For the past few years, accordion player John Cronin and banjo player Daithí Kearney have enjoyed playing a regular session in Wallis’ Bar in Midleton, a town not usually celebrated for Irish traditional music. John came to the town in the 1970s and Daithí some 35 years later and both brought with them a deep love of the music of the Sliabh Luachra region on the Cork and Kerry border.
This recording is a snap shot of the session in Midleton but draws heavily on the music of Sliabh Luachra and particular accordion players Johnny O’Leary, Denis Doody, Jackie Daly and John Brosnan. It also features music sourced to John’s father DD, a fiddle player from Glenamuckla in the parish of Newmarket, Co. Cork.
The album begins with the ‘Scart Slide’, recorded by Denis Doody (1937-2007) on Kerry Music (1978). Scartaglen village is dominated by a statue commemorating the travelling fiddle master Pádraig O’Keeffe (1887-1963). Doody was a nephew of fiddle player Din Tarrant (1871-1957) of Ballydesmond and both often played with John’s father, DD. The second slide also appears on that recording as ‘The Priest’, and features untitled in Bunting’s first collection published in 1796. The third appears as a jig, ‘Barrack Hill’, no 410 in O’Neill’s 1001 but John learned it from his neighbour Dan Fitz. Denis Doody recorded it as ‘Tanglony’ and Johnny O’Leary recorded it on Dance Music from the Cork-Kerry Border (1995) and also had the name ‘The cat jumped into the mouse’s hole and didn’t come down ‘til morning’ for it.
‘Jim Keeffe’s’, ‘The Ballyvourney Polka’ and ‘Johnny Mickey’s’ were recorded as a set by Jackie Daly on Music From Sliabh Luachra Vol. 6 (1977). Daly is an important figure in developing an awareness of and the popularity the music of Sliabh Luachra. He learned music from Jim Keeffe, a student of Pádraig O’Keeffe from Ballinahulla, Ballydesmond. The second tune was also called ‘Lackagh Cross’. Lackagh Hall near Ballydesmond was owned and operated by Peter Murphy from 1928 to 1940. Jackie was also influenced by concertina player Johnny Mickey Barry (d.1981) from Toureendarby, a pupil of Tom Billy Murphy (1875-1943) who in turn was a pupil of Tadhg Ó Buachalla (Buckley) or Taidhghín an Asal, who travelled the area on a donkey and cart teaching music and mending shoes.
The first tune on track 3 is a tune associated with the blind fiddle teacher Tom Billy Murphy of Ballydesmond, and is also called ‘The Flowers of Spring’ from Denis Murphy (1910-74) in Breandán Breathnach’s collection Ceol Rince na hÉireann 2 No. 31. ‘The Cordal Jig’ is named after the birthplace of his near contemporary and rival Pádraig O’Keeffe. ‘The Lisheen Jig’ is the local name for ‘The Woeful Widow’ (No. 307 in O’Neills 1001). Lisheen is a place near Gneeveguilla, which was the homeplace of two of his greatest students Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford (1914-97).
‘Walsh’s Hornpipe’ is again sourced from Jackie Daly (1977) who notes it came from the playing of Philip Walsh, a fiddle player from Sliabh Maol. It was a favourite of Denis Murphy and Johnny O’Leary also recorded it on The Trooper (1989). ‘Her Golden Hair Curled Down Her Back’ has been recorded by accordion players John Brosnan and Jackie Daly as well as fiddle player Connie O’Connell from Kilnamartyra.
‘Brosnan’s Reel’ is a composition from John Brosnan, originally from Lyreacompane but living in Kilcummin, a man well known for tuning and playing accordions. ‘The Piper’s Despair’ is sourced to Hartnett in O’Neill’s The Music of Ireland (1903). Sergeant Mike Hartnett was a well known dancer in Chicago and neighbour of James O’Neill. In Irish Minstrels and Musicians Francis writes he “was born and brought up within a radius of a dozen miles or so of where the Counties of Kerry, Cork and Limerick come together”. It has been recorded by many including Denis Murphy and John Brosnan. ‘The Trip to Cullenstown’ is a composition of Wexford harmonica player Phil Murphy but was recorded by Séamus Creagh and Aidan Coffey (1999) – a typical Sliabh Luachra fiddle and box duet from Westmeath and Waterford respectively – not quite within the usual borders.
