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

SAMPLE: Though the full trio’s sound has its qualities, Julia’s solo tracks are really something special. Here she glides through two gorgeous polkas:

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

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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.

SAMPLE: The aforementioned Tap the Barrel set:

Track listing and more info:

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Kerry’s Own

Paddy Cronin (fiddle, flute)

Shea Walker (guitar)

Gogey McCullough (bodhrán)

Outlet – OAS 3002 – 1977

I’ll probably think of something to say about this excellent, if in some ways problematic, recording. At some point.

SAMPLE: Paddy gives us his take on Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie:

Download a bodhran-less version of this hard-to-find album:

The Rakish Paddy

Paddy Cronin (fiddle, flute)

Mary Irwin (piano)

Fiddler Records – FRLP 002 – 1975

Recorded by Frank H. Ferrel in September 1975, this is an exceptionally rare recording of the famous Sliabh Luachra fiddler and flute player Paddy Cronin. He is joined on the record by Mary Irwin, who provides unexceptional vamped piano accompaniment, in accordance with the standards of the day. Nonetheless, it’s a nice record, with solid fiddling from an exceptional player. The highlight of the album for me is probably Paddy Cronin’s unique rendition of the Maid Behind the Bar, which he calls the Haymaker Reel. It’s closely related to the variant of the Maid commonly played in C major, which is known as Jimmy McBride’s. — Robert Ryan

Some interesting reminiscences from Frank Ferrel, found on

“Stationed in Boston during my stint in the Navy back in the mid-1960’s, I had occasion to frequent some of the music venues, not the least of which was the Greenville Tap in Dudley Square, then on its last legs as the demographics were rapidly changing and the predominantly Irish culture was moving to the suburbs. One of the frequent players there was Paddy Cronin. I watched and listened, and didn’t make his acquaintance until ten years later visiting Boston again with my wife and her family. Having developed a keen interest in the fiddle mix of New England, I got together with Mark Wilson and Bill Nowlan at Rounder Records, then in its infancy, borrowed a Revox reel-to-reel tape recorder from Bill, and Mark and I approached both Paddy and Franco-American fiddler Tommy Doucet about recording them. We set up in Paddy’s living room in West Roxbury, contacted local pianist, Mary Irwin, and set about recording Paddy. This was in 1974, well before internet forums, cell phones, or digital recording. Paddy insisted on including some home recordings of him playing flute. I remember we had a bit of a discussion about that, as I thought the difference in recording quality might detract from the overall sound, but Paddy persisted and we included his flute recordings in the final mix.

“Regarding the pianist, Mary Irwin, she was a staple of the Boston Gaelic community, originally from Cape Breton, she was a regular at both Irish and Canadian sessions. Her son, Eddie Irwin, was also a great player and can be heard on a number of recordings by Boston-based Cape Breton fiddler, Joe Cormier. I remember that she wouldn’t so the recording with Paddy unless we had his piano tuned. She was a perfectionist in that regard. A great example of her blending the Cape Breton style of melody doubling can be heard on their version of Tobin’s Jig, which is essentially a fiddle and piano duet.

“To take issue with “[…]’s” previous comment that the typos were probably not intentional, I included the tune titles as provided by Paddy – and once again, not being as fully immersed in the genre as some at the time, I trusted the source for grammar. It is wonderful that we now have the web to provide countless resources and forums for ethnomusicologists, both professional and amateur, who can comment, correct, and speculate as to spelling, sources, and folklore. As for myself, I’m content to simply play the fiddle these days, and leave the recording to others. Fiddler Records was an ill-fated hope and dream which I realized would take much more time and money than I could invest at the time. Fiddler 001 was Tommy Doucet, “The Down East Star,” and Fiddler 002 was the aforementioned Rakish Paddy. I’ve continued to produce a few recordings over the years, but always on some existing label.”
Submitted by Frank Ferrel.

