in fact the fiddle players had to play so fast because if they didn’t the sound would get distorted in the recording process.  So, this caused a problem.

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí got on the bandwagon with this music to the point where this was the only music that was sort of acceptable at any kind of competitions.  I remember a time, and I was foolish enough to be pushed on the stage by a crowd of people I was playing music with, they were all far older than me, to play in a competition.  But I found out that if you played Sliabh Luachra music at one of these venues, away back in the early ’sixties, you weren’t in the running.  So that’s one of the reasons why I would never have anything to do with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

Now, there’s another thing – Pádraig also told all his students, “Never play for competitions”, and I would agree a hundred per cent with him, because it’s totally against the spirit of what this music is for.  Paddy Cronin used to say, “The fiddle is best inside in the house”, and he was right.  You know, with these records, what happened was it became a rush for technique.  Technique and speed became the primary thing with this music, from these records.  And consequently it has gone on today and of course the whole human thing is speeding up, whatever, it may be the electrical influence of radiation or whatever it is, but the world isn’t getting faster, it’s getting frantic, and the music is getting frantic as well.  Now, Pádraig would have been furious, because he loved music played slowly.  In fact, dancers didn’t like him because Pádraig always wanted to play music for the beauty of listening to him, but the people wanted it a bit faster.

Now, records, we’re still on topic of records.  Now, we’ll go back to this one again.  This record, for the people that have listened to it and analysed it, and I’ve lived with this record a long time, this record is basically, you have Denis plays some solo tracks, and Julia plays I think maybe one or two solo tracks, and then they play together.  There’s no backer, or there’s very, very little studio work done.  So that you’re hearing the very basic when you hear this record.  And this is the truth of the matter.  Now I have another record here, and it gives a totally false impression of Sliabh Luachra music — Kerry Fiddles.  Now these are the only, sort of, two records that are of Sliabh Luachra music.  But when you hear records made today, you’re hearing one player maybe, sometimes two, two fiddles, and sometimes there’s a double take on that, and you hear all the artificial use of echo chambers, and there’s a backer, sometimes there’s two backers and there may be a piano playing or a guitar.  And there’s sound engineering, there’s two or three tracks taken and they’re superimposed, and a lot of the time it’s speeded up as well.  Now some people don’t believe this, but it is true.  I’ve met a lot of musicians and they’ve said, when their music came back it had been speeded up.  Unfortunately, like the man that made the clockwork nightingale, he wasn’t impressed with the music, the people who make these records aren’t interested in music.  They’re interested in selling copy, as they say.  So, that’s why, in most modern records, you’ll hardly hear any slow airs.  If you go recording, “Oh no, we might allow you to get away with one slow air, but I mean it would stop the sale of the record.”  So, as far  as they’re concerned, speed and technique — the faster it sounds, the more exciting it seems.  And that’s what’s happened.  So that’s the downside.  Now, there’s also a great side, in that if this record had never been made, we would have nothing to talk about.  This is the only proof we have that this man lived.

So, we’ll go back to Pádraig for a minute again.  So, when he broke the record, was it out of envy?  Paddy Connell thought sometimes that maybe he thought that Michael Coleman was a far better fiddle player than he was.  So, maybe.  What about the real nightingale, I wonder?  Was the real nightingale envious of the toy nightingale, I wonder?  Now, there was a great fiddle player in America, Lad O’Beirne and he never recorded, and there were many like him.  And they wouldn’t record, for that very reason.  They called it canned music, and they kept away from it.

Now, Pádraig could see as well that a time would come when in a place, whether it be a dance, they could put on a record and they would need no musician.  So the musician, by recording, was becoming the source of his own downfall, in that he’d be stopping himself earning a living.  So would you believe even in America, where my friend Joel comes from, there’s musicians’ unions, that when dancers perform they have to have live musicians playing.  So records have their place.

I’ll just maybe do one more thing and maybe we’ll leave it at that.  We’ll go back to this man for a minute.  Look at this lovely old gentleman.  Have you seen this picture?  Yes?  Well, it’s a pity that this beautiful old gentleman came to such a pass as this.  The first thing people from outside Ireland would say on seeing this picture, “This man is a beach comber.”  He’s standing there.  You can see the haunted look on his face, because this man lived a haunted life.  And he’s standing here with a bow with a cork, to keep tension on the bow hair.  Yes.  So, it’s a very sad reflection of the society that he lived in, because this man brought wealth of a spiritual kind to loads and loads of people that heard him play.

