Michael Coleman (1891‑1945): four previously unheard tracks to be made publicly available 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. 

James 'Lad' O'Beirne and Vincent Harrison

James 'Lad' O'Beirne and Vincent Harrison

The recordings were made in Lad O’Beirne’s home in 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 of Kilnadeema, Loughrea, Co. Galway 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.

Liam O'Connor collecting the Coleman Acetates at the home of Joe Burke, & Anne Conroy-Burke

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 220 acetate discs held in ITMA. Fortunately he expedited the work on the two ‘Coleman’ discs.

Alan Woods, ITMA, preparing acetate discs for preservation

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.

Fortuitously Saothar, our new monthly series featuring new compositions for the tradition, launches with Charlie Lennon's reel 'A tribute to Lad O'Beirne'.

ITMA plan to make the Coleman and Lad O'Beirne recordings accessible to the public in a more detailed blog and playlist in February. A Rolling Wave programme featuring highlights from the discs will be presented by Aoife Nic Cormaic on RTÉ Radio 1 on 14 February 2021 at 9 pm (Irish time) during which ITMA Director, Liam O’Connor will give more details about the project and the discs. 

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