Michael Coleman (1891‑1945): four previously unheard tracks to be shared by ITMA

Michael Coleman was born on the 31 January, 130 years ago. It is with immense good fortune that ITMA can share news that we are currently in the process of preparing four previously unheard tracks of Michael Coleman for public access.

Michael Coleman Itma Soundcloud
Michael Coleman (1891-1945)

Michael Coleman (1891-1945) and James Henry O’Beirne (1911-1980), affectionately known as Lad O’Beirne, are widely regarded as two of the most iconic and finest exponents of Irish traditional fiddle playing. 

Both men left their native homes in county Sligo to emigrate to New York. On one hand, Coleman had a prolific recording career and left behind him an indelible legacy of commercial recordings which many people would claim constitutes the most influential body of work of any Irish traditional musician made during the 20thcentury. On the other hand, recordings of Lad O'Beirne have been more difficult to access, as he did not undertake to record commercially as a soloist. However, those who are fortunate enough to have heard Lad’s fiddle playing on private domestic recordings, recognise that he was an outstanding musician who reached an exceptional standard. 

ITMA can now share the exciting news that we are currently in the process of preparing four previously unheard tracks of Michael Coleman for public access. The two acetate discs were kindly lent to ITMA by Joe Burke who has carefully preserved and safeguarded the fragile discs since 1965. We are extremely grateful to Joe and Anne-Conroy Burke who have entrusted ITMA with undertaking this work to ensure the discs are digitised in accordance with international best practice. The four tracks feature Michael Coleman playing unaccompanied solo fiddle on two tracks, a track with Andy McGann (fiddle), James Lad O’Beirne (piano) and yet another with accordion player Tim Fitzpatrick. 

The recordings were made in Lad O’Beirne’s home in Woodside, Queens, New York, in 1942. We are extremely grateful to Lad’s son, James “Jim” O’Beirne, for giving the digitisation and preservation of these acetate discs his blessing, as they were recorded by his father. “Jim” is also a great-nephew of Michael Coleman. 

He recalls the night that Joe Burke visited his father Lad in the company of Andy McGann. Towards the end of the night, Lad made a very generous gift of two acetate discs of Coleman to the accordionist who had been astonished at the quality of Lad’s fiddle playing. Luckily for all who value Irish traditional music, Joe has carefully safeguarded the discs ever since and now they are digitally preserved for future generations to enjoy.

ITMA overcame a number of logistical barriers posed by Covid-19 along the way including transferring the discs from Joe Burke's home to Merrion Square. We also managed to secure the services of an international expert in cleaning and digitising acetates to undertake the digitisation & preservation of 215 acetate discs held in ITMA. Fortunately he expedited the work on the two ‘Coleman’ discs.

Michael Coleman (1891-1945) and James Henry O’Beirne (1911-1980), affectionately known as Lad O’Beirne, are widely regarded as two of the most iconic and finest exponents of Irish traditional fiddle playing. 

Both men left their native homes in county Sligo to emigrate to New York. On one hand, Coleman had a prolific recording career and left behind him an indelible legacy of commercial recordings which many people would claim constitutes the most influential body of work of any Irish traditional musician made during the 20thcentury. On the other hand recordings of Lad O'Beirne have been more difficult to access as he did not undertake to record commercially as a soloist. However, those who are fortunate enough to have heard Lad’s fiddle playing on private domestic recordings, recognise that he was an outstanding musician who reached an exceptional standard. 

ITMA can now share the exciting news that we are currently in the process of preparing four previously unheard tracks of Michael Coleman for public access. The two acetate discs were kindly lent to ITMA by Joe Burke who has carefully preserved and safeguarded the fragile discs since 1965. We are extremely grateful to Joe and Anne-Conroy Burke who have entrusted ITMA with undertaking this work to ensure the discs are digitised in accordance with international best practice. The four tracks feature Michael Coleman playing unaccompanied solo fiddle on two tracks, a track with Andy McGann (fiddle), James Lad O’Beirne (piano) and yet another with accordion player Tim Fitzpatrick. 

The recordings were made in Lad O’Beirne’s home in Woodside, Queens, New York, in 1942. We are extremely grateful to Lad’s son, James “Jim” O’Beirne, for giving the digitisation and preservation of these acetate discs his blessing, as they were recorded by his father. “Jim” is also a great-nephew of Michael Coleman. 

He recalls the night that Joe Burke visited Lad in the company of Andy McGann. Towards the end of the night, Lad made a very generous gift of two acetate discs of Coleman to the accordionist who had been astonished at the quality of Lad’s fiddle playing. Luckily for all who value Irish traditional music, Joe has carefully safeguarded the discs ever since and now they are digitally preserved for future generations to enjoy.

ITMA overcame a number of logistical barriers posed by Covid-19 along the way including getting the discs from Joe Burke. We also managed to secure the services of an international expert in cleaning and digitising acetates to under the preservation of 215 acetate discs held in ITMA. He who expediated the work on the two ‘Coleman’ discs.

This project was further enhanced when Mick O’Connor donated several acetates which were also made in Lad O’Beirne’s home in New York which are also non-commercial in nature. They feature Lad O’Beirne, Martin Wynne and Louis Quinn and contain several voice messages sent to friends and relations in Sligo. We are delighted to report that these discs have also been preserved and digitised.

We are delighted to be hosting Charlie Lennon’s composition in honour Lad O’Beirne this month too as part of Saothar.

ITMA plan to make these recordings accessible to the public in a more detailed blog and playlist in February. A Rolling Wave programme featuring highlights from these recordings will be presented on RTÉ Radio 1 on 14 February at 21:00 which will be presented by Aoife Nic Chormaic and during which ITMA Director, Liam O’Connor will give more details about the recordings.

 

NOTE: Alan and I have photos from the day we collected the discs form Joe Burke and also close-ups of the discs themselves. If ITMA have a photo of Coleman that we have permission to use that would be great? I suppose the discs are the most exciting thing for users in any case.