Music Trail

Chris Droney

Bellharbour, County Clare.
Concertina

Born in 1924 at Bellharbour, overlooking the Atlantic, Chris says that taking on the heritage of concertina playing was, for him, almost as natural as inheriting the family farm. From an early age, Chris would listen to his father James playing the concertina and he encouraged his young son to take up the instrument teaching him many of the tunes he still plays today. As Chris got older, he began to play music with neighbours including John and Micko Linnane who played fiddles and piccolos and together they formed a small band, providing music for dances in nearby town of Kinvara.

With the founding of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann and Fleadh Cheoil the hEireann in the 1950’s Chris Droney’s music began to reach a wider audience and soon he joined Comhaltas tours of Britain, the USA and Canada. Chris has a style unique among concertina players which was developed primarily with dancers in mind and over the years he has played with the Kilfenora and Four Court Ceili Bands. Chris has recorded several solo albums and has the unique distinction of having won 9 Senior All Ireland concertina titles.
Boys Of The Town, Jim Droney's Jigs - Chris Droney
Chris Droney
Chris Droney

Ellen Galvin

Moyasta, Co. Clare
Fiddle

Ellen ‘Nell’ Galvin was born in Ahea, Knockalough, Co. Clare in 1887. Her parents were Pat McCarthy, a weaver and Mary Walsh. Listening to the older musicians in her area as she grew up, especially uileann pipers, she developed a complex and highly developed style of playing, similar to piping, which was evident in her use of droning strings, dissonance and intricate ornamentation. Because of this, she was considered an important living link with pre-famine music.

When Nell married she moved to Moyasta, between the town of Kilrush and Kilkee on the west Clare coast. Known to many simply as ‘Mrs Galvin’, Nell played with accomplished concertina player Mrs Crotty in Kilrush and would also have been a comtemporary of John Kelly, Willie Clancy and Junior Crehan. She was a founder member of Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann in Clare in 1954.

In the mid-1950’s she was recorded by national broadcaster Radio Éireann, and these are held at the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin. The famous Castle Ceili band, which at the time included Paddy ‘Offaly’ O’Brien, Mick O’Connor, Joe Ryan, Chalie Lennon and Michael Tubridy recorded a fling called ‘Mrs Galvins’, a tune they credited to her. Nell Galvin died in 1958.
Old Hag You Have Killed Me - Jig - Nell Galvin
Ellen Galvin
Ellen Galvin

Willie Clancy

Miltown Malbay Co.Clare
Uilleann Pipes, Flute, Whistle, Song

Willie Clancy was born near the coastal town of Miltown Malbay, County Clare in 1918, into a musical family. His father Gilbert played flute and concertina, and his mother, Ellen Killeen, played concertina and sang. Gilbert Clancy had known Garret Barry (d.1900), the blind piper from Inagh, and had passed on Garret’s music to his son. Willie started to play the whistle at the age of five, later taking up the flute. However, he was twenty before getting his first set of uileann pipes from Felix Doran and later acquired a set of 1830’s Kilrush-made Maloney pipes. In 1942 Willie got a Coyne ‘c’ set of pipes and  a Coyne ‘B’ set in London in the 1950’s. As he learned the pipes, Willie was drawn to the playing of the travelling piper Johnny Doran, who spent long periods in Clare during the 1930’s and 1940’s. He took tuition from Leo Rowsome and was also influenced by Seamus Ennis, Brother Gildas, John Potts and Andy Conroy. Willie’s talent on the pipes was first recognised when he won the Oireachtas prize in 1947.

Willie Clancy was a carpenter and joiner by trade and in the early 1950’s went to work in Dublin, later moving to London. He returned to Miltown Malbay after the death of his father in 1957 where he lived for the rest of his life. Willie Clancy was known as a man of great generosity, wit and humour, and was always willing to share his musical knowledge with others. He had many visitors over the years to his home in Miltown, including fellow pipers Seamus Ennis and Liam O’Flynn and was was involved in the setting up of Na Piobairi Uilleann in the late 1960’s. Willie Clancy died in 1973. Shortly afterwards The Willie Clancy Summer School was set up. Now, for one week every July, it draws musicians and music lovers from all over the world to the west Clare coast. With over one thousand attending classes in different instruments for the week, and thousands more enjoying sessions and concerts, it is a fitting tribute to Willie Clancy.
Willie Clancys - Willie Clancy
Willie Clancy
Willie Clancy

Micho Russell

Doolin. Co. Clare
Whistle, Flute, Song.

