The Caoimhín Mac Aoidh Pádraig O'Keeffe Project

In September 2015 fiddle player and author Caoimhín Mac Aoidh donated a collection of copies of Pádraig O'Keeffe manuscripts to ITMA. In the following blog Caoimhín outlines the origins of this collection as ITMA 

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Caoimhín Mac Aoidh, May 2021

During the summer of 1981 as part of my duties at University College Cork I was undertaking scientific research fieldwork in the area around Castleisland, County Kerry in the heart of what has long been known as Sliabh Luachra. On hearing I played fiddle the local postman pointed to a house across the river in the townland of Cordal and suggested I call there for some tunes. It was the farmhouse of Paddy ‘Páitín’ Connell, a pupil and close friend of Pádraig O’Keeffe. I was well aware of the reputation of Pádraig and heard many stories about him.

Later, I called to the house, was welcomed in and shown the kindness and generous hospitality that seemed to lay behind each door in that part of the country. Páitín was pleased to hear that I knew a good bit about Pádraig. We talked and played for many hours and towards the end of that visit he pulled down a large biscuit tin from atop the dresser. Inside was a large bunch of original manuscripts of tunes written for Páitín by Pádraig. I was astonished by the quantity of material as well as the large time span over which the tunes were written. After a number of visits to Paitín I began to think of the importance of duplicating Páitín’s collection given that so much material of similar importance often had been lost over decades.

I eventually asked Páitín would he mind if I borrowed the manuscripts for a short period while I created copies of them and promised the prompt, secure return of the each item of his collection. Páitín, keen to honour the memory of Pádraig and in hopes of his music becoming more widely available, consented to the loan. 

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Example of Pádraig O'Keeffe tablature notation from the Páitín O’Connell manuscript.

When returning to Cork at the end of the research season, I took the originals with me and began a process of faithfully copying every aspect of the material. I created templates for the tablature and its translation into staff notation. 

The detail of each aspect of the tablature was copied using draftsmans’ stencils and drafting pens for the purposes of ensuring clean, legible long-lasting copies.
Caoimhín Mac Aoidh
Mac Aoidh Faircopy Oconnell 034
Caoimhín Mac Aoidh’s fair copy transcription of Fitzgerald's hornpipe, originally written down by Pádraig O’Keeffe in September 1945 for his student Páitín Connell.

Each piece of tune tablature was then written out in staff notation, again recording every aspect of what Pádraig had written. As batches of tunes were completed they were either hand delivered back to Páitín during return visits or delivered by registered post. At the end of the work a large collection of extremely valuable material had been preserved. 

Staff Notation Oconnell Ms
Example of Caoimhín Mac Aoidh’s staff notation transcription from the O’Connell manuscript.

Over time and during return research visits to the area I was referred to and met other pupils of Pádraig. As with Páitín, each were keen to see Pádraig’s work preserved for a wider pubic and made their manuscripts available for copying. 

As the amount of the material grew, it was clear that the best course of our aspirations to see the manuscripts become available to the Irish traditional music community and particularly the emerging players in Sliabh Luachra, was to have the combined collections published as one large collection.
Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

Such was the scale of the material and the copying work that a few years had passed. I had written a text introduction to accompany the overall collection and began to write a section outlining the occurrences of the tunes where they appeared in other works or recordings. This took considerable research time. In the meantime, I began approaching publishing companies with a track record of interest in traditional Irish music. Each acknowledged the considerable musical and cultural importance of the material but the idea of publishing text, tablature and staff notation made the work hugely uneconomic from their perspectives. In the absence of now familiar computer-based software, publishing of musical transcriptions at that time was very expensive in terms of setting out tunes. Likewise, the concept of how to print tablature was not even recognised by any of the interested parties. Each potential publisher rejected the project. I was devastated, not to mention Pádraig’s pupils and admirers who supplied the manuscripts. 

Typescript of unpublished introductory text to the Pádraig O’Keeffe Collection by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

I re-approached the publishers about simply printing the transcriptions. Again, the cost of typesetting such intricate settings complete with ornamentation and bowing, made the project uneconomic in their estimation. I approached a number of granting bodies as well as large businesses associated with County Kerry for match funding to defray publication costs, but this was to no avail. I re-approached the publishers again with the idea of printing the full material in a series of volumes based on rhythms. I suggested an economic and  successful publication of the polkas as Volume One could raise enough profit to under-write a second volume of slides, double jigs and slip jigs and so on until the full collection was published in four volumes. Again, there were no takers on economic grounds.

I would routinely approach publishers over the intervening years but without success. I have to state that it has been the greatest regret and weight on my activities in traditional music that I was the holder of a treasure trove of cultural material which was not widely available to the musical community to whom it mattered most as well as the general public. I did try to make the material available to persons who I knew would care about it and recognise its genius. To that aim, I supplied such gifted players as Máire O’Keefe, Matt Cranitch and others with transcriptions as required and in their, and others, gifted hands some of the tunes have happily breathed new life.

My frustration with not having the material available to the playing and learning public has weighed long and heavy. I have always been mindful of the enthusiasm of Pádraig’s pupils for the transcriptions to be available to others and to have Pádraig’s music played and passed on as he intended it.

In 2018 I was beginning to understand the digital world and its potential for the transmission of materials of considerable value and scale to be presented to the public in an open, accessible manner to quality standards. If anyone understood the value and importance of what existed in this material it was The Irish Traditional Music Archive / Taisce Cheol Dúchais Éireann. 

Andrea Palandri
Pádraig O’Keeffe tune learning resource on ITMA website with fiddle player Andrea Palandri

To my mind, there was no other body which could deal with the material and collate it into a format which would meet, if not exceed, all the expectations of those who so generously offered the manuscripts. I approached the archive and explained my purpose in donating the material. The offer was enthusiastically accepted and with the assistance of special funding from The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon the extraordinary work of Pádraig O’Keeffe is now available to all who wish to explore this beautiful and important regional music tradition. I’m certain that those who so lovingly preserved his manuscripts would find pleasure in the work of The Irish Traditional Music Archive / Taisce Cheol Dúchais Éireann. 

Munster Bank Pdf
Contemporary transcription of the ‘Munster bank’ from the Mac Aoidh-O’Connor MS D

I will always be deeply grateful to his pupils who supplied his manuscripts and particularly to the late Jerry McCarthy, an astonishing fiddler in his own right, who was unwavering in his support for the work. To the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon, for its funding of the archive and the realisation of this project, great thanks are extended.  Lastly, the Board and staff of The Irish Traditional Music Archive / Taisce Cheol Dúchais Éireann have once again distinguished themselves with their professionalism in dealing with and preserving this material of great cultural importance.

It is most fitting that this vast material is being launched on World Fiddle Day, 2021, as it is a collection of global fiddle importance.
Caoimhín Mac Aoidh, May 2021

I gcuimhne Phádraig Ó Caoimh, fidléir, teagascoir, seanchaí.

Caoimhín Mac Aoidh, Béal Átha Seanaigh, Co. Thír Chonaill, 8u lá d’ mí Bealtaine, 2021.