This is part of the Top 40 of Sliabh Luachra project, an admittedly flawed and limited endeavor based on entirely subjective criteria. Please leave a comment if you have any questions, thoughts, protests, threats, etc, and click on the irishtune.info links for more information on each tune.

More than any of the tune forms, the polka is synonymous with Sliabh Luachra, especially to outsiders. To musicians from many other regions, polkas can seem unfamiliar or even alien. As a matter of fact, polkas are a relatively recent addition to the tradition; the fad for polka set dancing took off throughout the country around the end of the 19th century. In most other regions the jig and reel quadrilles had a longer lasting popularity, but in Sliabh Luachra the polka set stuck. (Polkas did stick around in some other regional repertoires, e.g. Sligo and Donegal, but the style of playing them is now very different.) In parts of Clare there is memory of polkas sometimes being played for the plain set. You could say polkas and reels occupy the same ecological niche in different parts of the country. Melodically, many Sliabh Luachra polkas are connected to older tunes. Sometimes the melody of a jig or reel was adapted to 2/4 time. A number of polkas are derived from military marches, probably introduced by occupying British regimental forces. Others came from simple, nursery-rhyme-type songs, and may still retain phrases from those songs in their titles. But there’s no question that many Sliabh Luachra polkas are entirely home grown, composed methodically or on the fly by local musicians.

CONTENTS:

As I Went Out Upon the Ice
The Ballinahulla set
The Ballydesmond set
The Barren Rocks of Aden
Biddy Martin
The Blackwater set
Britches Full of Stitches
Callaghan’s
The Cascade
The Ceangulla
The Cuban
Cuz’s Delight
Daly’s Mill
Denis Murphy’s
Derrygalun Bridge
Did You Wash Your Father’s Shirt?
Farewell to Whiskey / The Dark Girl
The Four Shoves
The Galope / Paddy Spillane’s
Ger the Rigger
The Glin Cottage set
I Have a Bonnet Trimmed With Blue
I Looked East and I Looked West
Jim Keeffe’s set
Jimmy Doyle’s Favorite
John Clifford’s
Johnny O’Leary’s Pound Note
The Knocknaboul set
The Lacka Cross set
Many’s a Wild Night
Maurice O’Keeffe’s
The Millstreet set
Mountvara Bridge / The Brogeen
Neily Cleere’s
Rose Anne’s Reel
Thadelo’s
The Top of Maol
The Tuar Mór set
The Upperchurch set
Where Lilies Bloom

As I Went Out Upon the Ice

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3822/

Like many tunes, this one takes its name from a song. Unlike many, the song still survives intact. This version is from the online Clare County Library:

There are new fashions out of late,
I cannot tell the reason.
There are new fashions out of late,
A dress for every season.

Chorus: With me ring fol ah, rally do ri ra,
Me ring fold da ra loni.
And it’s all about a new topcoat
They call the Tangaloni.

Ah, I went to town the other day,
I met with great disaster.
I bought a pair of skating boots,
For to be a skating master.

And as I went skating on the ice,
The ice being rough and stony
The ice, it broke, and down I went,
And I wet my Tangaloni.

I met a maid upon the road,
On me she took compassion.
She said, “Young man, draw in to the fire,
For I know you’re in a passion.”

And as I drew so near to the heat,
And there I stood aloney;
And she said, “Young man, keep up from the fire,
Or you’ll burn your Tangaloni.”

This girl, she had a little dog,
On him she christened Tony,
And every time I kissed the maid,
The dog’d bite my Tangaloni.

And I must buy a jaunting car,
And I must buy a pony,
And I must hire a servant maid
That’ll brush my Tangaloni.

A Taglioni was a type of overcoat popular in the 19th century which was named after a celebrated Italian family of professional dancers. Whether another entendre is implied is up to the reader. Melodically it is similar to the second Glin Cottage polka.

A Taglioni on a Taglioni:

Molly Myers Murphy plays As I Went Out Upon the Ice in a field recording courtesy of World Fiddle Day Scartaglin archives (pitch has been adjusted up to standard to accommodate learners)

Denis Murphy sings As I Went Out Upon the Ice:

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The Ballinahulla set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2560/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/4033/

I can’t make much of a case for this being a real go-to set the way some of the others are, but it’s a solid pair of polkas. Denis Doody was born in Ballinahulla, and maybe these are tunes he had from a young age, perhaps even passed down from his grandfather, Din Tarrant. Some other notable musicians were from Ballinahulla, including Jim Keeffe and Sonny Riordan, students of Pádraig O’Keeffe.