Michael ‘Micho’ Russell was born in 1915 at Doonagore, Doolin, Co. Clare, overlooking the Aran Islands. The area around Doolin had a rich musical heritage with the Irish language still in everyday use. There was music at home too, with Micho’s mother Annie playing the concertina. House dances were common throughout the countryside when Micho was growing up and at the age of eleven he started to play music himself when he took up the tin whistle learning many of his tunes from Patrick Flanagan, a local concertina player. Micho left school at 14 to work on the family farm and along with his brothers Pakie and Gussie, started playing at local gatherings.

After the decline of the house dances, Micho and his brothers found a base for themselves in O'Connor's of Doolin, as well as playing in McGann's and McDermott's. Then, renouned broadcaster and accordian player Tony MacMahon invited Micho to Dublin to play at the famous Slattery's Listening Club where he made an immediate impact and this was followed by appearances on national radio and television.

With the folk music revival of the 1960's his popularity rose in the US, UK and continental Europe, especially Holland and Germany. He made numerous visits to continental Europe and 5 visits to the U.S. over the years. Many who heard Micho’s performances on those tours then travelled to Doolin which was to become a mecca for traditional music fans from around the world through the 1970’s. All wanted to see Micho perform in his own unique style, fashioned on the concertina playing he heard in his youth and to hear him share with them his great gift of storytelling.

Micho won the All-Ireland title for tin whistle in 1973 and made numerous solo recordings. He made several tours to the U.S.A in the early 1990's where some of his last recordings were made. He died in a car crash in 1994 just a few weeks shy of his 79th birthday. Micho was a true legend in his own lifetime, was much loved and is still sorely missed in his native Doolin.
Fermoy Lasses Drowsey Maggie - REELS - Micho Russell
Micho Russell
Micho Russell

Junior Crehan

Ballymakea Beg, Mullagh, Co. Clare
Fiddle, Concertina, Singer, Storyteller.

Martin 'Junior' Crehan was born in 1908 in the townland of Ballymakea Beg, Mullagh, Co. Clare into a house of flute players, concertina players and dancers.

Junior learnt the concertina from his own mother and later learned the fiddle from John ‘Scully’ Casey, the father of Bobby Casey. Junior played with Scully Casey at house dances,crossroad’s dances, American wakes and weddings.1954 to 1962, he played in the Laoichtin Naofa Ceili band with Willie Clancy, Martin Talty and other musicians in the Miltown area. His main recording, outside of several compilations, is the "Ceoil an Chlair" LP which also features fiddlers Patrick Kelly, John Kelly, Bobby Casey and Joe Ryan.

Junior was a noted composer, with many of his tunes now firmly in the general traditional music repertoire including ‘Caislean an Óir’, ‘Farewell to Miltow’", ‘The Mist Covered Mountain’ and ‘Junior Crehan's Favourite’ (also known as the Knotted Cord) which was recorded by Planxty.

He was also a writer of songs including one dedicated to Scully Casey and another to Willie Clancy. Junior was also a master storyteller and an accomplished set dancer. He was involved in the founding of the Willie Clancy Summer School in 1973 and served as it's President up until his death in 1998, having taught there for 25 years.

Junior featured in several national television and radio programmes and was the subject of a radio documentary in 1984. He was named Clareman of the year in 1989. The Crehan house was always open to musicians and students a tradition proudly carried on by his own family today.
The Luthradan - JIG - Junior Crehan
Martin ‘Junior’ Crehan
Martin ‘Junior’ Crehan

Elizabeth Crotty

Kilrush Co.Clare
Concertina

Elizabeth Crotty was born Elizabeth Markham in Gower, Cooraclare on the 6th December 1885. Her family were  small farmers and she grew up in a house filled with traditional music. Her mother was an excellent fiddle player, having learned from a travelling blind fiddler called Schooner Breen who had settled in Kilmacduane in the Parish of Cooraclare. However as a child Elizabeth did not play the fiddle but instead followed her older sister Maggie by playing the Anglow concertina. She perfected her own style while playing at local house dances with her mother  and sister.

