Unpublished Letters of Capt. Francis O'Neill
I am delighted to present previously unpublished correspondence between Capt. Francis O’Neill of Chicago and his friend Patrick O’Leary of Co. Cavan & Adelaide, Australia. The correspondence, kindly donated to me by Judith O’Loughlin, great granddaughter of O’Leary, consists of 5 letters from O’Neill between the years 1906-1914. Judith saw the music manuscript which O’Leary sent to O’Neill in 1922 in the Manuscript section of my Archive and reached out to me to say she had the letters in her possession for over 50 years, which were handed down through her family from her great grandfather. She very kindly scanned each letter and sent them to me to upload on my website as a compliment to her great grandfather’s manuscript. I have no doubt that these letters will be of great interest to O’Neill scholars while clearly demonstrating the strong relationship between both men.
My thanks to Judith for her donation of the letters and family photos and bestowing on me the honor of publicizing O’Neill’s letters for the first time. Thanks also goes to my two “comrades in arms”, Michael Kelly, now living in Barna, Co. Galway, for his detailed family history of Patrick O’Leary and to Nick Whitmer of Ithaca, NY for his help in deciphering and transcribing the wonderfully intricate handwriting of Capt. Francis O’Neill.
1. Part letter 1906 (not dated)
Click to Read Transcription
minutes since I dug out your characteristic letter of July 1st inst. from a mass of correspondence and clippings.
Your letter was written as I was about to sail from New York to visit my native land after an absence of 41 years. We returned by Sept. 1st and of course I opened my mail and delayed replying to the most important temporarily. Deaths, Building and other matters occupied much of my time. Yet I had a constantly recurring reminder that I was unpardonably remiss.
I scarcely know how to begin. What you deplore most - the absence of a loved son having the true spirit and feeling of a real Irish Musician – is also my great grief and privation. But how immensely more happy your condition than mine. Yours will return. Mine is gone to eternity a brilliant young collegian only one year from graduation and only 18 years of age. My poor boy of magnificent […………..]
boy’s room and saw his fiddles and music stand and other things to remind me of my desolation.
I am sure I’m exceedingly obliged to you for your able efforts to increase the circulation of my book. I did not get the copy of a newspaper you mailed me but I sent to Cavan for a few numbers of the issue in which your letter was printed. Your first letter to me was printed in the “Chicago Citizen” Col JF Finerty’s paper*. That letter which does you [illegible] not alone for its sentiments but for its literary excellence has been very favorably commented upon. It was the most keenly appreciative comment on the work which I have seen. I am enclosing herewith a booklet of extracts from unsolicited reviews and comments received after publication. Unfortunately yours came too late to be included. The volume is selling steadily but slowly. The price seems to
unnerve intending purchasers. Some want it harmonized, others want the verses. Yet still others want a cheap paper cover edition and so on. Advertising is prohibitive and would swallow up all receipts as it is not a thing in universal demand. However it is advertising itself. Strangely many music houses will not handle a book not published or owned by themselves. About 250 copies have been sold in Ireland and some others sent there by Americans. I shipped 100 copies more than a month ago but I do not expect to hear from them for a year or two. You know they are extremely Irish in Ireland now and any Irish Music which is not “Ancient” is anathema. Balfe will not be tolerated and one priest Gaynor of some suburb of Cork “sailed into it” in order to get back at Rev Richd Henebry PhD who was loud in its praise. I flattened him out in the “Gaelic America” and he subsided. I pointed out to him the page & book in which he
could see himself refuted in standard works. It aroused some interest in the work and increased the sales.
Now to change the subject. I went to Ireland this summer to find the “old sod” improved in a material way – new and better houses a more liberal standard of living some independence if not disregard of landlords fair prosperity and hopefulness – Still the same Subserviency to the Clergy. I had the misfortune to listen to an unwarranted tirade and denunciation at Mass in East Clare one Sunday – offence- playing cards. Yet no amusement to substitute. No pattern, no dance, no games, never a circus or play. Nothing but go to Mass, stroll home eat dinner and go to sleep or walk about the fields. The same almost everywhere. On Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay, 3 miles long with several townlands, pure native population I met one Sunday a couple of dozen boys and girls instinctively drawn together – no old or middle aged person on the roadside to try and extract some entertainment from a wheezy accordion.
There is not a first class Irish piper in Ireland today and only a few indifferent ones. They suffer by comparison with those living in Chicago or Boston. Two men fair players and making pipes after the old Egan pattern, sweet but below concert. Dublin & Belfast.
