Quinn Family Photographs, London, 1950s


The family photographs of those involved in Irish traditional music are often a valuable informal record of the music as seen from the inside, and preserve images and memories of events, activities and organisations that would otherwise be forgotten. This is the case with a selection of images recently donated to the Irish Traditional Music Archive by Síle Quinn-Davidson of London and Ballinasloe, Co Galway, in memory of her father James Quinn, and reproduced here.

James Quinn (1915–1960), born in Briarfield, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, was an uilleann piper and piccolo player who was prominent in Irish music circles in London in the 1940s and 1950s. Left-handed, he played a set of pipes made for him by Leo Rowsome of Dublin, and made his own reeds. Having gone to work in Kilburn, London, as a young man, he took part in many house sessions there with other traditional musicians from the 1940s, and also played in Irish dance halls such as The Hibernian on Fulham Broadway and The Banba in Kilburn. With his wife Susan (née Doherty) from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, a singer with a large repertory of Irish songs learned from her grandmother, he kept an open house for musicians, playing music particularly with uilleann piper Tommy Coley from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, fiddle player Tom Sullivan from Cork, London-born uilleann piper Pat Goulding, and fiddle player Julia Clifford from Kerry. Following a routine operation James Quinn died in his mid-forties. A huge funeral procession accompanied his coffin to the Mail Train at Euston Station, led by warpiper Larry O’Dowd, and he was buried in Abbeyknockmoy, Co Galway.

His daughter Síle, a stepdancer, was one of the first pupils of the Ted Kavanagh School of Dancing in Cricklewood, and was a prizewinner at Bethnal Green Feis. Music continues in the present generation of the Quinn family: in Briarfield, accordion player Gary (www.gquinn.ie), singer Norrie, and banjo and mandolin player Kieran, and in Dublin, singer and guitarist Michael Quinn.

With thanks for images and information to Síle Quinn-Davidson, Galway, and Jimmy Shields, London

NC, 1 February 2010



Since this web page was first put up, we have received a scan of another photograph of James Quinn by donation from Reg Hall, the well known London musician and music historian who has been closely involved with Irish traditional music activity in London since the 1950s. Reg only saw James Quinn once, in the Ceilidh Club in Cecil Sharp House one Sunday afternoon in the mid-1950s. He clearly remembers him singing and playing the pipes at the same time; the song was She Moved through the Fair.

Reg’s photo, now the last one in the sequence, was taken in The Bedford Arms pub, Arlington Road, Camden Town, London, c. 1956. He received it from the late Tony Martin, but it is by an unknown photographer. It shows, left to right, Tommy Maguire almost hidden (accordion), Michael Gorman (fiddle), Paddy Breen (flageolet), Margaret Barry (banjo), James (aka Seamus, Jim) Quinn (uilleann pipes), & Tony Martin (fiddle). The man in front may have been named Liddy.

With thanks for photograph and information to Reg Hall.

NC, March 2010

Quinn Family Photographs, London, 1950s