In 1914 Elizabeth married her neighbour Miko Crotty who owned a public house in the Square in Kilrush and moved into the town. Over the years she achieved a local reputation for her playing but it was not until the 1940s and 1950s that her fame began to spread beyond West Clare as the Crotty public house attracted the cream of musicians from around the country.

After the founding of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann in 1951, Elizabeth became active in the Clare branch and was elected its first President, a position she held until her death . Mrs. Crotty (as she was always referred to outside of her own area) began to make appearances at the newly instituted Fleadhanna Cheoil, although she never took part in competitions or adjudication.

While she never made commercial recordings we are fortunate that her music and songs were recorded by Ciarán Mac Mathúna for the Radio Éireann programme ‘A Job of Journeywork’. These broadcasts earned her nation-wide recognition as a virtuoso on her Lachenel concertina.

Elizabeth Crotty died at the height of her fame at the age of  75 on 27th December 1960. In a tribute in The Irish Times journalist John Healy wrote “Today a seat is empty and the throne is vacant. It will not be filled for many a year nor will it ever be filled with quite the dignity that Mrs. Crotty of Kilrush brought to it.”
The Copperplate - Reel - Elizabeth Crotty
Elizabeth Crotty
Elizabeth Crotty

Bobby Casey

Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare
Fiddle

Bobby Casey was born at the Crosses of Annagh near Miltown Malbay, Co Clare in 1926. His father John 'Scully' Casey, who died when Bobby was 15, was a well-known fiddler as well as being a flute and concertina player.
Scully gave lessons to Junior Crehan, as did Scully's cousin, the noted dance master Thady Casey. Bobby in turn learned much of his playing from Junior Crehan and the two remained lifelong friends. Bobby was also influenced by the playing of Michael Coleman, Michael Gorman and Frank O'Higgins.
Along with Willie Clancy he went to Dublin about 1950 where he met, among others, John Kelly and the Potts family. 


He moved to London in 1952 and was a regular at the Sunday morning sessions in the Favourite and Bedford Arms pubs which became rallying points for Irish musicians and rural emigrants in the Sixties.

"A musician's musician," is how the late Muiris O Rochain of the Willie Clancy Summer School described him. Bobby had an easygoing and likeable personality and his style was described as gentle, "with an exceptional flair for variation".

With Seamus Ennis, he performed at the first Willie Clancy Summer School in 1973 and returned frequently to Miltown Malbay to give classes, noted for their informal style. In later years he moved from London to live in Northampton. Bobby Casey Died on May 13, 2000, and is buried in his native county Clare.
The Drunken Gauger - Set Dance - Bobby Casey
Bobby Casey
Bobby Casey

Michael Falsey

Quilty, Co. Clare
Tin Whistle, Uilleann Pipes, Flute, Singer

Michael Falsey was born in Quilty, County Clare in 1929. Michael’s father John played the flute and Michael himself started to play music at 9 years. He got his first lesson from the travelling piper Johnny Doran and later would play with the fiddler Bobby Casey.

Michael’s Pipes were originally made by Leo Rowsome, though Crowley’s in Cork and Willie Clancy also made parts. He played with the Laichtin Naofa Ceili Band and also the Kilfenora Ceili band with whom he played flute as well as pipes. Among the musicians he played with locally were Paddy Galvin, J.C. Talty, Brid Donoghue and J.P. Downes.

Michael has the distinction of having won senior All-Ireland titles in tin whistle, uilleann pipes and flute.
Querrin Bay Drowning - Michael Falsey
 Michael Falsey
Michael Falsey

Vincent O’Brien

Doonbeg, Co. Clare
Lilter/Spoons

Vincent O’Brien was born and reared in the village of Doonbeg in an area known as ‘The Lane’. While both of his parents were musical, his mother was a wonderful lilter who also played the concertina.

Vincent himself would grow up to be a fine lilter, accompanying himself on the spoons. When Vincent was in full flight, he would break into a roguish smile he blessed himself with the spoons half way through a reel or a jig. That smile was an indication that he had his audience in the palm of his hand. He knew then that he was on the crest of a wave that would bring a better harvest than carraigin or sliuchan. Pints would flow, songs would be sung and more tunes lilted.

