Timmy “The Brit” McCarthy

Timmy “the Brit” McCarthy (1945-2018) was born and grew up in London but his Irish parents maintained strong ties to their native Cork. Though he was enrolled in step dancing lessons as a youngster, he wasn’t especially inspired by the tradition. “My grandfather Timmy Roche, who I’m named after, was a champion All-Ireland step dancer, in 1922 I think, with a dance called The Blackbird,” recalled Timmy. “My mother insisted that I do step dancing, and to be honest I hated it because you used to have to wear [a kilt which] I thought was a dress.” After his parents’ death at a young age, he was raised in Catholic orphanages which he remembered with some fondness as an adult.

After a short stint in the R.A.F., he moved to Cork in the 1960s to work as a butcher (where his London accent earned him his life-long nickname). There he was surprised to find less traditional and folk music being played than there had been in London when he left. In Cork city, the scene was only just beginning to shift from the showbands playing American and British pop music to the folk revival that would soon sweep the nation, and Timmy was determined to urge the change along. He stumbled upon a folk club organized by Jimmy Crowley, and when that came to an end, Timmy organized a folk club of his own in the Cork city suburb of Douglas. Through his determination and enthusiasm this would eventually morph into the beginnings of the Cork Folk Festival, still going strong today. In the course of looking for folk acts to perform at the festival, he found himself one day hunting down Johnny O’Leary and Mikey Duggan at Dan O’Connell’s pub in Knocknagree. There, he later recalled, “a woman called Eily Buckley saw me sitting down and she took me up and threw me round the floor. I didn’t know what the hell had happened to me, but that was the Sliabh Luachra set, and it changed my life.” The scene at Knocknagree was worlds away from his dance lessons as a boy in London. “I thought it was gobsmackingly beautiful, because I’d never seen a set before that was so inclusive,” he later said. “There was no age left out. It was teenagers up to octogenarians.”

He soon became a regular at Dan O’Connell’s, and found himself assuming the role of pupil and disciple to the man of the house. O’Connell was a tireless cheerleader for the Sliabh Luachra traditions, and infected McCarthy with his enthusiasm. “Dan O’Connell’s philosophy, I’ve inherited. He had a very simple way: Stay behind the people in front of you; in front of the people behind you; opposite the people opposite you, and you do it on bloody time. That means that if you’ve an old couple in front of you and the book says you have to get back militarily to the geographical place you started off, you don’t push them out of the way, you dance according to their comfort zone. I think that philosophy was wonderful.”

Inspired to immerse himself in the tradition, he moved to Baile Mhúirne where the music and dancing was a large part of local life. There, in addition to the Sliabh Luachra set and the Ginnie Ling, Timmy sought out less widely known local set dances such as the Black Valley Square Jig, the Coolea Jig, the Borlin Valley Polka Set, the Tuosist Set, and the Mealagh Valley Jig Set. At that time some of these were not danced very often, and some not at all, having fallen out of fashion. In an effort to rescue them from obscurity, he took it upon himself to start teaching, and even picked up the accordion so that he would never lack for a musician (considering taped music unacceptable). “I never set out to teach set dancing but people asked me to teach. I had a passion for the music of Sliabh Luachra, Corca Dhuibhne, Múscraí, and the dances that went with it. I set out to connect and re-teach all those old sets that were dead in the villages where they were, and have people dancing their own sets. People would ask me to teach them sets, so I used to make a deal that each week they were to go to the people that had the local set, learn it, or bring the people up to teach it to me, and I’d teach it back into the local community. We saved an awful lot of sets that way.”

He was to take these local dances all over the world, traveling far and wide to teach the sets he loved so dearly. Soon before his passing in 2018 a concert was organized in his honor, with countless luminaries of the tradition attending to pay tribute to the man who had done so much to preserve and spread the culture of the Cork-Kerry border. Timmy exclaimed, “I’m just overwhelmed. I don’t deserve it, but what a compliment. I’ve had a fabulous life and this is an amazing, gobsmacking tribute… that’s all I can say. When I see the line-up for that concert… people know me as Timmy the Brit, but they were the people that made me feel I’m home, I’m Irish.”

A lovely program from Radio 1 called “Timmy the Brit Comes Home”:

Another profile of Timmy:

Denis “The Hat” McMahon

Denis “The Hat” McMahon (1941-2018) was a respected fiddle and accordion player, teacher, and an authority on Sliabh Luachra music. Originally from Churchtown, Castleisland, he settled in Ballyhar, between Killarney and Farranfore. As a youngster he learned fiddle from Jerry McCarthy, and continued with lessons on the accordion from Pádraig O’Keeffe. At some point his friends Nicky McAuliffe and Jack Regan convinced him to pick up the fiddle again. In the late 60s he spent two winters working and living in London where he often played with his fellow expats Con Curtin and Julia Clifford. Back in Kerry he was a member of the famed Brosna Ceili Band and the Desmond Ceili Band and had a fruitful musical partnership with Connie O’Connell. When Mike Kenny broached the idea of what was to become the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival, Denis was an early and enthusiastic supporter. He was quite often featured on radio and television, being a great exponent and historian of the local music, and had innumerable stories about his old teacher Pádraig O’Keeffe and others of his generation. At the 2010 Castleisland Festival, Peter Browne presented Denis with an award for his dedication to the music of Sliabh Luachra.