SAMPLE: Here’s that Haymaker:

PC TRP front and back

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The Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master

Pádraig O’Keeffe (fiddle)

Denis Murphy (fiddle)

RTÉ – CD174 – 1993 Tracks 2, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, and 15 were recorded 12 September 1948, and the remainder on 29 January 1949. Extensive biographical essay and notes by Peter Browne.

A deleted recording of the Sliabh Luachra fiddle player and teacher taken from RTÉ archive recordings made by Séamus Ennis between 1947 and 1949. This is absolutely brilliant Sliabh Luachra music, and the final set of tunes – a duet with Denis Murphy – is a classic. — Robert Ryan

SAMPLE: Pádraig plays his inimitable version of the air the Old Man Rocking the Cradle:

Full track listing and more information here:

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Ceol as Sliabh Luachra

Julia Clifford (fiddle)

Billy Clifford (flute)

Manus Lunny (bouzouki)

Gael Linn – CEF 092 – 1982

An exceptional album, mostly featuring duets played by the Sliabh Luachra fiddle player Julia Clifford, and her son Billy. One of the album’s most remarkable charms is the way in which Billy’s flute matches exactly the rhythm, phrasing, and ornamentation of his mother’s fiddle on the many sets of Sliabh Luachra slides and polkas that they play together. In many respects it is the way in which Billy plays the fiddle on the flute that makes his music here so distinctive and so wonderful to hear, and the closeness of the communication between the two musicians is truly exceptional. Together with The Star Above the Garter, and Denis Doody’s Kerry Music, this is one of my all-time favourite recordings of Sliabh Luachra music. — Robert Ryan

SAMPLE: Julia and Billy displaying their lovely duet playing on two polkas (possibly from the bottom of a well, judging by the level of reverb?)

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The Star Above the Garter

Denis Murphy (fiddle)

Julia Clifford (fiddle)

Claddagh CC5CD, 1969. Recorded in Dublin.

Often ranked the best Irish traditional fiddle duet album OF ALL TIME. Also wackiest cover art OF ALL TIME. Seriously though, it’s good. Lots of the old polkas and slides, but also four count em four slow airs, played within an inch of their lives. Nearly every track on this album has become a classic set. Can’t say enough about it. Get it.

After you’ve listened to the album 100 times or so, check out this episode of RTÉ’s The Rolling Wave that discusses the making of the album and the impact it’s had since it dropped:

SAMPLE: Here’s track 1, side 1:

A remastered edition is now available to order from Claddagh Records

For track listing and more information:

Denis Murphy – Music From Sliabh Luachra

Denis Murphy (fiddle)

Julia Clifford (fiddle)

Pádraig O’Keeffe (fiddle)

Andy McGann (fiddle)

Johnny O’Leary (button accordion)

Séamus Ennis (uilleann pipes)

RTÉ 183 CD – 1995

Compiled from recordings made by RTÉ between 1948 and 1969, and unfortunately out of print, it features a number of famous Sliabh Luachra musicians, as well as the Irish-American fiddler Andy McGann, and piper and collector Séamus Ennis. Sound quality is variable, as is to be expected, but the playing is, of course, nothing less than brilliant. Of particular interest is the Sliabh Luachra style rendition of ‘The Turkey in the Straw’, and the fluent sligo style duet between Murphy and McGann, as well as the array of beautifully played slides and polkas. –Robert Ryan

SAMPLE: A couple of sultry hornpipes Denis would’ve gotten from Pádraig:

To download this out-of-print album:

Read the liner notes by Peter Browne here.

Kerry Fiddles

Pádraig O’Keeffe (fiddle)

Denis Murphy (fiddle)

Julia Clifford (fiddle)

Topic TSCD 309, 1994. Reissue of Topic 12T309, 1977. Recorded by Seamus Ennis 9 Sept. 1952 in Horan’s Bar, Castleisland, Kerry.

A classic. Maybe THE classic. What can be said? No, really, what can be said? I’m trying to figure out what can be said.