Denis Doody

Denis Doody plays the Ballinahulla set from his album Kerry Music:

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The Ballydesmond set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/105/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/106/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/107/

A classic set from The Star Above the Garter. On the album the entire set of three are called The Ballydesmond Polkas. If there’s any connection to how Denis and Julia thought of them, it indicates they associated the tunes with the musicians from around Ballydesmond. There has long been a vibrant musical community in Ballydesmond (known in the years of occupation as Kingwilliamstown) which sits at a crossroads leading to Newmarket, Kiskeam, and Knocknaboul. The music there would be more from the repertoire and style of Tom Billy than of Pádraig O’Keeffe.

Julia Clifford and Denis Murphy on a Norwegian TV program from the 70s.

Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford play The Ballydesmond set from the album The Star Above the Garter. (The pitch has been raised slightly to standard in order to accommodate learners.)

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The Barren Rocks of Aden

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/6128/

Based on a melody played by Scottish regiments of the British army in the mid-19th century, it has survived in Scotland as a popular piping march, and in Sliabh Luachra where it was adapted as a polka. The rhythm of the title suggests there were once words, now forgotten. Other words have come and gone, sometimes involving bananas, but mostly we play it purely instrumental like.

Aoife Ní Chaoimh and Paudie O’Connor play The Barren Rocks of Aden from a 2016 performance at The Cobblestone, courtesy of the Na Píobairí Uilleann archives:

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Biddy Martin

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/146/

Not named Biddy Martin’s, as in associated with a musician by that name, but another tune whose title comes from a song. I haven’t been able to find more than what seems to have been the chorus (from an American source):

Pretty Betty Martin,
Tip-toe! Tip-toe!
Pretty Betty Martin,
Tip-toe fine!
Pretty Betty Martin,
Tip-toe! Tip-toe!
Couldn’t find a husband
To suit her mind!
(Other sources have it as “Hi”, or “Hie, Biddy Martin”)

Related tunes are played in American fiddle traditions as Betty Martin, Tip Toe Fine, and Fire on the Mountain. This may be one of those tunes that came to Ireland from America, against the usual musical current. At least one American source asserts that Elizabeth Martin “was born in England and when she came to this country, a young woman, had so many suitors on the ship in which she made the voyage that she could not choose among them, so, consequently, rejected all.” She must have married eventually because she was said to have been the grandmother of William Paca of Wye Island, Maryland, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. (These kinds of stories ought to be taken with a grain or two of salt!) The earliest known American publication is from around 1801, but the phrase “My eye and Betty Martin” appears in a Dublin operetta from 1780. It’s hard to pin down the origins of this song since the chorus seems to have become a sort of meme, being used in countless subsequent riffs and satires. The melody is simple enough that one can find similarities to lots of other tunes from America, Ireland, England, and France. This tune was described as a “single reel” by Jackie Daly, and elsewhere as an “easy” polka for beginning dancers. (It seems that at some point in the past, the distinction made between polkas and reels was not as clear-cut as it is today.) Jackie Daly’s recording on the concertina was influential in popularizing this tune, but his setting is odd. One would expect an eighth note (aka quaver) to come at the beginning (corresponding with “Hi” in the words) but instead he plays two evenly weighted sixteenth notes (or semiquavers) (to go with “pretty”), which makes them sound like pick up notes (more so because the first note seems to fade in slightly), throwing off the placement of the first downbeat, or “one”, for the rest of the tune. The misplacement of the “one” is emphasized by his use of chirping cut notes throughout. I would love to hear a recording of another Sliabh Luachra musician who did not get this tune from Jackie Daly, but so far nothing. Breandán Breathnach sourced his version from accordionist Tim Leahy of Listowel. That setting does start with a quaver and two semiquavers, for what it’s worth.

Jackie Daly playing the concertina in a rare moment.

Jackie Daly plays Biddy Martin from his album Music From Sliabh Luachra, Volume 6. On this recording it is in the key of C.

Kevin Burke plays Biddy Martin in the more usual key of D from his album If the Cap Fits.