Vincent was the last of the characters in the village and his popularity was reflected in the large number of people who came to bid him farewell when he was laid to rest. His friends Murt Collins, Michael Falsey and Peadar Crotty paid a musical tribute to him at his graveside.
When True Lovers Meet - Vincent O'Brien
Vincent O’Brien
Vincent O’Brien

John Kelly

Kilballyowen, Co Clare
Fiddle


Born in 1912 in Rehy, Cross, Kilballyowen in west Clare on the edge of the Atlantic, he was one of eight children of Michael and Eliza Kelly. His interest in Irish music stemmed from an early age as both his mother and uncle Tom were concertina players. Some of his earliest memories were of weddings and house dances in the Cross area which was Irish-speaking up until the mid1930s.


AS a youngster, John got lessons in the concertina from Mary Holohan in Kilballyowen and another important influence around this time was Nell Galvin, the fiddle player from near Kilkee. A close friend of the great Clare piper Garret Barry, she gave John five tunes that she herself had heard from Barry, including his version of The Ace and Deuce of Piping. But the person from whom he got most of his tunes was a neighbour, Patsy Geary.

In September 1932, John he met the travelling piper Johnny Doran at Kilkee races and they struck up a friendship which lasted until the piper's death in 1950. John Kelly moved from west Clare to Dublin in 1945 when he married Frances Hilliard from County Wicklow and settled down in Capel Street. Doran was a regular visitor to his music instrument shop there, The Horse Shoe.

In November 1946, John arranged for the well-known folk collector, Kevin Danaher, then with the Irish Folklore Commission, to tape the playing of Johnny Doran. About 20 tunes were recorded and it was planned to record more. But in January 1947 Johnny Doran suffered a broken back when a wall fell on his caravan in Dublin's High Street. He died in hospital in 1950.

Following the decline of the country house dances due to the Dance Hall Act of 1935, Irish music reached a low ebb in the Ireland of the Forties, particularly so in Dublin. But John Kelly's Capel Street premises was to become an important stopping off point for visiting musicians such as Willie Clancy, Bobby Casey and Joe Ryan from Clare and Niall O'Boyle from Donegal. John joined the Pipers Club then in Thomas Street and met up with other musicians like Leo Rowsome, Tommy Reck, Tom Mulligan, Sean Seery, Sonny Brogan and Tommy Potts. Another favourite gathering place was the home of Tommy Reck in Hyde Street where younger musicians would pick up tune settings and playing techniques. In this meliu was born Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, na fleadhanna and the gradual revival in Irish traditional and folk music.


In 1959 O Riada was getting a group together to provide background music for a Bryan McMahon play The Song of the Anvil, which was being staged at the Abbey. John Kelly was persuaded to join the group and having done their nightly stage duties the musicians would stay around to exchange tunes and ideas. This led later in the same year to the forming of the seminal group in Irish music, Ceoltoiri Cualann, made up of Sean O Riada, Paddy Moloney, uileann pipes and whistle, Michael Tubridy, flute, Martin Fay, John Kelly, fiddles, Sonny Brogan, Eamon de Buitlear, accordions, and Ronnie McShane, bodhran and bones. McShane was to be replaced by Peadar Mercier and O Riada recruited singer Sean O Se.


O Riada had already made a huge impact on the public imagination with his musical score for the film Mise Eire, released in 1960. Through his connections they got a regular slot on Radio Eireann, Reacaireacht an Riadaigh. This combined with a number of public concerts by the group caught the mood of the Irish people and Ceoltoiri's arrangements and innovations sparked a renewal of interest in Irish music which coincided with the folk revival in America and Britain. By the time Ceoltoiri Cualann had developed into the Chieftains, several members had drifted into other fields. 


After the break-up of Ceoltoiri Cualann John Kelly joined Eamon de Buitlear in Ceoltoiri Laigheann which included Mary Bergin. Like the Chieftains, Ceoltoiri Laigheann was to carry forward O Riada's innovations. He also played in the Castle Ceili Band with Sean Keane, Bridie Lafferty and Michael Tubridy.
 At Willie Clancy's funeral he played a lament on the fiddle and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Summer School in Miltown Malbay as well as teaching there. After his death, Eamon McGivney wrote in Dal gCais: "Together with his lifelong friends, Bobby Casey and Joe Ryan, he conducted a class that was of immense value to people who were interested in the west Clare style of fiddle playing."


John Kelly died at the age of 77 in March, 1989. His two sons are highly regarded fiddle players, John in Dublin and James in the United States.
The Salamanca - Reel - John Kelly
John Kelly (1912-89)
John Kelly (1912-89)