I was honored by appointment as one of the judges of instrumental competition at the “Munster Feis”. It was truly pathetic to see how they have degenerated in Music and what a pitiable poverty of repertory. Of course they are trying to learn to play but of whom are they going to learn. There are no teachers. There are none to imitate to advantage and why? You know the many causes which discouraged pipers and fiddlers not the least of which were the priests. Now the utter indifference of the public is the principal cause. Let me explain. On a long conversation with Mr. Wayland – Pres or Sec of the Cork Pipers’ Club- he informed me that more than once
he was obliged to take from his own meager salary to pay the rent of the hall “God save the mark” a ground floor of inconsiderable dimensions. On one occasion he had printed at his own expense a few hundred of handbills appealing to the well-to-do citizens for financial encouragement to maintain the club – not one response did he receive to his mailed circulars and mind he had to foot the bill himself. Highland pipes called in Ireland now Warpipes were also played? Not one of them even knew the scale. No one to teach them? Yes there was. One man a clever friendly bonnie Scot was quite willing to do it gratis but he was the pipe Major of a regiment stationed on Barrack Hill and if Mr, Wayland should bring him into the hall, the members were too patriotic to remain while a hireling of the British Government was under the roof!!!
Classes of young dancers for two days succeeded one another and displayed a skill, alertness, uniformity and rhythm excelling anything I had ever witnessed. Sometimes two sets, 8 hand reels
were on the platform performing the most intricate evolutions. Yet none of them ever hesitated or faltered for a moment. They danced in fours, two and solos, hornpipes and I must say they give hope for the future and reflect credit on their teachers. The Pipers’ Club of Dublin is moribund. Their best man left because of ill treatment. Mr. Rowsome, a native of Wexford and I believe Sassenach stock but he is a gentleman and the best player I heard. However Father Fielding tells me he heard better at the Competition at the Dublin Feis which I could not wait for. They were very Irish and patriotic at the Mansion house reception, everyone speaking or trying to speak Irish. A brass band, three fiddlers and a piper the latter taking his part very creditably in form and motion yet fortunately for the general effect completely obliterated by the fiddlers. I stood in balcony just above him and
could not hear a note. I did not hear a new or strange tune at either Cork or Dublin. I heard a new jig at Bantry on the accordion and one hornpipe and two new reels in East Clare far removed from – I was going to say civilization -Railways – and I’ve got them now. Two farmers, were taught the fiddle by a good blind man, consequently they had no “notes” and I was not successful in memorizing the tunes. A school teacher John Tubridy could write music but he lived twelve miles away. I wrote him and he obligingly made two trips before he found his man and he forwarded me the music.
I am engaged in preparing a new book to be named the “Dance Music of Ireland” 1001 Gems. It is smaller and neater than the other and will be about 160 pages. The selections will be more strictly Irish among them being many not included in the first book. This can be bound in paper which with the absence of gilt will bring it within the reach of all. I will send you a copy when ready.
The old jigs and reels. Can’t very well die out after this although the undertaking is unprofitable financially I regard it as practical patriotism
I have not seen much of your friends of late. Owen is not in Chicago. James O’Neill tells me he is as much of an enthusiast as you are but he appears to be a shy retiring man.
Our “Irish Music Club” exists in name only. The president proved to be tactless and inconsiderate. His domineering ways offended and alienated all who were of any advantage to the club. No harmony among those who left it even, too much professional jealousy as usual a characteristic failing of such people. I visit all but the “President” and enjoy some excellent music frequently although only one of my girls seems to have any musical talent and she is now married.
I am retired from active service as my own choice. I lost all ambition on the death of my son – I own a magnificent library of Irish books the result of many years patient but persistent collecting. It is said to be the best in that line in America. My son took pleasure
in anticipation of owning such a treasure. He now rests in a granite Mausoleum in Mt Olivet Cemetery on the summit of the hill while I must find something to occupy my mind until I join him. My books are dusty I can’t study, although I am only 57.
I have many fine compositions with many variations some of them printed over a century ago. What can I do with them. Everything printed or wanted in Ireland runs from one penny to one shilling and expense Something cheap – and still the public houses are not diminishing in number or receipts. They are still thriving. Petrie’s Music Manuscripts remained stored away in Royal Irish Academy until Alfred Percival Graves induced the Irish Literary Society of London to publish them in advance payments from such as – I – in America. And the last volume was 3 yrs in preparation for lack of funds. Pray excuse this rambling hasty scrawl. It is after midnight and will wish you goodnight as well as a Merry Xmas & Happy New Year.