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The Blackwater set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3633/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/5599/

The River Blackwater rises in the mountains near Glountane and ends at Youghal Harbor. In Irish it is An Abhainn Mhór (The Great River.) Between its source and Rathmore it lies at the border between Kerry and Cork and forms the geographic focal point (or line, I guess) of Sliabh Luachra. Denis Doody named this set of polkas for the Blackwater, and Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch kept the name on their recording two decades later. Johnny O’Leary recorded the first as Sonny Sweeney’s. Felix “Sonny” McSweeney was a fiddler from Leame near Gneeveguilla. He made his living as a carpenter (and apparently built Denis Murphy’s house!) but he supplemented his income playing for dances, and a few field recordings of him can be found.

Denis Doody plays the Blackwater set from his album Kerry Music:

Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch play the same tunes one step higher from their album The Living Stream. This comes from playing the same fingering on Jackie’s C#/D box as on Denis Doody’s B/C box.

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Britches Full of Stitches

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1447/

Oh those britches full of stitches,
Oh those britches buttoned on!

That’s the bit of doggerel which accompanies this tune, in lots of different versions, some of which can be found in the American tradition as well. It’s a very common polka, often taught to beginning musicians outside of Sliabh Luachra, and has accrued some bad vibes as a result. It’s notable for its absence from Johnny O’Leary’s book! It has a fine Sliabh Luachra pedigree, however, and can be traced to the repertoire of Daithín Davy Linehan of Mountcollins, a musician and teacher contemporaneous (and friends) with Pádraig O’Keeffe.”

Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh play the Britches Full of Stitches from their eponymous album. (Pitch has been adjusted slightly to standard to accommodate learners.)

Unknown musicians at the Ballydesmond Feile Cheoil in 1976 play The Britches Full of Stitches, courtesy of the World Fiddle Day Scartaglin archives

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Callaghan’s

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/265/

The title indicates it’s one of the many tunes O’Keeffe got from his mother’s side of the family, maybe his uncle Cal. It’s a very well-crafted, elaborate polka with a distinctive double-length B part which has recently become popular as something of a show piece. Julia and John Clifford had a crooked setting which they learned, or possibly mis-learned, from O’Keeffe.

Pádraig O’Keeffe

Pádraig O’Keeffe play’s Callaghan’s from the album The Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master:

Julia Clifford plays her crooked version of Callaghan’s from The Humours of Lisheen:

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The Cascade

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/284/

A tune composed by accordionist Timmy O’Connor of Toureendarby, near Newmarket. He named it after a waterfall on the Glenlara river near his home. Timmy has been a notable figure on the Cork end of Sliabh Luachra for many years, having played in the group The Monks of the Screw, anchoring the long-running session at Scullys bar, and mentoring countless local musicians including Jackie Daly. In recent years the Newmarket scene has had a resurgence of attention, and this lovely polka has seen its popularity increase as well.

Timmy O’Connor photographed by Tony Kearns

Timmy O’Connor plays The Cascade from his album As It Was in Toureendarby:

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The Ceangulla

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2410/

This is one of those polkas that’s probably more popular outside of Sliabh Luachra than in it. Elsewhere it’s called The Lakes of Sligo or The Siege of Ennis which gives you some idea of its range. It probably started off as a Scottish march. Johnny O’Leary didn’t have a name for it when he played it at an NPU recital in 1990. As he associated it with Denis and Pádraig, he named it for the small townland just south of Scartaglin, a usual meeting place of theirs. Convert it to a reel and it is the spitting image of The Purring Girls of the Village.

Dan O’Leary

Dan O’Leary plays the Ceangulla from a field recording courtesy of World Fiddle Day Scartaglin archives):

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The Cuban

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3141/

The title, according to Jack “The Lighthouse” Connell, was a common nickname for members of his mother’s side of the family with dark hair, dark eyes, and a darker than usual complexion and who claimed to have a Spanish sailor somewhere in the family tree. It certainly shouldn’t be taken to mean that the tune itself comes from the Caribbean nation! Jackie Daly calls it “The Old One,” having got it from Maurice O’Keeffe long ago. Melodically, it’s interesting for the uncommon shape of its tune and the change to a new tonic key in the second part, which gives a lift.

Julia Clifford and Billy Clifford

Julia and Billy Clifford play The Cuban from their album Ceol as Sliabh Luachra:

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Cuz’s Delight

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2564/

Denis Doody got a number of tunes from Terence “Cuz” Teahan when he returned on a visit from Chicago, but it’s unclear if this is one of them or if Cuz was just notably enamored of it. Cuz himself called it after Anne Sheehy McAuliffe who he probably met on that same trip home, but whether that means he got it from her or just named in her honor is unknown. In any case, it’s picked up his name now, regardless of why.