SAMPLE: This album doesn’t hold back. Side 1, track 1, and you’re already deep into The Good Stuff:

Kerry Fiddles recto and verso

There’s some pretty in-depth notes by Alan Ward starting on page 24 of his Topic booklet here.

For a full track listing and more information:

Maurice O’Keeffe

Maurice O’Keeffe (September 5, 1919 – March 22, 2017) was born and lived all his life in Glounreigh (aka Glenreagh) between Ballydesmond and Kiskeam in County Cork. His mother, Mary O’Keeffe (née O’Connell but known as Molly Morrissey), was an accomplished concertina and melodeon player from a noted musical family from nearby Glencollins, and she made sure to get young Maurice and his siblings started early on the music. When Maurice was 10 years old his mother purchased a fiddle for him from a shop in Ballydesmond and arranged for lessons with John Linehan. Linehan (also sometimes spelled Lenihan) was a renowned teacher and performer from Glounreigh who had been a student of Corney Drew. By the time Maurice started lessons with him Linehan was quite aged, and indeed it seems Maurice was his last pupil. Nevertheless, the lessons were productive and imbued Maurice with a style and repertoire that would serve him well throughout his long life. When Linehan passed away, Maurice continued lessons with his mother, and no doubt absorbed considerable music from the maternal family (in much the same way that Pádraig O’Keeffe got a part of his own music from the Callaghans of Doon.) Frequent house parties, at the O’Keeffe home and those of neighbors, guaranteed plenty of opportunity for Maurice to hone his craft.

As his skill progressed he was often called to play at the dance halls which dotted the countryside at that time. Sadly, as the dance halls died out in the 50s, so did the opportunities for local musicians to congregate, practice their craft, and earn a shilling at the same time. Maurice began to play out less and occupy himself more with his home life, raising eight children with his wife Peg, and to work as a road worker and ganger with the Cork County Council. Happily, this musical dry spell didn’t last forever, and with the advent of the set dancing revival, championed by Dan O’Connell of Knocknagree, and the increased popularity of pub sessions, came new opportunities for Maurice to play in other parts of Sliabh Luachra and establish himself as a fixture of the musical community. In later days he recalled the great crack that was had at O’Connell’s with Johnny O’Leary and Denis Murphy: “I used to sit between Johnny and Denis when we’d play at Dan Connell’s in Knocknagree, and I can assure you I wouldn’t be able to play as much as I can today without all that I learned from the two of them. Johnny’s style was totally unique. There’s nobody playing like him today. One time, I confided in Denis Murphy that I was thinking of getting a banjo and he said to me: ‘Lord God, Maurice, hould on to your fiddle’ — so I did!”

Unlike some of his peers, Maurice never produced a commercial recording, though he can be heard on one track from Johnny O’Leary’s Music For the Set. His talent as a musician was undeniable, but his true legacy is that of a tirelessly enthusiastic champion of the local musical tradition. He was known to always have an encouraging word for anyone interested in pursuing the tradition, and he would often record cassette tapes in his kitchen for friends and acquaintances, playing from his repertoire of rare and interesting tunes from his old fiddle master, along with various tidbits about the music and its history. He had a vast store of polkas and slides, as well as jigs and hornpipes, with reels following in a distant last place, as they did for many musicians of his region and generation. He generously shared these with any and all, and there must be scores of these tapes scattered all over the globe at this point!

The Maurice O’Keeffe Easter Weekend Festival has been held annually in Kiskeam since 2002, celebrating his legacy and nurturing the local tradition which he loved and championed. Until his death in 2017, he was not only the guest of honor but an active participant, playing away in the sessions until the wee hours. In 2007 he was presented with the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Award in recognition of his contribution to the tradition.

Featured photo: “The Master,” by Joseph Gerhard

Learned from: John Linehan, Molly Morrissey, Denis Murphy
Recording: Music For the Set, Johnny O’Leary

Link: Maurice’s “My Life and Music” essay from the Cumann Luachra Journal

Link: Maurice O’Keeffe Easter Weekend Festival