Retired Gen Sup of Police 5448 Drexel Ave
*See Transcribed letter of O’Leary in the Chicago Citizen 1904
Click to Read 1904 LETTER From O'LEary
Vol. XX111 No. 43 Chicago, Saturday October 22nd 1904
[page 1, column 3]
Under The Southern Cross
The Magnificent Collection of Irish Airs, Edited
and Published by Chief of Police O’Neill,
are played and sung
Enthusiastic Letter to the Chief
from an Irish-Australian
27th August, 1904
Col. F. O’Neill, General Superintendent
Police, Chicago, Illinois:
Dear Sir – Through the kindness of a beloved brother (at present residing in Chicago) I received a copy of your wonderful work, “Music of Ireland”. Well, sir, for thirty years I have been waiting, watching, hoping and praying that God might inspire some Irishman or association of Irishmen to collect and publish just such a work as you have produced – the grand old music of Ireland – the weird, beautiful, wild and mournful, reel music, that entranced me when a child, a youth, and a man, in the street, barn, at a bonfire, or on hilltop; the music, the never-to-be-forgotten strains that often made my blood alternatively flame or freeze; that made me when a child of 7, sitting under the fiddler’s chair, weep with delight and sadness; a condition of mind which is impossible to describe. When I grew up a young lad I had the same difficulties that other Irish lads of my sphere of life had to contend with. I had to teach myself the violin, by ear of course; for there was none to teach me, for music and musicians, dancing and dancers, pipers and fiddlers were banned in our district.
A semi-Puritanic spirit had taken possession of our parish priest, and alas! only too well did he contribute his share in the work of destroying the ancient music of Erin. Music and dancing were denounced from off the altar, and our holy religion was invoked to aid in their destruction. Of course, the highly respectable shoneens looked askance, and the weaklings and Pharisaical followed suit, and considered that only vulgar people and those of no social standing would continue to indulge in music and dancing. And so it was that only the lowly of no social standing that still kept the old spirit alive. I was one of the latter, that did my poor best to keep it living in the barn, at the bonfire, on the roadside, until I, too joined the emigrant train and for thirty-two years I have been deprived (I might say starved) by the want of the old music, except on rare occasions, when I dropped across some poor fellow, like myself, who still clung fondly to his first love, and his kind are few, and the pity of it is the supply is falling off. In the meantime I had learned music, but the stuff supplied as Irish music was execrable, and, in my opinion, better calculated to discredit than advance it. I wrote to a brother and sister – Owen O’Leary and Mrs. W. Kelsey, 638 Duncan Park, Chicago, asking them to search your big city for what I wanted. I may here mention that I had a kind of prophetic instinct that if ever there would be a thorough and comprehensive collection of Irish music published at all, it would be in one of the big American cities, where there are such a number of brilliant, patriotic and enthusiastic Irishmen. Well, my good brother and sister sent me several books, more or less good in their way, but all hopelessly void of what I wanted.
Just before Christmas, 1903, Owen sent me your book and that night I sat down with my fiddle and commenced with the reels, and I can only say that it would be impossible for me to attempt to describe to you the feelings and emotions that sometimes shook me so that I had repeatedly to lay down the fiddle, and I am not ashamed to confess it, cry, with mingled feelings of joy, sorrow and gratitude. Like a child, I wept silently as I played the reels that I learned from the lips of my poor dead mother, God rest her, many of which I had not heard since I was a child. Her beautiful face hovered around me in my mental vision and the old scenes and long past associations whirled before me and once more I was a little boy again in the old home. Brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, crowded my brain, and each old tune roused some fresh memory or incident of my childhood and boyhood. Many of the grand old reels that I heard played when a little boy were floating about in my memory before your book came, half dreamlike, disconnected and fragmentary, with no possible chance of ever hearing them played again so that I could learn them. Many a regretful sigh escaped me when I found it was in vain to try and get them.
Well, dear sir, I thank God that I have lived to see my dreams realized, my prayer answered more fully than my wildest ambition dared to go. You have accomplished a gigantic task, you have supplied a want and filled a goal that I despaired of ever seeing realized. In order to explain to you my feelings as an Irishman who loves the ancient music of Ireland with an intensity beyond expression, it is necessary for me to cast aside the soulless, stilted and conventional mantle of Anglicized reserve that has been imposed on us for ages and speak to you as I feel on the subject. You, a brilliant, talented musical and patriotic Irishman, who love Ireland and its music in every nerve and fiber of your body, can quite understand me in [??] to you the sad and, I might say, unworldly train of thought with which your glorious book inspires me. When I sit down to play, these feelings and emotions are aroused, and I am back again in the old land amid the same forms, faces and scenes, and each time a prayer is fervently breathed that God may preserve you and the kindred spirits associated with you in the work of collecting and publishing this incomparable collection that has brought joy and gladness into the homes of thousands of Irish men and women who, like myself, yearned and prayed for a lifetime for this magnificent work. Many a heartfelt prayer will be evoked all over the world wherever there is a music-loving Irish man or woman who may have the good fortune to secure a copy.
