Paudie O'Connor & Family Popping‑up for World Fiddle Day Scartaglin 2020

Our planned Pop-Up Archive at World Fiddle Day Scartaglin 2020 was to feature a presentation by Paudie O'Connor on his detailed research on Sliabh Luachra resources in ITMA Collections.  

Undaunted by circumstances, we are delighted we have been able to get some recording equipment to Paudie this week. 

So by blog and video, we join Paudie at home with his wife Aoife NÍ Chaoimh and daughter Róisín. Big shout out to Róisín who got the video looking great!


Paudie's Blog for ITMA World Fiddle Day 2020

Since 2018 the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) has been delivering Pop-Up Archives around the country.

The objective is to bring the archive in a physical form (ITMA staff, computers, access to the database etc.) back to the epicenter of the tradition, to the places where the artefacts of Irish traditional music, song and dance were collected and later catalogued and stored at No 73, Merrion Square. The people of the area, or those attending a particular music event where the Pop-Up is stationed, get a chance to reconnect with the songs, tunes, interviews and written word contributed by their family, neighbours and friends to the archive.

One of the proposed Pop-Up Archive dates for 2020, was to be at the excellent World Fiddle Day celebrations held annually, each May in Scartaglin, Co. Kerry. ITMA kindly asked me to spend some time reviewing archive material from the Sliabh Luachra tradition, with the highlights unearthed to be presented at the opening of the World Fiddle Day Celebrations on May 16th.  For the duration of the Festival, an ITMA Pop-Up Archive would be available, so that people could search the archive with assistance from ITMA staff. The Pop-Up archive would increase the attendee’s awareness of the archive and hopefully increase their interaction with it in the future.

What I found during my research and review of the Sliabh Luachra material, was a wide range of artefacts that will be of immense interest to the people of Sliabh Luachra.
Paudie O'Connor, May 2020

Undoubtedly the highlight was a series of previously unseen video recordings made during field trips to Sliabh Luachra by former RTÉ Music Producer Tony MacMahon. Tony had the novel idea of getting musicians to interview musicians. Better still, musicians who had grown up playing music together, travelling the roads of Sliabh Luachra to dance halls and pubs during the halcyon days of Pádraig O'Keeffe and his pupils.  

Tony MacMahon, accordion / [unidentified photographer]
Tony MacMahon, accordion / [unidentified photographer]
Tony MacMahon, accordion / [unidentified photographer]

Tony MacMahon, accordion / [unidentified photographer]

© Irish Traditional Music Archive

Among the footage was a fascinating video recording of Paddy Cronin being interviewed by accordion player Johnny O’Leary. Johnny using his own unique turn of phrase, reminded and questioned Paddy about times, musicians and characters long gone. 

Johnny O’Leary and Denis Doody/ [unidentified photographer]
Johnny O’Leary and Denis Doody/ [unidentified photographer]
Johnny O’Leary and Denis Doody/ [unidentified photographer]

Johnny O’Leary and Denis Doody/ [unidentified photographer]

© 

Another interesting piece of video footage was legendary Sliabh Luachra musician and character Con Curtin being interviewed by the late Denis McMahon

Other interviews of note featured Maurice O'Keeffe, Mikey Duggan and Patcheen Connell.

Mikey Duggan And Denis Mc Mahon John Reidy Photographer
Mikey Duggan and Denis McMahon / John Reidy, photographer

Each year, I help out with the Handed Down Series of lectures in Scartaglin County Kerry which culminates with the aforementioned World Fiddle Day celebrations in May. My input usually entails giving a lecture on a topic related to Sliabh Luachra music. 

The focus of this year’s lecture was to be a tribute to my neighbour, renowned fiddler and music historian, the late Denis McMahon who passed away in 2018. This year I decided to use the ITMA to help with my preparation. With the help of the ITMA staff I was able to locate a vast store of television performances, radio performances, interviews, obituaries and tributes that appeared in different publications after his passing.  

