Fiddle & Accordion Manuscripts of Pádraig O’Keeffe, 1940s–1960s

The famous Sliabh Luachra fiddle player and travelling fiddle-master Pádraig O’Keeffe (1887–1963) from Glountane, near Castleisland, Co Kerry, at first followed in his father’s footsteps as the principal teacher in the local national school, but in 1920 abandoned conventional school-teaching for a more bohemian lifestyle.

He had inherited music from his O’Callaghan mother’s side of the family, and over the next four decades he taught hundreds of pupils, fiddle especially but also accordion and other instruments, moving in a wide circuit within striking distance of his home. An eccentric and notably witty character with a gift for musical variation, he left an indelible stamp on the music and folklore of the region, and is an example of how an individual musician may almost create a local music style.

In his teacher-training, O’Keeffe would have learned the rudiments of staff notation and tonic solfa, but for his own teaching purposes he devised more intuitive tablature systems. For the fiddle he employed the four spaces of the music staff to correspond with the strings of the instrument, and with numerals indicating which fingers were to be pressed down. For the accordion he used numerals for the keys to be pressed and in- and out-symbols to indicate the direction of the bellows. Hundreds of the notations he left with pupils have been preserved in private hands, and two volumes of facsimiles have been published (Dan Herlihy, Sliabh Luachra Music Masters vols 1 & 2, Herlihy, Killarney, 2003 & 2007). But his music has not yet been comprehensively collected.

The O’Keeffe fiddle and accordion manuscripts presented here below as scans have been 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 a former fiddle pupil of O’Keeffe’s. Their brother Dan was an accordion pupil of O’Keeffe’s.

The fiddle manuscripts are in Pádraig O’Keeffe’s own hand, while the accordion manuscripts were copied for her brothers from O’Keeffe’s originals by Paud Collins’s sister Tess Drudy (who did not herself read the tablature).

Interactive music scores of the fiddle manuscripts are available here Book 1, Book 2, Misc. Pages and scores of the accordion manuscript are available here.

The four sets of ITMA-Collins O'Keeffe facsimile manuscripts and the interactive music scores derived from them constitute the largest body of O'Keeffe's music that is publicly available to date.

With thanks to Paud Collins, and to his son Denis Collins who was instrumental in the making of the donation.

NC & MG, 1 October 2013

GT, 2 April 2020: Provenance information updated by Paud and Denis Collins.