It is apt and appropriate in every sense that your time-honored and illustrious name of O’Neill should grace the title page; also that of your brilliant collaborator, James O’Neill of “Dogs Among the Bushes”. It is a splendid blend of the northern and southern Hy-Niall to once more [x]ing for Ireland in reproducing and publishing its ancient music, previously so painfully neglected. If you have not the privilege of emulating the deeds of your illustrious warrior namesakes and ancestors on the field, as at Yellow Ford; you have done maybe what is better and more lasting. They failed to perpetuate Irish liberty; you have succeeded in restoring and perpetuating the ancient music of your native land, which will go far in inspiring and arousing the Irish people in their struggle for freedom. A nation’s music, like its poetry, molds and develops its character and goes far in deciding its destiny. I lent the book to a great personal friend of mine, the Rev. Brother McGee, principal of the Christian Brothers’ College, Adelaide, S. A. He is delighted with it and invited myself and son (who accompanied me on piano) to play before the students assembled in their hall. We played about twenty or thirty reels for them, and Brother McGee, in moving a vote of thanks to us, made a most eloquent speech on the beauties of Irish music, together with giving an historical outline of its triumphs and vicissitudes, from Giraldus Cambrensis (the lying Welsh-Norman, who never told the truth about anything Irish, its music alone excepted) down to O’Carolan, and its decadence down through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In responding, I also appealed to the boys to study and cultivate the music of their forefathers and avoid the sickly stuff that passes off as modern music. I am pleased to say the Rev. principal McGee has ordered a copy of your book for a beginning. All those to whom I have shown it agree that it is the only work worthy of the name they have yet seen. Wishing and praying that every blessing may attend you and your family, with many long and happy years to still further benefit your race, I remain, dear sir, your grateful friend.
*Source: Microfilm from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield Illinois, donated by Nick Whitmer
2. Sept. 14th 1908
Click to Read Transcription
Chicago Sept. 14th 08
Dear Friend O’Leary
At the request of M. Kelsey it becomes my painful duty to inform you of the death of your brother Owen on the 9th inst. He had been ailing from an annoying cough and occasional asthma for years. Some months ago I learned of his being an inmate of the Alexian Brothers hospital where I visited him occasionally. About a week prior to his death he seemed brightening up but I understand he failed rapidly in the last few days. With Sergt. James O’Neill I attended the wake and funeral, the Sergt Being one of his pallbearers. Your sister the nun with two clergymen accompanied the remains to the grave where Father Hodnett delivered an impressive eulogium. Few deaths affected me so deeply as that of Owen O’Leary – a gentle and loveable man whose sincerity and ideal manhood endeared him
to all who knew him – God rest his soul.
On such a serious occasion I intrude into another subject with misgivings although my departed friend evinced much interest in its success. Just out of the Binder’s hands have come “O’Neill’s Irish Music” – 250 Selections for the piano, violin etc. – there being a demand for harmonized music – I am mailing you a copy in a few days. This collection contains some new airs and some old ones – two of them probably Scotch – explained in foot note – The last reel “Braes of Bushby” is probably Scotch but I could not trace it or the name in any Scotch collection – Neither did any of my Scotch friends know of it. It is too good to be forgotten. Found it in “Repository of Scots and Irish Airs” printed in Edinburgh in 1799. I recently came into possession of a remarkable and rare lot of old printed collections ranging from 1742 to 1827. Fourteen volumes. An aged Mus Doc of Dublin-Prof Jas. C. Culwick died and his library was put under the hammer.
Nassan Massey of Cork a book dealer knowing my penchant bid them in. He kindly furnished me the list prior to publishing them in catalogue. Although the prices were exorbitant I ordered all but two- one being Scotch and the other English. Among them were the rare “O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion for the Union Pipes” 1804-10 – two vols. Many of the volumes I had never heard of before.
Gouldings Selections Scotch & Irish 1000 tunes
Metyler’s Collection Irish
McFayden’s Collection Scotch & Irish
Burke Thumotte 12 Scotch & 12 Irish Airs
Burke Thumotte 12 English & 12 Irish Airs
Among them are to be found some splendid Jigs, Airs, Hornpipes unknown or rather forgotten. not so many reels.
The pleasures of possession are not to be despised yet it seems a pity that our race are so prone to pursue false Gods and ignore such treasures of melody as have been left them by their talented ancestors.
A conviction as been reluctantly forced upon me, that a littleness of spirit which chills endeavor and a jealousy often malignant in its intensity has rendered practically abortive the efforts in almost every field which unselfish enthusiasts have entered – is a characteristic of our race. The future I trust will give me the opportunity to publish or rather re-publish the gems of Irish Melody which untoward Time has eclipsed and which chance has placed in my possession. You have my sincere Sympathy in your bereavement and I crave your pardon for my mention of personal matters.
