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

During the 1920s and 1930s, Séamus O’Mahony (1900–1991) was regarded as one of the leading fiddle players in Ireland. Captain Francis O’Neill held Séamus O’Mahony in such high esteem that he included the young fiddle player in Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913) despite Séamus being just 13 years of age at the time of print. Yet, in recent decades, O’Mahony’s music has almost been forgotten.

Seamus Omahony Leo Rowsome 1932
Séamus O'Mahony (1900–1991) and Leo Rowsome (1903–1970), Phoenix Park, Dublin, 1932.

On the first track, Séamus or Jimmy as he was known locally, can be heard playing the well-known set-dance The Ace and Deuce of Piping. P.W. Joyce published the melody in Ancient Irish Music (1873) in which he explained the title:

The words ‘Ace and Deuce’ (or one and two) mean here the highest pitch of excellence; and as the name indicates, the tune was considered the perfection of music when well played on the bag-pipes, and its correct performance was believed to be a sufficient test of the instrumental skill of a piper.

Joyce notated the melody in 1853 from the whistling of his neighbour John Dolan, Glenosheen, Co. Limerick; a village only 24 km from Mitchelstown, Co. Cork where O’Mahony was raised. The version O’Mahony plays on this recording, 101 years after Joyce notated Dolan’s version, is remarkably similar.

O’Mahony can be heard playing an expressive version of Táimse i m’Chodladh is ná Dúistear Mé, the well-known 18thcentury ‘Aisling’ (a dream or vision) song, on the second track. His continuous vibrato and dramatic tone are distinguishing features of his approach to air playing.

On the third track, a spirited treatment is given to a march most commonly associated with the song Kelly the Boy from Killane written by P.J. McCall to commemorate John Kelly’s involvement in the United Irishmen’s Rebellion in 1798.

3127 Ph Seamus Omahony
Séamus O'Mahony, seated front row 4th from left, holding fiddle

ITMA was delighted that Aoife Nic Cormaic presented tracks of Séamus O’Mahony on The Rolling Wave on the 6 October 2019. Listen to the RTÉ Radio 1 programme here.

We look forward to sharing more tracks with you in the coming months.

The ace and deuce of piping, set-dance / Séamus O'Mahony, fiddle

Táimse i m'chodladh is na dúistear mé / Séamus O'Mahony, fiddle

Kelly the boy from Killane, march/ Séamus O'Mahony, fiddle and Brendan O'Mahony, piano

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.