Séamus O’Mahony: A Hidden Gem in ITMA. Part 3 / “Caill‑taisce’ sa Taisce Cheol Dúchais Éireann. Uimhir 3

Highlighting three more tracks, Liam O'Connor continues his exploration of the 1952 reel-to-reel recording of Cork fiddle player Séamus O'Mahony (1900–1991). ITMA is indebted to Brendan E. O'Mahony, Seamus' son who has generously allowed ITMA to freely share these recordings with the traditional music community.

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Séamus O'Mahony and Leo Rowsome, Limerick Thomond Féis, [1932?]

The first is a 3-part version of the well-known jig Cherish the ladies

Some written sources describe this as a “Munster Jig”. Indeed, versions of the tune feature in works by the Munster collectors P.W. Joyce, Chief O’Neill and Canon Goodman. 

Having published a more elaborate 6-part version in O’Neill’s 1001: The Dance Music of Ireland (1907), Chief O’Neill attributed the original 2-part tune to the 18thcentury Limerick composer Walker ‘Piper’ Jackson in Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913). 

Joyce notated a 2-part version from the playing of his neighbour Ned Goggin, the professional fiddle player in the village of Glenosheen, Co. Limerick during the mid-19th century.

Cherish the ladies, jig / Séamus O'Mahony, fiddle

On the second track, O’Mahony plays two well-known reels: The Teetotaller and The Heathery Breeze. Again, these are widely published and widely recorded tunes. For example, both were published in O’Neill’s 1001: Dance Music of Ireland (1907). 

For some listeners, O’Mahony’s rhythmic nuances in the second part of The Teetotaller may be reminiscent of rhythmic subtleties heard in Tommie Potts’s fiddle playing.

The teetotaller, reel, & Heathery breeze, reel / Séamus O'Mahony, fiddle

On the third track, O’Mahony plays another well-known slow air An Chúilfhionn.  Described by Chief O’Neill as “the Queen of Irish Airs” (1913), it is one of the most written about airs in the Irish canon. Despite sharing the same title, many published melodies vary significantly from one another. For example, Bunting published “An Coolan or The Lady of Desert” in 1840 and it is significantly different to the version P.W. Joyce published in 1909. Considered “ancient” by Bunting, Grattan Flood (1906) even speculated that the original tune was composed in the 13th century. 

Regardless of its genesis, it is now one of the most popular airs in the Irish tradition and O’Mahony’s version here is indicative of what has become the most commonly-performed setting. 

Tommie Potts can be heard playing a very similar version to O’Mahony’s on Tommie Potts: Traditional Fiddle Music from Dublin (RTÉ, 2012).

An chúilfhionn, air / Séamus O'Mahony, fiddle

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Séamus O'Mahony, President of the ASTI, [1952?]

Written & Researched by:

Liam O'Connor

With thanks to:

Brendan E. O’Mahony, Séamus O’Mahony’s son, for permission to make an outstanding recording from 1952 available to the traditional music community. 

The O'Mahony Family for photographs used in this blog.

Kathy Mirza for her co-operation in 1998 in allowing ITMA copy the 1952 reel-to-reel recording of Séamus O'Mahony in the Fr. Killian Curran Collection.

Seán Keegan, DKIT, who kindly restored the recording to concert pitch and to the speed at which it was originally played.

ITMA Staff.