Most Sincerely yours
5448 Drexel Ave.
3. June 14th, 1911
This letter is Francis O’Neill’s reply to the letter he received from Patrick O’Leary in April of 1911, an extract of which O’Neill included in his book Irish Minstrels and Musicians. (p. 380-384)
Click to Read LETTER TO O'NEILL
The discovery of an Irish piper through a correspondent in the Murray River country, some seventy or eighty miles back from Adelaide, was a rare find indeed. So Mr. O’Leary lost no time in communicating with the backwoods minstrel, Mr. Critchley by name. Nothing loth, the latter promptly accepted the invitation to come to the city, where suitable arrangements were made to have an Irish night at the “Catholic Club” on his arrival.
To attempt to edit Mr. O’Leary’s account of subsequent events, and the tumultuous emotions which thronged his breast, would be little short of sacrilege, so we will let the patriotic exile tell the story himself:
“I will now try and explain to you my thoughts, feelings, and emotions on hearing and seeing the Union pipes played after a lapse of forty-one years - from 1869 to 1910. As the time for the piper’s arrival drew near I sauntered to the railway depot to meet him, and as I trudged along, Keegan’s beautiful lines,
One winter’s day, long, long ago
When I was a little fellow,
A piper Wandered to our door
Grey-headed, blind and yellow,
occurred to my memory, and I mentally recited the verses until I arrived at the depot where I discovered “Caoch” awaiting me. I brought him home in triumph, and he drew forth the long wished for Union pipes, and also a set of Brian Boru warpipes which he had ordered from Melbourne some time before. But the gay and gaudy warpipes had no charm for me as compared with the ancient, much-worn and loved Union pipes. A mist came over my eyes, an uncontrollable rush of feelings and emotions almost shook my very soul. Delight, sorrow, sad memories of the long ago, the old home, the old scenes, the old barn, poor old Phil Goodman the piper, the innocent gay and light-hearted lads and lasses that were assembled on the last night, forty-one years ago, flashed across my mental vision. I could not speak; I tried to pull myself together while I examined the well-loved instrument that had so often filled my boyish heart and soul with delight while vainly trying to quell the torrent that was choking me.
Piper Critchley tuned up and commenced to play while I sat with bowed head listening to the well-remembered, soft and pleading strains. I seized my fiddle, tuned up with the chanter, and fixing that glorious book, O’Neill's Music of Ireland, before me, I bade farewell to Australia.
My spirit took wing and I passed
Over islands and continents;
The wide ocean's main--
Soon sighted Cape Clear
On my soul’s aeroplane;
Soon viewed the loved haunts,
With my heart throbs and tears,
And caressed the loved ones
Through the vista of years;
Saw the shadowy forms,
Through dim dawn of day,
Of the dear ones I loved,
Long since turn’d to clay.
We passed over beauteous Munster to the “Banks of the Ilen,’ and “Tralibane Bridge,” where we paid a heartful homage to the spot that gave you birth.
Soon I renewed my acquaintance with the loves of my youth, the peerless “Miss Monaghan,” “Bonnie Kate,” “Miss Thornton,” “The Dark-haired Lass,” and “The Merry Sisters,” all fresh, fair, beautiful, and enchanting as when I first heard them. “The Bucks of Oranmore,” “Buckley’s Fancy,” and “The Bush in Bloom,” then engaged our fancy until we had “A Cup of Tea” with “Drowsy Maggie’, and “The Dublin Lasses” while awaiting “Corney’s Coming.” We next visited “Peter Street” and the beautiful “Bank of Ireland,” and afterwards dwelt long and lovingly on “The Dublin Reel.” On the way to “Mooncoin,” we picked up the ever green and always beautiful “Ivy Leaf,” after which we enjoyed ourselves “Rolling on the Ryegrass.” The piper then invited me to help him “Toss the Feathers.” This we did with a vim and then indulged in a long interview with “The Scholar” fresh from “Salamanca,” also “Lord Gordon,” with his friends, “Col. Fraser” and “Col. McBain,” accompanied by the beautiful “Miss Wallace” and the “Fermoy Lasses.” To this delightful company we bade a reluctant farewell, toasting their healths in “A Flowing Bowl,” and mounting the “New Mailcoach,” we arrived in time for “The Fox Chase.” After a merry run, our attention was attracted to “The Boyne Hunt,” which brought us to the banks of the historic river where we met that beautiful but contentious nymph, who, when interviewed, emphatically declared that she was intensely Irish of the Irish - but she added, “like all good things in Ireland, I was seized by the invader and compelled to serve a vile purpose.” I felt the truth of her statement and assured her that the date was already visible to the clearsighted when her dishonorable occupation would be gone, and she would be restored to the honored position that her beauty and charm entitled her to.