Cuz Teahan

Denis Doody plays Cuz’s Delight from his album Kerry Music:

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Daly’s Mill

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/4240/

John Walsh made this polka and it is named for an old mill on the Brogeen River.

Mention of Daly’s mill in a book from duchas.ie

John Walsh photographed by Bob Singer

The band Sliabh Notes play Daly’s Mill from their album Gleanntán:

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Denis Murphy’s

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/487/

This one sticks persistently to Denis Murphy’s name, probably because it was recorded under that name by the groups The Cheiftans and Planxty. Surprisingly, it’s not originally a Sliabh Luachra tune–Denis may well have got it from a recording of Michael Coleman made around 1924. Dan O’Leary and Jimmy Doyle recorded it as Charlie O’Leary’s Favorite. I’m not sure if this is the same person, but in the book Stone Mad for Music, a Charlie O’Leary is cited as the last native speaker of Irish in Sliabh Luachra.

Denis Murphy

Denis Murphy plays his eponymous polka from a field recording collected by Kevin “Chris” Delaney. (Pitch has been slightly adjusted to standard to accommodate learners.)

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Derrygalun Bridge

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3748/

One of a number of polkas composed by fiddle player John Walsh, most of which, like this one, are named for local landmarks. John comes from the small townland of Derrygalun (Doire Ghealbhan), a short distance west of Kanturk.

Connie O’Connell and Denis McMahon

Connie O’Connell and Denis “The Hat” McMahon play Derrygallen Bridge from the album The County Bounds:

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Did You Wash Your Father’s Shirt?

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1925/

This melody seems to have come first as a reel and is still played as such, sometimes called the West Cork Reel. Jackie Daly used it to kick off his first solo LP and called it Tom Sullivan’s, who he mentions in the liner notes as a Sliabh Luachra musician. I haven’t found any other record of a Tom Sullivan, but it’s possible he meant Tim Sullivan, AKA Thadelo. The following ditty may be attached to this tune:

Have you washed your father’s shirt?
Have you washed it clean?
Have you hung it on the line
Out on the village green?

Jackie Daly plays Did You Wash Your Father’s Shirt from his album Music from Sliabh Luachra, Vol. 6:

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Farewell to Whiskey / The Dark Girl

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/612/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/464/

Sligo musicians John KcKenna and James Morrison recorded these together in 1928, and they next appeared recorded together 40 years later on The Star Above the Garter. Obviously they caught the ear of the Lisheen crowd. They are distinct from the usual Sliabh Luachra polkas for being so notey, but Denis and Julia certainly played them convincingly. They are both old tunes, probably having come to Ireland as military two-steps from across the Irish Sea, but maybe predating even that usage. Both titles are used by a number of other tunes. The first seems to be an expression of lament for some restrictive British law on the making of whisky in Scotland; the second is from an English music hall song.

Julia Clifford and Denis Murphy play Farewell to Whiskey/The Dark Girl from The Star Above the Garter. (Pitch has been slightly adjusted to accommodate learners.)

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The Four Shoves

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/662/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3350/

Recorded together under the one name by Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh. The title refers to the fourth figure of the Sliabh Luachra set where the gent reverses the lady around the four points of the set. They are interesting tunes, both being melodically very simple (akin to the shape of Biddy Martin) and both having parts of irregular length.

Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh play The Four Shoves from their eponymous album:

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The Galope / Paddy Spillane’s

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2007/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3760/

The Gallope (alternatively galop, gallop, or galope) was a dance craze originating in France that swept the continent and Britain and Ireland beginning in the 1820s. It was performed to 2/4 music but predates the polka. Subsequently a lot of galope tunes continued to be used when the polkas took hold in Ireland. Both of these tunes were probably from that era. Johnny O’Leary named the second one for Paddy Spillane, a neighbor of Johnny’s from Knockbeag who played tin whistle, concert flute and concertina.

Johnny O’Leary

Johnny O’Leary plays The Galope/Paddy Spillane’s in the key of A from his album Dance Music From The Cork-Kerry Border:

Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich plays An Gallope in the key of D from his album Seana Choirce.

The Monks of the Screw play a setting of The Gallope in the key of G from their album.

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Ger the Rigger

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/713/

Played usually as a polka but also as a single reel, barndance, or for the hornpipe figure of a set. Johnny O’Leary attributed it to Thadelo but it seems to have been in Din Tarrant’s repertoire. Rigger refers to a carpenter who specializes in house roofs.

