by Ronan O'Driscoll

His books of Irish music are famous worldwide, yet the amazing story of Francis O'Neill (1848-1936) is not as well known. This novel follows his life after he left County Cork at the age of 16 to travel the world. As a sailor, he survived shipwreck and near starvation on a remote tropical island. By 20, he had circumnavigated the globe having many adventures, including surviving shipwreck on a remote tropical island. He settled in Chicago with his new wife Anna. They joined many immigrants looking for work just as the city was visited by catastrophe: The Great Fire of 1871.

He struggled in those early years working as a packer in the cruel conditions of the Chiacgo stockyards. Tragedy visited the young O'Neill family: of their ten children, only four survived to adulthood. In 1873, he received a break when hired as an officer on the burgeoning police force. He was only a month on the job when shot by a criminal he still managed to arrest. He carried the bullet lodged next to his spine for the rest of his life. He went on to serve twice as police chief, all the time gathering tunes and musicians, some of whom he hired to the force.

In 1903, he published his first book: O'Neill's Music of Ireland. He was to follow this several more collections of Irish music. However, this musical and professional success was tarnished by terrible personal loss. In 1904, his only son Rogers died at 18 from spinal meningitis. Grief-stricken, Francis swore he would never play music in the house again. He retired from the force and buried Rogers in the family mausoleum a year later. Generations of Irish musicians, to this day, acknowledge their debt and gratitude to the man who saved Irish music.

Product Type:  Book

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