During the colloquy I kept my eye on the piper just to see how he’d stand it. He wisely suggested that we had better try and “Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel,” and this labor of love we accomplished with a fervor that left nothing to be desired.
Breathless after this pleasing incident, we engaged in the “Five Mile Chase,” and soon arrived at the historic “Rock of Muff,” otherwise “The Star of Munster.” This wild, beautiful, and thrilling melody was a great favorite in Cavan, and was named after the high plateau-topped rock near Kingscourt, on which an annual Feis is held. We next indulged in a “Trip to the Cottage,” and started “Round the World for Sport,” incidentally calling on “My Love in America.” We lingered longingly in the famous Jackson’s everblooming “Flowery Garden” at Creeve, County Monaghan, and being but a few miles from Cootehill, courtesy suggested that we pay our respects to the distracted “Nell Flaherty” on the loss of her beautiful “Drake.”
From mirth to sadness is but a step. I realized when my eye caught a glimpse of the Lament for “Capt. O’Kane or the Wounded Hussar.” The hero of a hundred fights, from Landon to Oudenarde, who, when old and war-worn, tottered back from the Low Countries to his birthplace to die, and found himself not only a stranger, but an outlawed, disinherited, homeless wanderer in the ancient territory that his fathers ruled as Lords of Limavady. His friend and sympathizer, the illustrious Turlogh O’Carolan, has immortalized his name in strains the most plaintive and touching.
On the old racecourse of Cootehill and within a stone throw of the home of my father, I again met “Jack o'Lattan,” the product of the musical genius of the renowned “Piper” Jackson. In all directions could be seen “The Swallows Tail,” as well as the verdant corn and unmown hay waving gently with “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” and crowding thickly round the dance circle were the dimly remembered forms and faces of the dancers of fifty years ago, long since passed into the unknown beyond. Full of sadness, my eyes fell on the “Shan Van Vocht” but a thrill of joy hashed through my brain as I recalled the prophetic utterance of O’Connell, for I know that a race now tread these plains,
With hot blood in their veins,
Who will burst her galling chains--
A hand was laid softly on my shoulder: I looked up. It was my good wife, who reminded me that tea had been ready for some time. This recalled me from the past to the present and I found myself back in Australia. A glance at my watch showed that the piper and I had played without intermission from one to six-thirty o’clock that afternoon, so we laid away the fiddle and the pipes and “The Music of Ireland,” with mingled emotions of joy, sadness, and regret.
Oh God! How I sighed for one month with the O'Neills, Cronin, McFadden, Dillon, Delaney, Early, Enright, Kennedy, Ennis, Kerwin, etc., of the “Irish Music Club’, of Chicago, but alas, fate has decreed that, situated as I am on the opposite side of the globe, the joys of such companionship can never be mine.
Mr. Critchley inherited the pipes from his father, who was an accomplished player. He emigrated from his native Wicklow to Australia in 1849, and played around the diggings at Forest Creek, Ballarat, and Bendigo, in the early fifties, and the pipes certainly looked as if they had many and varied experiences. From long-continued fingering the chanter was deeply indented at the vents. The pipes were old ere their advent in Australia over sixty years ago. As they lay on the table, worn, faded, dingy, and dented, with one drone missing, a second reedless and mute, and a third twisted and bent by the fierce heat and varying temperature of sixty subtropical summers, they reminded me of a once beautiful and world-famous prima donna shorn of her beauty, and glories forgotten, and impoverished, and all but dead.
Oh no; surely there are still devoted lovers left who will worship at the shrine of this beautiful and matchless interpreter of our incomparable Irish music. Surely, oh! Surely, that magnificent organization of Ireland’s choicest sons and daughters - The Gaelic League - will rescue and restore this famous stricken prima donna, who, neglected, forsaken, and alone, has sought shelter in obscure places to die. Surely they will raise up and place her in the proud position that she should occupy-the Prima Donna of Ireland’s Music.
There was a sadness almost tragic in those old and service-worn pipes. Where, Oh! Where, are the glad-hearted boys and girls who tripped gracefully and joyously to their strains, seventy, eighty, perchance a hundred, years ago? God only knows. The unconquerable Michael Dwyer may have danced to their music on the day of his bridal,
When Mary came in her beauty,
The loveliest maid of Imael.
The sweetest bower that blossomed
In all the wild haunts of the vale.
Well, the piper slept soundly that night, and in the morning early I called him up - not to hear him play “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” but to catch the early morning coach to his distant home on the banks of the lonely and legendless Murray, where the wild scream of the parrot, the raucous yell of the cockatoo, and the mocking shout of the laughing jackass, are the sole incentives to music.