Jackie Daly

Jackie Daly plays Ger the Rigger in the less common key of G from his album Music from Sliabh Luachra, Vol. 6:

Connie O’Connell plays Ger the Rigger as a barndance in the more common key of A.

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The Glin Cottage set

setting 1: https://www.irishtune.info/tune/6114/
setting 2: https://www.irishtune.info/tune/735/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/736/
setting 1: https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2875/
setting 2: https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1418/

There’s quite a difference of opinion as to whether these should be called the Green Cottage (as in a cottage that’s painted green, I guess), the Glen Cottage (a cottage in a glen somewhere), or the Glin Cottage (as in Glin, West Limerick, adjacent to Sliabh Luachra proper but certainly within the sphere of influence, as it were.) We may never get to the bottom of it, but we can all agree that they are named for some kind of cottage, anyway. The first one has quite a few distinct settings, and if transposed to a major key would be similar to the Jack of All Trades polka. The second is related to As I Went Out Upon the Ice, and also appears on Denis Murphy’s Blue Album as a slide. The third often gets left out, owing to Jackie Daly’s having forgot to play it on his influential recording. In fact he seems to have pilfered it, made a few changes and raised the key, and put it into his own trademark Newmarket Polka set, the scallywag! Johnny O’Leary has it in his book as one of Din Tarrant’s tunes, though it’s played throughout Ireland and beyond. Often called The Girl with the Blue Dress On or Babes in the Woods, both of which are kind of mix-and-match titles that are associated with a number of other melodies. The Glen Cottage name gets thrown around onto a bunch of other tunes, too, but let’s not pursue that too far.

A diagram of a Kerry cottage found in the duchas.ie archive.

Denis Murphy and Pádraig O’Keeffe play the Glin Cottage set from the album Music From Sliabh Luachra. (Pitch has been adjusted up slightly to accommodate learners.)

Denis Doody plays his setting of the first Glin Cottage from his album Kerry Music.

Julia and Billy play their A minor setting of Glin Cottage #1 from Ceol as Sliabh Luachra.

Tom and Kerry Barrett play a rare setting of the Glin Cottage #1 from their album Lios A’Cheoil.

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I Have a Bonnet Trimmed With Blue

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/877/

Possibly a melody played for continental ballroom dances in the early to mid 19th century, slightly ahead of the polka craze. Its popularity spread as far as the American fiddle tradition, but it seems to be one of a number of such tunes adapted for Sliabh Luachra dancing by Din Tarrant. The English words have survived (unlike those of many other polkas); Elizabeth Cronin sang them this way:

I have a bonnet trimmed with blue;
Why don’t you wear it? So I do. (repeat)
I will wear it when I can;
When I’ll go away with my fair-haired man.
Open the window, do love, do!
Listen to the music playing for you!

Johnny O’Leary plays I Have a Bonnet Trimmed With Blue from his album Music for the Set. (Pitch has been adjusted slightly to accommodate learners.)

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I Looked East and I Looked West

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1524/

A very old melody, a version of which was published in England in 1687. A century later it was published as ‘Quick Step 21st Regiment’, so it may be a tune that travelled to Ireland with the British military. Regardless of how it got there, Julia Clifford had it in her repertoire since her childhood in Lisheen, and finally recorded it in 1976. The name is a stock phrase that appears in a number of songs in England, Ireland, and America. Raymond O’Sullivan remembers that Maurice O’Keeffe had these words:

I looked east and I looked west
And I looked over yonder
What did I see but the old grey goose
And she looking for the gander

In 2019 it was the name of a landmark celebration of Julia Clifford held in Suffolk, England.

Julia Clifford plays I Looked East and I Looked West from The Humours of Lisheen:

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Jim Keeffe’s set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/944/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/943/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1418/

Track 1 Side 1 of Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh’s landmark album has burned itself into the memory of every Sliabh Luachra musician, and to play the first tune in company is to commit to continuing on to the next two. Jackie learned the first two from his mentor Jim Keeffe, and the third was popular in Newmarket at the time.

Jim O’Keeffe

Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh play Jim Keeffe’s set from their eponymous album. (Many people play the first one with a C# instead of a C natural.)

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Jimmy Doyle’s Favorite

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/947/

Named for Jimmy Doyle on Pádraig O’Keeffe’s Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master collection, and Doyle himself called it his favorite on his album with Dan Leary. Elsewhere it is called Tin Tarrant’s, and O’Keeffe taught it to his students, so the tune likely predates its namesake.