And he brought wealth of every kind, because only for him, some of the most beautiful tunes I’ve ever heard wouldn’t be in existence.  They’d be lost completely.  And, the poor man, to look at him, he’s well worn.  He often slept in hay barns.  That’s why I said we’d refer to what it says here, “They were unendowed, unhoused, unrecognised, the academy of Irish musical tradition for two hundred years.”  This man was tripped by corner boys, he was laughed at and he never retaliated.  But see the haunted face and the haunted look.  And not only that, but the house where he lived, at Glauntane crossroads, is actually falling down.  There’s nothing being done about it.  Now, some people take exception to that.  They say, and even Donal had a poem written, and it wouldn’t be very complimentary for people in lots of the villages, because this man often came, or got someone to drive him to the door, and when they’d see him coming they often slammed the door in his face.  So he often walked the roads hungry and wet, and went home to a house with nothing in it.

But he looked forward to a better time, as I do as well.  So, I believe better times will come for Irish music.  So this music has become academic, this Sliabh Luachra music.  You know that it was a vibrant, living tradition at one time, when it was danced and sung, and the people lived with it.  Now, it’s played in pubs and things, but pubs are a very bad venue for it, because the people, first of all aren’t interested in it, they aren’t listening, and they’re talking so loud it can’t be heard.  Pádraig’s take on it would be, they aren’t talking at all, but braying.

So what’s going to happen?  The future.  Well, I believe that with venues like this — that’s why I love the idea of this venue, Patricia, and we must thank Patricia for opening this home for these kind of venues — that maybe that people will come to realise and appreciate the real art of living music, by live performers, right among them, in their presence, rather than the record, that’s prepared with all the art of the studio and the record makers.  Looking forward to this time, I’m going to quote one little piece of Irish, with your permission, and then I will say good-bye.  Thinking of the time to come, and it says,

Aithchim ar Mhuire ’s ar Íosa

Go dtagaidh sí arís chughainn slán,

Go mberdh rinnce fada ’gabháil timcheall,

Ceol fidil is teinte cnámh,

Go dtógfar an baile seo ár sinnsear,

Cill Cáis  bhreágh, arís go hárd,

’s go brath nó go dtiocfaidh an díle

Ná féicfar é ’rís ar lár.

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

SQCal OCallaghan2
Cal O’Callaghan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul de Grae, August 2013

My Life and Music—Johnny O’Leary

johnny_o'learyI’d really want a whole book to myself to do full justice to music in Sliabh Luachra. Music was always a big thing in my life and I really can’t remember when I started to play. I was twelve and a half when I played for the first time in Thady Willie’s (O’Connor’s) hall in Gneeveguilla – and that’s not today or yesterday!

My Uncle, Dan, God rest him, had a small accordion when I was very young and whenever he’d be out, I’d start. Would you believe that my first ‘box’ cost 12/6 from Clancy’s Killarney and it took my 14 or 15 years to put the price of it together. Things have changed a lot since.

One man I’ll never forget is the late Denis Murphy, Lisheen. We played together for 38 years, sometimes three or four nights a week, and there was never a hard word between us. Whatever one of us would say ‘twas O.K. with the other.

We played in Dan O’Connell’s Knocknagree, on the night before he died. Twas a Sunday night and he never played better. He gave me two reels that nobody in the pub had ever heard before. I asked him for them and his last words were: ‘I’ll give them to the next night …” but I saw him no more.

Denis was a shy man really, but he was very witty and never off form. He had a fierce hatred of microphones and used often say to fellows: “Take that gander’s neck away from me”. He was as gramhar as you’d meet.

Back in the 1930’s and 40’s we hardly missed a wedding or a house dance. We’d often spend a couple of days in a house and they’d be dancing sets day and night. There was hardly any money that time – only plenty of porter.

Patterns were popular too, especially on Sunday evenings. We had Mick Daly’s in Maughantourig and there used to be one at the top of the wood, near Eugie Kelleher’s, on the road to Rathmore. There would often be seven or eight players and smashing jig dancing.

Jig sets were all the go, like the ‘Talavara’, the ‘Cock and the Hen’ and the ‘Jenny Ling’. The polka set is after taking over, but the dances are not near as good. I think that television has ruined music; I mean to say it comes first in most houses. When I was growing up there was an instrument in nearly every home and they’d love a few hours of a session to pass away the time.

Padraig O’Keeffe was another of the characters and one of the best I’ve ever heard. The minute I saw him I knew he was a professional musician. He used to spend a lot of time in Jack Lyon’s Bar in Scartaglen and could write music in the correct way – for any instrument. He had some famous players like Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Mikie Duggan, Paddy and Johnny Cronin.

I saw Padraig writing out a tune for Willie Clancy one day and Willie played it perfectly on the tin whistle. Padraig had almighty wit and was always full of roguery. A few drinks would always get him going, but for the last 10 to 15 years of his life he wasn’t inclined to play that much.