My dear sir, I feel that I am wearying you with this almost interminable epistle, but you can recognize that when a man is full of a subject he rarely possesses that nice sense of discretion which warns him that it is time to leave off. I feel isolated as there are hardly any Irish musicians in Adelaide, and still fewer to whom I can unfold my thoughts and feelings on a subject so absorbing, so overpowering and, alas, so unsatisfied - always yearning for that which I cannot obtain - the fellowship of genuine Irish musicians.
I remain, dear sir, your most sincere and deeply grateful friend,
April 18, 1911
Click to Read Transcription
5448 Drexel Ave
June 14th 11
Mr. Patrick O’Leary,
Dear Friend. A few days after mailing a letter to you I had the pleasure of receiving your great favour of many pages. It was characteristic of course as was to be expected, and in some passages voiced the feelings of a heart filled with love for the strains of the sireland and a longing for the unattainable – the Ireland of our youth when music and song were a part of our lives to be heard and enjoyed at field and fireside.
Notwithstanding all the desultory spasms which the sea-divided Gaels have experienced, and by which they are still occasionally enlivened a retrospect affords us little encouragement. The sudden flame soon expires.
Our well directed efforts under favourable auspices to preserve the Harp ended in abject failure. The so-called war pipes of limited compass was supplanted by the sweet and melodious Union pipes admittedly the most capable and perfect of all bagpipes.
The all but extinction of that delightful instrument whose fascinating voice captivated all who had ears for melody is a subject which I can barely trust myself to mention. The Irish could rebel against injustice and tyranny, and the exasperated victim found relief in manslaughter when a landlord or his agent ignored human rights.
The agencies which suppressed the music and pastimes of a whole people are held inviolate. We must therefore submit silently, but with rebellion in our hearts. In my interview with Father Francis Kelly(?)… plain talk – rare under such circumstances was indulged in. Of course clergyman will never admit even the possibility of mistaken policy. Their dogmatism in the everyday things of life being unconsciously the reflex of their dogmatism in religion. Instances innumerable were advanced to fortify my position and listened to with some impatience. However the novelty of the situation eventually wore off and we landed eventually on common ground. Several priests fresh from ordination in Ireland confessed to me that they had tasted a liberal dose
of blackthorn administered by their respective pastors, for believing too literally that music and dancing were revived. It would be useless to enter into wild details of individual experience of this character yet common in poor persecuted Ireland- Landlords and their agents are not the only class accused of the injudicious and unwarrantable exercise of power in spite of the example of meekness and humility set by our Saviour.
As a glaring instance of inconsistency the following incident will serve:
Among the avalanche of money beggars who try our patience as well as our purses recently was Father O’Doherty from the glens of Donegal. Full of youth and ambition he determined to raise money where everyone is supposed to have an abundance of wealth for the purpose of restoring an old ruin in his native glen. Securing a list of Donegal natives in Chicago he visited them everyone - and left them from 10 to 50 -tickets at $1 each according to their apparent means.
He then set about securing talent – musicians, singers etc to furnish an entertainment- Happening by a coincidence to be present when his reverence called on a friend of mine to get his daughter to play for him, in discussing affairs in Ireland I mentioned that I did not see or hear either fiddler or piper at 5 fairs which I attended during my visit to Ireland in 1906- and but one ballad singer. Father O’Doherty promptly answered “That was one too many.” This brought on a discussion of the general topic of the attitude of the clergy towards the restoration of the music and the dancing. Although claiming to be a musician himself he was uncompromisingly opposed to both. Yet here was a priest glorying in newly - conferred powers of the Holy Orders condemning to gloom and circumscribed monotony all who come within the sphere of his influence- forgetful of the inconsistency of using music and Catholic musicians in Chicago to enable him to practically extort money from the people expatriated probably by intolerance
as much as by poverty from their native country! Oh but you will say that was the exception. I wish I could agree with you. When music and dancing is condemned in one parish it is not likely to flourish in the adjoining one.
There are no good- even tolerable - musicians coming from Ireland anymore and we don’t expect them. They have neither method nor system or repertoire- Everyone is yelling “Jot down the old strains” precious as diamonds before it is too late- But who is playing them and if you heard them as they have degenerated are they of any value unless from an antiquarian point of view. I find much of it in the publication of the “Irish Folk song Society of London.” But what’s the use. Great performers on the Union pipes there were when the patronage of the gentry and nobility stimulated the talented. Emulation had its effect and to be Somebody’s piper was a position of independence and honour.
To be a war piper or a performer on the Brian Boru Pipes may have its appeal to the youthful for the picturesqueness: the rapid execution inseparable from Irish music will be found impracticable on a many keyed instrument. The keyed Highland chanter was abandoned. We as a people start everything enthusiastically but that capricious instability of which the race is accused will I fear justify my pessimism.