‘DD Cronin’s’ is sourced to John’s father. ‘The Quarry Cross’ was recorded by Johnny Leary as ‘If I had a wife’ on Music for the Set (1977) and ‘Mick Mahony’s’ on The Trooper (1989). ‘The Rathawaun’ featured on the seminal recording The Star Above the Garter recorded by Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford in 1969.
‘The Cascade’ is a composition of Tureenderby box player Timmy O’Connor. ‘DD Cronin’s Favourite’ is again sourced from John’s father and the third is named after fiddle player John Walsh of Derrygallon, Kanturk.
Tony MacMahon and Noel Hill recorded ‘Cooley’s Jigs’ on I gCnoc na Graí (1985) in Dan O’Connell’s pub in Knocknagree, a pivotal space in Sliabh Luachra that unfortunately has gone silent. John played there a few times and my mother danced there often but the main man was always Johnny O’Leary who recorded the first tune as ‘The Peacock’s Feather’ on The Trooper. The first tune appears in O’Neill’s 1001 No. 144 as ‘The House in the Glen’.
The first waltz is for John’s son who is ‘Far Away in Australia’. Mike often sings the song and joins us her on bouzouki with Imelda on fiddle. ‘The Bluemont Waltz’ was composed by Contradance musician Rodney Miller and was recorded by Jackie Daly with the group Buttons and Bows on Grace Notes (1994).
‘The Toormore Polkas’ were favourites of Johnny O’Leary and he recorded them on Music for the Set (1977). The first one was also recorded as ‘Wallace’s Cross’ by Martin Mulvihill and is in CRÉ3 No. 69. Captain Bing’s is a version of a composition by Scottish fiddle player Nathaniel Gow (1764-1831). Breathnach includes a version from Hugh McManus of Cavan in CRÉ2 and a reel version appears as ‘Captain Byng’ in O’Neill’s 1001 No. 736 and in the Skye collection from 1887. We are joined here by Louise and Shane Keating.
‘Cronin’s Hornpipe’ and ‘The Plains of Boyle’ are very popular tunes. On the second tune I add some steps from the North Kerry dance tradition associated with Jeremiah Molyneaux (1892-1964) of Gunsboro, near Listowel and learned from Patricia Hanafin in Tralee.
Pádraig O’Keeffe recorded ‘The Rambling Pitchfork’ in Cork in 1960. The two tunes he recorded that day appear in a violin tutor published in 1923 by Treasa Ní Ailpín and Seán Ó Cuirrín, Teagosc-Leabhar na Bheidhlíne, as ‘Ógánaigh na Naprún’ and ‘Peig sa Súsa’. A version of ‘The Legacy’ appears as ‘The Tailor’s Wedding’ in O’Neill’s 1001, No. 109.
‘The Galtee Ranger’, ‘Gleanntán Reel’ and ‘Callaghan’s’ are a popular set in the Sliabh Luachra repertoire often associated with Julia Clifford and Denis Murphy and also Seamus Creagh. ‘The Galty Rangers’ appears in The Roche Collection, Vol. 3 No. 84. ‘Callaghan’s’ is named afer Pádraig O’Keeffe’s uncle Cal Callaghan of Doon.
‘Dan O’Connell’s Favourite’ is named after the dancing publican of Knocknagree and tune #221 in the Johnny O’Leary collection. Johnny usually followed it with another tune named after Tom Billy Murphy who was considered an excellent musician for dancers because of the rhythm of his playing. It is more widely known as ‘The Lakes of Sligo’. The third tune, another composition of John Walsh, was recorded on the CD The County Bounds by Connie O’Connell and Denis MacMahon.