Jimmy Doyle

Jimmy Doyle and Dan O’Leary play Jimmy Doyle’s Favorite from their album Traditional Music from the Kingdom of Kerry:

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John Clifford’s

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1535/

This is what people mean when they talk about “simple Kerry music.” How basic can a collection of notes be and still be called a melody? This tune seeks to answer that question.

Julia and John Clifford at a Sunday lunchtime session in the Oxford Arms, Camden Town, London, 1963

Máire O’Keeffe plays John Clifford’s in the key of A from her album Cóisir/House Party. It is also commonly played in the key of G.

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Johnny O’Leary’s Pound Note

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/7190/

Composed by Duhallow musician Tim Browne. He had this to say about the name: “Johnny came with several of his friends to Kanturk on the occasion of my 31st birthday – I didn’t have a 21st birthday party so I decided to have a 31st one – and it was held in the Alley Bar, Kanturk and later on in my own house where Johnny presented me with a present of a one pound note laughing & saying ‘Timmy Browne that pound note’ll bring you luck'”

The one pound note was taken out of circulation in 1990 to be replaced with pound coins. It featured a a portrait of Méabh, the legendary Queen of Connacht.

Raymond O’Sullivan, Siobhán O’Sullivan, Niamh O’Sullivan, John Walsh, and Dan Curtin play Johnny O’Leary’s Pound Note from a performance at World Fiddle Day Scartaglin 2016:

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The Knocknaboul set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2448/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1062/

A classic pairing, popularized by the Star Above the Garter recording, but according to Johnny O’Leary, played together originally by Din Tarrant. Knocknaboul Cross is where Kerry musicians would turn off the long straight military road toward Ballydesmond. Three-part polkas are handy for playing for the sets because the tune will finish at the same time as the dance. Not that the dancers care, but it gives the musicians a sense of closure.

Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford play the Knocknaboul set from The Star Above the Garter:

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The Lacka Cross set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/4357/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2542/

Julia Clifford and Denis Doody both recorded these two polkas together, so let’s call it a set. Both of them go by a number of names: Bill the Weaver’s, Din Tarrant’s, Johnny O’Leary’s, all the usual suspects. Lacka Cross pops up as the title for either of them sometimes (and also for other tunes, as is the way of things). Lacka sits on the edge of the Blackwater just barely on the Cork side. North is Ballydesmond, south is Knocknagree, and a few steps to the west will put you on the long straight military road that runs from Castleisland to Rathmore. There was a popular dance hall there in the 1930s at which Pádraig O’Keeffe played on occasion, as well as many other musical luminaries of the time. Peter Murphy, the proprietor, was known to hire a lorry to collect the best musicians he could arrange, and to pick up customers as well, thus ensuring a high level of craic. Murphy was a musician himself and therefore probably could tell good music from bad (not a skill universal to publicans and their ilk). One hears a few stories about these dance halls from this era, but what were they really like? Flann O’Brien wrote a hilarious piece of satire in 1941 that gives us a little glimpse. Today’s reader should keep in mind that there is a heavy lacquer of irony applied here:

“The crowd inside must be so dense that an entire re-packing and re-arrangement of the patrons is necessary before even the blade of a knife could be inserted through the door. When you do enter, you find yourself in air of the kind that blurts out on you from an oven when you open it. All about you is an impenetrable blue tobacco haze that is sometimes charged with a palpable fine filth beaten up out of the floor. Whether standing or dancing, the patrons are all i bhfastodh (‘in a clinch’) on each other like cows in a cattle truck, exuding sweat in rivers and enjoying themselves immensely. Nobody is self-conscious about sweat. It rises profusely in invisible vapour from all and sundry and there is no guarantee that each cloud will condense on its true owner.”

Though I don’t think O’Brien was particularly interested in or experienced with the dance scene in Sliabh Luachra at the time, I encourage everyone to read the full piece linked here.

Julia Clifford plays the Lacka Cross set from The Humours of Lisheen:

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Many’s a Wild Night

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3117/

Usually recorded with only the two parts, but often in Sliabh Luachra you will hear it with a novel third part (which sounds like two parts each played singly) which can sound like it comes out of left field. It may have been added on for set accompaniment (three part polkas work out evenly when playing for the Sliabh Luachra polka set) but as to why the third part sounds so weird? No clue. Johnny O’Leary called it Pa Keane’s after a musical neighbor of his; the Wild Night title sounds like a Jackie Daly invention.