He got a ‘weakness’ once in Jack Lyons’, but a drop of brandy brought him round. A few more drinks followed and when one of the prime boys tried to get one from Padraig what did he say only “go away and get a weakness of your own”.
He taught music to half the county around here. He’d know a budding musician a mile away and he met a lot of bad ones too. “A fine thing to teach a Bonham to pray… “ he used say.

When I was learning, I’d often walk the eight or nine miles to Scart to meet him. The weather didn’t matter. It’s a big change now when you can see all the youngsters being driven to music lessons in Gneeveguilla on a fixed night every week.
The blind fiddler, Tom Billy Murphy, from Ballydesmond, was another famous player. He travelled the countryside on the back of a donkey and was well liked wherever he went. In spite of his handicap, he managed well.

Like the rest of them, he was full of humour. One night in Minnie Mac’s behind in Jib, he broke a string. The house was packed, there was only a single burner lamp and sets were flying. Next thing, Tom Billy fixing his fiddle, cocked up his head and said: “High lads, shove out of the light from me”.

Padraig was an awful boyo, of course. He was with Tom Billy and Din Tarrant in Knocknagree on one occasion. Anyway, Tom played a jig that Padraig had not heard before and Padraig asked him to play a second time. He learned it very quickly and then – to tease Tom – he played it on his own. “Blast you”, says Tom, “you’re after making a fool of me”.

Jack Keeffe’s bar in Knocknagree was a favourite haunt at that time. I remember seeing Din Tarrant playing there. He was a big strong man with a hat and very honest. He was a fine musician, renowned for jigs, slides, reels and hornpipes. A good few polkas are called after Din, who died in 1957 aged 81.

That time, the music of Sliabh Luachra wasn’t known as well as it is now. Seamus Ennis did the first radio broadcast in the early 1940’s. People like Sean Mac Reamoinn, Ciaran Mac Mathuna and Sean O Riada came after that. They put Sliabh Luachra music where it is in Ireland today. I’m glad to have known the marvellous musicians of the area and to have played with them all.

A few years ago, when the country began to get more prosperous, I thought that the music would die. People had too much money and they found other things to do. I’m glad to see that it’s back on its feet again. Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann are doing a marvellous job and it’s wonderful to see Nicholas McAuliffe giving classes here in Gneeveguilla.

However, I think there should be more traditional music on television. They had some lovely programmes in the years gone by. No doubt, the radio gives plenty of time to our music.

I love to see the young boys and girls taking an interest. They have every comfort now and are being given plenty of opportunities. The tape recorder is a great help in learning music. Instruments are better too. In the old days when a string would go, you’d have to get a piece of elastic and put it through the key. I often played with five or six elastics.

As far as I can see, there is no danger to Irish music now, particularly Sliabh Luachra music. One thing I’d like to say before I finish is that we can play reels in this part of the country as good as anywhere else and I’d argue that with anyone.
We still have some great talent inn Sliabh Luachra. Jimmy Doyle has more than made a name for himself, on radio, television and record, while Padraig Moynihan, Glenfesk and John Cronin, Killarney are outstanding. We also have Denis McMahon, Ballyhar, Con Carroll, Coolea and Siobhan Collins, Tureenamult, an outstanding flute player who as won an All Ireland, as well as Paudie Gleeson and Artie O’Keeffe.
Of course, we can’t forget. Dan Cronin, Quarry Cross, Kathleen O’Keeffe and Ellen O’Leary, all of whom have been heard on Radio Eireann. Then there is Mick Cronin, Reaboy, the brother of the famour fiddlers, Paddy and Johnny. A man I often play with is Mikie Duggen.

Sliabh Luachra has an abundance of singers, including Hannah Dennehy, a sister of the Cronin brothers; Mary Lenihan, Ballydesmond and Paddy Cremin, who is well-known for that grand old ancient song of the good old days. Jimmy O’Brien, of Killarney is a sweet singer as is his daughter, Siobhan, who has been in many All-Ireland competitions. Paddy Doyle, Maulykevane, is another man well able to give a song, not to speak of Christy Cronin, Tim Gleeson and Bill Keane.

I could keep on going, but we’ll continue the story some other day. I’m delighted to see a group of people coming together to establish Cumann Luachra. Apart altogether from music, our area is full of history and tradition and it is only right that these things should be honoured.

Didn’t we produce two of the best poets in Ireland and there was never a character like Eoin Ruadh. Aren’t they still telling yarns about him… if we could only print them.

Source: Journal of Cumann Luachra, Vol. 1, No. 1