To have access to such a wide range of artefacts at the same time was of immense value and illustrated what a valuable resource the ITMA and its staff can be for the hundreds of musicians that prepare presentations and articles for local féilte cheoil, lectures, journals and other publications.
Paudie O'Connor, May 2020

The ITMA isn’t just a resource to be used by academics or those doing work-related research. While working on the Denis McMahon tribute I also realised what a valuable resource the ITMA can be for those of us just wishing to find out a little more about our local musical heroes.  It’s a wonderful experience to while away a few hours listening to, or reading about neighbours and friends who have been an integral part of the rich musical environment we live in. From our own perspective in Sliabh Luachra, the past twenty years have seen most of the direct links with the music of O’Keeffe pass on to their eternal reward. A few hours spent in the archive can be a wonderful way to relive and experience their music and stories.

Pat Danny And Mary Osullivan Sliabh Luachra
Pat Danny and Mary O'Sullivan

The archive can also be a invaluable gateway to local history.  My father came from a townland four miles from the village of  Scartaglin called Ballintourigh or Baile an tSamhraidh, the town of Summer. During visits and summer holidays at my grandmothers house I had heard much about a famous dance hall that operated a few hundred yards away at the John Richard’s Cross back in the 1930’s. A quick search using the key words ‘Baile an tSamhraidh’ unearthed a journal article from the renowned Sliabh Luachra: the journal of Cumann Luachra, volume 1, no. 11 (2003). The article 'Musical days around John Richard's Cross' written by Pat Feeley* provided an insight into life in the townland from the 1930’s up to 1948 when the dance hall closed. It gave first hand accounts of the dance hall, the musicians, the adjoining all purpose shop, the coming of the motor car and subsequent demise of the rambling house. It was wonderful to read about the local characters often mentioned by my Grandmother Maggie May and Aunty Mary back in Baile an tSamhraidh, including Mary O’Sullivan pictured above.  It was Mary’s father who had initially built the dance hall.  Mary a pupil of Pádraig O'Keeffe and Tom Billy Murphy, was a character and gained notoriety for standing up to the local clergy in the aftermath of the Dance Halls Act 1935. 

In one instance she refused to stop playing her fiddle when the parish priest raided their hall when hosting an outlawed dance during the period of lent.
Paudie O'Connor, May 2020

Since starting my research and blog, the COVID-19 has lead to the postponement of World Fiddle Day celebrations in Scartaglin and the ITMA Pop-Up Archive.  The travel and work restrictions have seen teachers, parents and pupils have searching for online resources to keep them busy and learning. One of the primary aims of the World Fiddle Day and The Handed down Lecture Series has been to expose the next generation of musicians to the heritage of the Sliabh Luachra Music tradition. Again I feel the ITMA can be a valuable resource in this regard. 

There are wonderful Sliabh Luachra related resources currently available through the online facility www.itma.ie that pupils, parents and music teachers can use together. One resource that I’d highly recommend is the the Pádraig O’Keeffe fiddle and accordion manuscripts kindly donated to the Irish Traditional Music Archive by accordion player Paud Collins from Knockacur, Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry. The manuscripts belonged to Paud’s brother Jerh and his brother Dan (accordion), both former pupils of O’Keeffe. The manuscripts, written in O’Keeffe’s unique tablature are accompanied by an interactive music scores, making the tunes accessible to all learning styles. 

While people in Sliabh Luachra and beyond will miss the many events cancelled during the current crises, the ITMA’s online resource can keep us connected with the ‘sup ón dtobar’ until we meet again in person in the brighter days that lie ahead.
Paudie O'Connor, May 2020
Pok Poc Blog Wfd 2020
Sample page from Pádraig O'Keeffe Manuscript Collection at ITMA

When treasured trips to Dublin for football matches, concerts and other social events do return to our lives, I strongly recommend that people consider taking a few hours to include a trip to ITMA in their itinerary. Be it listening to a few tunes from a departed neighbour or friend, reading about the life and times of a local musician or learning a few verses of a song from your locality, the experience will leave you much the richer.

Until then, tabhair aire!

And one more tune ......

Duck and the oats, jig; Tom Billy's jig / Aoife Ní Chaoimh, fiddle; Róisín O'Connor, fiddle, and Paudie O'Connor, button accordion.


This blog was researched and written by Paudie' Connor. Videos were edited by Róisín O'Connor.

Presented by Grace Toland.

*ITMA would like to sincerely thank Cumann Luachra and Pat Hickey for permission to share the article 'Musical days around John Richard's Cross'.