Many’s a Wild Night played at a session at The Mills in Ballyvourney, September 2012:

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Maurice O’Keeffe’s

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/6709/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/7195/
third tune not catalogued

Though they are not often played as a set, they are all known to be favorites of Maurice O’Keeffe and to play one might put you in mind of the others. Maurice had a wealth of interesting old polkas, many of which he learned at a young age from his teacher John Linehan who provided a link to the old lineage of Cork music distinct from Pádraig O’Keeffe’s repertoire. The first listed here is probably the most popular, having recently been recorded by Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch. The third is played in England as Kit White’s but uncommon enough in Ireland now that I’ve been unable to find a commercial recording of it. At one time it must have been popular enough, as it can be found in Cuz Teahan’s repertoire also (as The Bloody Drunken Peeler). It seems to originate as an old Scottish tune called MacGregor’s March.

Maurice O’Keeffe

Maurice O’Keeffe plays the first at the Ballydesmond Feile Cheoil 1976 courtesy of World Fiddle Day Scartaglin archives. The pitch on the original tape had the tune coming out around G#. I’ve adjusted it down to G rather than up to D which is the usual key because it sounded unnaturally fast and chipmunkey. If anyone has thoughts on this, let me know! Also, check out that spicy C in the second part!

Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch play Maurice’s #1 in the key of D as we’re used to hearing, from their album Rolling On:

Maurice plays #2, again from the Ballydesmond Feile Cheoil 1976. The pitch has been adjusted down to G.

Tes Slominski plays the third of Maurice O’Keeffe’s. As Maurice himself used to do on the tune tapes he made for friends and acquaintances, she plays it once slow for learning the notes, then faster for the style:

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The Millstreet set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2542/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1450/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/991/

Jackie Daly recorded these three polkas with Dé Danann in 1980 and hasn’t stopped playing them together since. I’m not sure why he calls them after Millstreet, though! The first is also in the Lacka Cross set already posted here — oh well. The middle tune is often called after Din Tarrant; one of countless tunes that come from his repertoire. Johnny O’Leary and John Walsh both report learning this tune from Tarrant as The Cobbler, a reference to Taidhgín an Asail, the traveling fiddle master of an earlier generation, who was known for repairing shoes as well as other household items, in addition to his musical work. The last polka is called Johnny I Do Miss You or Johnny I Do Love You, and the title seems likely to be part of a lyric, but I haven’t been able to track down any of the other words. Jackie Daly says he learned it from an O’Keeffe manuscript he received from Cordal fiddler Paddy O’Connell. Also named Tureengarriffe Glen after the site of a local rebel victory.

Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly at a session in Furlong’s at the Catskills Irish Arts Week

Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch play the Millstreet set from a 2009 performance at The Cobblestone, courtesy of the Na Píobairí Uilleann archives:

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Mountvara Bridge / The Brogeen

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/4789/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3749/

Two John Walsh polkas (named for local landmarks as is his custom) that have become muddled up with each other, much to his dismay! Johnny O’Leary was a great fan of Walsh’s tunes and he wanted to include some in the book he made with Terry Moylan. Johnny started off playing the first part of The Brogeen, but seems to have got turned around and ended up in the midst of Mountvara Bridge without realizing it. Moylan then proceeded to publish it as played. After this, pilgrims would travel through Newmarket, excited to play John Walsh’s polka with the composer himself, only to find him mystified at their consistently mismatched setting. Consequently he avoids playing the Brogeen nowadays.

John Walsh and Raymond O’Sullivan photographed by Bob Singer

The Monks of the Screw will set us straight regarding Mountvara Bridge and The Brogeen from their album Bráithre an Óil:


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Neily Cleere’s

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/6749/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3880/

These seem to be named for Niall Cleer, a fiddler and music teacher from Kilbraugh, Tipperary. Billy and Julia Clifford played them together on their album. It’s likely that Billy, who settled in Tipperary, picked them up from him (or someone who had them from him) and introduced them into the Sliabh Luachra repertoire. The first is played elsewhere as Captain Byng, but the second is less wide-spread and has a pretty unique harmonic structure.

Julia and Billy Clifford play Neily Cleere’s from their album Ceol as Sliabh Luachra:

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Rose Anne’s Reel

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3140/

A favorite of Maurice O’Keeffe, who had it from his teacher John Linehan. Though played as a polka, it’s called a reel in an old manuscript from Linehan.