Music for the Set

Johnny O’Leary (C#/D button accordion)

Ellen O’Leary (whistle)

Mick Duggan (fiddle)

Maurice O’Keeffe (fiddle)

Ossian OSSCD 25, 2002. Remaster of Topic LP 12TS357, 1977. Recorded July 1976 and April 1977 in Dan Connell’s bar, Knocknagree, Co. Cork by Alan Ward, John Coakley, and Hugh Miller. Liner notes by Alan Ward.

The classic introduction to the music of Johnny O’Leary. Because he really made his name locally playing for dancers at Dan Connell’s bar and elsewhere, this album does a good job of framing his art in that context—a good number of the tracks were recorded live with dancers, including a full six figures of the polka set starting off the first side.

Johnny O'Leary Music for the Set front and back

Click here for the extensive interior sleeve notes.

For a full track listing and more information: https://www.irishtune.info/album/JOL+1/

Kerry Music

Denis Doody (B/C button accordion)

Mulligan – LUN 019 – 1978

Denis Doody, born in Ballinahulla near Ballydesmond, was the grandson of the fiddler and contemporary of Pádraig O’Keeffe, Din Tarrant. He remembers hearing Pádraig O’Keeffe and Tom Billy play when he was a child, but it was the accordion that he picked up, largely teaching himself, and mostly playing alone. He emigrated to England when he finished school, settling in London until his return to Ireland in 1964, when he struck up acquaintance with Johnny O’Leary and Denis Murphy. These players were to influence his playing enormously as he returned to the music of his home region, though for ornamental intricacy and rhythmic deftness he is, in my opinion, unmatched within the old-style Sliabh Luachra accordion tradition. This absolutely cracking unaccompanied album speaks volumes of his sheer virtuosity and unrivalled lightness of touch. — Robert Ryan

Denis Doody Front and back

Download this out-of-print album:
http://ceolalainn.breqwas.net/download/Denis%20Doody.zip

Traditional Music from the Kingdom of Kerry

Jimmy Doyle (button accordion)

Dan O’Leary (fiddle)

Shanachie 29007 – 1977

A lovely recording of very traditional playing by two musicians from Gib, near Killarney, made in 1977, and sadly still unavailable on CD. There are no reels at all, and only one set of double jigs – the rest of the album consists almost exclusively of Kerry slides and polkas played with the strong rhythmic emphasis on the backbeat characteristic of the Sliabh Luachra region. It is very clear from their sparse, unobscured style that these musicians are of that generation whose music was played, at least publicly, for purposes of dancing, rather than for simply the pleasure of listening. — Robert Ryan

(Also a close runner-up behind The Star Above the Garter for Most Psychedelic Sliabh Luachra Album Cover Art)

Jimmy Doyle and Dan O'Leary front and back

The liner notes have more than the usual sprinkling of non sequiturs and misinformation, but if you have a pinch of salt handy, you can read them here.

Full track listing and other info: https://www.irishtune.info/album/KoKerry/

Download this out-of-print album: http://ceolalainn.breqwas.net/download/Jimmy%20Doyle%20%26%20Dan%20O%27Leary.zip

The Star of Munster Trio

Julia Clifford (fiddle)

John Clifford (piano accordion)

Billy Clifford (flute)

Topic – 12TS310 – 1977

Recorded between 1964 and 1976 this album features fiddler Julia Clifford, sister of Denis Murphy, her husband John on accordion, and their son Billy on flute. Much of it was recorded around a single microphone in Eric and Lucy Farr’s kitchen, so the sound quality isn’t brilliant, but the quality of the music shines through, and Julia Clifford’s playing is, as always, a thing of beauty. — Robert Ryan

There’s some pretty in-depth notes by Alan Ward starting on page 26 of his Topic booklet here.

julia john and billy clifford - star of munster trio front and back

Download this hard-to-find album: http://ceolalainn.breqwas.net/download/Julia%2c%20John%20%26%20Billy%20Clifford.zip

The Humours of Lisheen

Julia Clifford (fiddle)

John Clifford (piano accordion)

Reg Hall (piano)

Topic – 12TS311 – 1977

This is the third installment of Topic’s Music from Sliabh Luachra series, and features the playing of husband and wife John and Julia Clifford, accompanied on piano by Reg Hall. It was recorded between 1975 and 1976, and most of the tracks were put down on two separate occasions in London, apart from track 10, which was recorded at Jack Lyons’ Bar, Scartaglin, and track 20, recorded at Dan Connell’s Bar, Knocknagree. The tunes on this album were all familiar to the Cliffords before they left Lisheen, Co. Kerry, with the exception of ‘Tap the Barrel’, a reel they picked up whilst living in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, between 1953 and 1958. So, unlike The Star of Munster Trio, which consists almost entirely of tunes well-known on the London Irish music scene in the 1970s, this album gives an insight into the repertoire of the Sliabh Luachra region as it was played in the 1930s. As is to be expected, a number of tunes are associated with the Sliabh Luachra fiddle master, Pádraig O’Keeffe, from whom both Julia and her brother, Denis Murphy, learned their music. The production on the album is very basic, and the playing is fresh and unrehearsed, but the casual brilliance of Julia Clifford’s playing is an absolute joy to behold. — Robert Ryan

There’s some pretty in-depth notes by Alan Ward starting on page 28 of his Topic booklet here.

Track listing and more info: https://www.irishtune.info/album/HmrLshn/

Download this out-of-print album:
http://ceolalainn.breqwas.net/download/John%20%26%20Julia%20Clifford.zip