2. Matt Joe O’ Neill
Matt Joe O’Neill (1929-2018), was the only child of Eugene & Ellie (nee Casey) O’Neill of Deelis, outside Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry. They were farmers working on the land originally bought by Matt Joe’s great grandfather, Eugene O’Neill of Bahaghs, Cahersiveen from the local landlord Mrs Raymond. This farm in Deelis was one of three farms purchased by Eugene O’Neill, which he gave to his three sons, one of which was Matthew O’Neill, Matt Joe’s grandfather. Matt Joe told me his great grandfather Eugene earned his money when he took the dangerous job of collecting the bodies of those who died in the area during the Great Famine (1845-1850). He travelled on horse and cart with a local nurse from Portmagee and he received 30 shillings for every cartload of bodies he delivered to the local Srugreana Church and Graveyard for burial.
I got to know Matt Joe after I bought a cottage close to his home in Deelis. He was a wonderful seanchaí, with a rich repertoire of stories, most of which originally came from a seanchaí from Caherdaniel, Co. Kerry, called Batt Shea (Bartholmew O’Shea,1874-1966). Matt Joe never met Batt but he collected his stories from the recordings of Eamon Kelly and a number of other storytellers over the years. Matt Joe had poor eyesight from an early age and he was virtually blind when I met him. He lived alone (he never married) in a small cottage on his farm and always had a warm welcome for me on my visits to Kerry. During those visits he shared a lot of local history with me, giving me directions to specific fields in the locality with Ogham-inscribed standing stones; how to get to the old church and cemetery at Srugreana where a lot of the famine dead are buried; which local crossroads held Sunday afternoon dances when he was a young man and during this time I recorded, both on audio and video, some of his wonderful stories. He was a very knowledgeable yet humble man who had a great sense of humor and I feel honored and very lucky to have spent time with him before he passed away in 2018 at the age of 89.
Matt Joe opened any storytelling session with what he called
The Storyteller’s Invitation:
“Pull-up your súgán chairs my friends, close-out the freezing half-door,
And gather round the peat-lit fire, as we did in days of yore.
I’m glad ye rambled in tonight, for the house is calm and still,
Herself is carding sheep wool while I my pipe did fill.
There wasn’t a word between us, you’d swear a row was on,
But the memories weren’t with us of our children now all gone.
To America, England and Australia, those lands across the foam,
Will we ever hear the laugh and chat again in our little Irish home?
Ye wake the summer reverie and perhaps it’s just as well,
In case those memories would have saddened us and a tear or two might be shed.
Look into the blazing fire there, do you see what I can see?
Dark heroes, fairy castles, warriors fighting to be free.
There are leprechauns and fairy forts, Oisín and Fionn MacCumhaill,
I see them all quite plainly now from my little fireside stool.
Come back into the past with me and we’ll speak of olden days,
When life was much more simple and we all had purer ways.
Ah! there were no discos or lounge bars, no TV or radio
It was all home entertainment in Ireland long ago”
Rising The Room
The Day Of The Races At Cahersiveen
The Man Who Didn't Know Himself