Johnny O'Leary talks about the music of Sliabh Luachra and the genius of fiddle player and teacher Pádraig O'Keeffe, who defines the local style.
Sliabh Luachra 'The Mountain of the Rushes’ is situated in east Kerry north of Killarney. The villages of the region have a musical ring to their names; Scartaglin, Ballydesmond, Gneeveguilla and Knocknagree.
Sliabh Luachra music has a style and a rhythm all of its own, characterised by slides and polkas. It is lively and rarely strays from the rhythm of the dances for which it has always been played. This music has been handed down from generation to generation.
Twice weekly, every week, people gather in Dan Connell’s pub in Knocknagree to dance the local sets and play their own Sliabh Luachra music. Accordion player Johnny O'Leary is the resident musician for these sessions. For many years he played with fiddler Denis Murphy from Gneeveguilla, until Denis died in 1974.
When he was 6 and a half years old Johnny O'Leary's uncle Dan bought a ten key accordion.
He weren't able to play a note himself, he just took a chance to learn himself.
Johnny O'Leary taught himself how to play his uncle's accordion. He then attended lessons with the master fiddle player and travelling teacher Pádraig O’Keeffe in Glountane, Scartaglin.
Pádraig O’Keeffe had hundreds of pupils in the area. He would write the tunes down using his own notation, without the use of an instrument. It did not matter if the tune was for a fiddle, whistle or accordion.
The songs Johnny O’Leary learned from Pádraig O’Keeffe are a constant feature of his repertoire. Johnny O’Leary’s daughter Ellen plays the tin whistle. Many of her tunes she learned from her father, and has learned many others from Pádraig O’Keeffe’s notation.
‘Hand Me Down’ is a six part series of documentaries looking at how traditional music is handed on from generation to generation. Each programme features a traditional artist and looks at how he or she inherited Irish music from their family. The first episode in the series and was broadcast on 21 April 1981.
This episode of ‘Hand Me Down’ was broadcast on 4 May 1981. The reporter is Doireann Ní Bhriain.