Maurice O’Keeffe plays Rose Anne’s Reel from a field recording featured on the RTÉ program The Rolling Wave:

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Thadelo’s

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2473/

Johnny O’Leary got this from his friend Tim “Thadelo” O’Sullivan, and according to him, after Thadelo’s death no one else played it until Johnny recorded it. It actually appears in Johnny’s book twice, so he certainly made sure people would learn and play it henceforth.

Johnny O’Leary plays Thadelo’s from his album The Trooper:

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The Top of Maol

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2630/

This tune, like so many others, goes by a few names. It’s often called the Queen’s Polka, or sometimes the Groves of Gneeveguilla, but Pádraig O’Keeffe named this tune Top of Maol (locally pronounced moyl, more or less) to commemorate the fact that he could see the top of Sliabh Maol to the northeast from his home at Glountane Cross. Finding the place now can be tricky! What was once called Sliabh Maol is now either Baraveha or Knockfeha, where the Brown Flesk River rises. The bogs of Maol could be part of what are now collectively known as the Mount Eagle bogs, or the adjacent land which has been given over to the forestry schemes which have drastically changed the face of the local countryside. And the townland which was once Maol is now generally referred to as Glanowen. The traveling fiddler Phillip Walsh, who gave his name to Walsh’s Hornpipe, hailed from Maol, and there’s also a little-played reel known as Sliabh Maol. [Many thanks to Donal Cullinane for help with the geography!]

Pádraig, Denis, and Julia play The Top of Maol from the album Kerry Fiddles. (Pitch has been adjusted slightly to accommodate learners.)

Maida Sugrue (nee Quinn) plays The Queen’s polka aka The Top of Maol in a video produced by The Maine Valley Post. Some lovely touches here.

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The Tuar Mór set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1952/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1187/

Probably Johnny O’Leary’s #1 hit, he had these together as a set from his contemporary Jack Sweeney, a one-row melodeon player from Tuar Mór (pronounced Toormore). According to the comments in O’Leary’s book, Sweeney himself called this set “Back of the Haggard.” Between 1926 and 1934 there was a dance hall in Tuar Mór, one of very few at that time, where Sweeney and O’Leary played for all-night dances before it was shut down by the joint forces of clergy and constabulary.

Johnny O’Leary plays the Tuar Mór set from his album Music for the Set:

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The Upperchurch set

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/6141/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/6142/

Billy Clifford now calls Upperchurch, Tipperary, home, and presumably got these tunes from the local tradition. They do have a slightly different feel than the usual Sliabh Luachra polka. The first one is an old and widespread tune, still played in England and even in Brittany!

Edit: Friend of Sliabh Luachra Andy Cleveland notes that the first melody is used for a popular nursery rhyme:
One, two, three, four, five,
Once I caught a fish alive.
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
Then I let it go again.

Billy Clifford, courtesy of the Clare County Library

Gerry Harrington plays the Upperchurch set from his album At Home:

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Where Lilies Bloom

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2061/

The title is surprisingly conventional for a Sliabh Luachra polka (that is, not named for a person or townland). It seems to be related to the reel the Boy in the Gap.

Patrick Street, featuring Jackie Daly, play Where Lilies Bloom from their album Made in Cork:

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HIDDEN BONUS TRACK!

The Glountane Monument Polkas

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3813/
https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3751/

These two tunes are inscribed on the commemorative stone placed outside of Pádraig O’Keeffe’s house at Glountane Cross. They were taken from his manuscripts—the first is in his fiddle notation from a manuscript provided by fiddler Sonny Riordan, and the second is in the accordion notation supplied by box player Jack Collins, both former students of Pádraig’s. I’m curious as to how these tunes were chosen, of all the tunes he is known to have played or written out. The first is downright obscure, appearing on only a couple of recordings (both of which seem to have the monument as their source), in no written collections, and has no name of its own that I can discover! The second is nearly as rare. Johnny O’Leary recorded it in G and with two parts, and called it The Kenmare polka (a name he made up on the spot for Terry Moylan). The version on the monument is in D and has three parts. The melody is basically the same as that used for the song Muirisín Durcan.

The plaque at Glountane

Den Herlihy and friends play the Glountane Monument polkas from his album A Night at the Fair

2 thoughts on “The Top 40 Sliabh Luachra Polkas

  1. The first tune of the Upper church set sounds very like the old nursery rhyme 12345 once I cought a fish alive 6789,10 then I threw it back again. And it took me at least half an hour to retrueve that from the rusty sieve which is my mind. I very much enjoyed listening to these and reading the info !

    Liked by 1 person

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