As harpers we were preeminent, as pipers we were renowned. Musically in this generation our position is pitiable. Now we propose to go revert to abandoned and incapable instruments. Would you believe it the teacher of the warpipe band in Cork did not know the proper scale for the instrument. When I told him of it, he admitted he was told that before- But what was he to do? The only one from whom he could learn was pipe major McLennon of the Scotch regiment stationed at Cork.
Then why not learn? Horrors! McLennon wore
the English livery and if he was to enter the precincts of the Cork Pipers’ Club every member boiling over with patriotism would instantly leave the hall. The pipe Major was an ardent Gael and quite willing to instruct them gratis but the desecration of his presence could not be tolerated. To go within earshot of his music at the barracks was to invite obloquy and boycott.
In my younger days I was addicted to the Scotch instrument so termed and ‘learned my lesson” from Wm McLean a Rosshire man and champion of Scotland when but 25years of age. My favourite was a reel set- drones in a stock and blown with bellows. It is a dandy instrument yet. (made by Alexander Glen) altho’ silent for nearly 20 years. Frequent bereavement forced me to silence. On the urgent quest of the Officials of the United Scottish Societies of Chicago I have served as chief judge of the piper’s competition for the last 6 years. This is an unique honour for an Irishman.
This circumstance serves to Illustrate Scotch liberality and appreciation, as compared with Irish narrowness of the Cork band. Of the score pipers on the grounds annually seven or eight compete. I dread the ordeal because of the incomparable excellence of the competitors it is a matter of extreme difficulty to select the prize winners. Another instance of the fine qualities of our canny cousins is the submission and patience with which the losers hear the announcements.
Unless movements for the purpose of renewing or establishing musical enterprises are sustained by popular and continuous public interest and approval, to death from inanition is inevitable. This has also been the experience of the Scotch in London. When as a people we permitted such instruments as the harp and Union Pipes to vanish by our provoking indifference, the permanent habilitation of crude and imperfect substitutes is not encouraging. Mind you I’m not opposed to them, but I’m far from indulging in visions of hope realized.
I’m very grateful for your sidelight on “Piper’ Jackson and his ancestry and history. Should I live to enlarge Irish Folk Music in a second edition your information will be given prominence. Possibly you may know what Jackson’s Christian or first name was. “Piper “of course was a nickname.
Your sketch of piper Critchley and your joint performance is quite brilliant for the literary style is inimitable. “Great stuff “as our reporters would say.
The Northumbrian pipes are as obsolete as the Union pipes. According to Duncan Fraser in The H̶i̶g̶h̶l̶a̶n̶d̶ Bagpipe and W L Manson in The Highland Bagpipe, too many keys ruined the Northumbrian pipes. While both the Egan (Irish) and Taylor (American) Union pipe chanters were plentifully supplied with keys, few players use them or at most sparingly. Concerning Mr. Rowsome - his address is William Rowsome, No 18 Armstrong St Harold’s Cross, Dublin, Ireland.
You say you sigh for one month with the O’Neills, Cronin Delaney, Enright Early, McFadden, Ennis et al - You may sigh, so may I as well - few of them are on speaking terms. If the majority
of them hate the Devil as heartily and intensely as they hate one another including yours truly, their salvation is assured. “The Irish Music Club” is non est. James O’Neill became afflicted with megalomania commonly called swelled head, Cronin’s jealousy of O’Neill changed his friendship for me into hatred. Delaney whom I picked up as wandering minstrel and placed in comfortable positions which led to his present wealth of several city houses- got “sore” for some unexplained reason. His chief care being to prevent me from picking up his tunes. Ennis is unspeakable, tyrannical, vituperative, villainous, despised by all. Kennedy out of work when discovered and penniless- Made Motorman on Street Railway lines and later Park policeman is still civil and gentlemanly but has no desire to contribute to anyone’s pleasure but his own and so on. My work possible through the prestige of my position Sec of Police- Captain and Gen Superintendent successively could not have been accomplished under any other circumstances. ‘Twas possible once but never since- How I did it and under what difficulties circumstances you can never
imagine. I have an immense accumulation not yet printed but what’s the use. No one wants it. Nothing appeals to our Irish Americans but the very latest hit. In Ireland they seldom buy but they will travel great distances to borrow gift books.
My Dear and Good Friend I beg to thank you for your remittance. Not the money but the disposition I value. What a pleasure it would be to devote a life to the dissemination of music and literature was there any real spirit among our people. The books you named were mailed as directed June 4th past. Having a few copies of Irish Folk Music in green leather I sent one to John O’Leary. You will remember my late request for information regarding piper Coughlin known to Insp Hehir. Don’t forget this please. Having written myself out of wind with this rambling letter I will conclude by sending my heart felt regards to Mrs O’Leary and yourself and family.
Wishing you all success and good health I remain Yours Most Sincerely.
4. Oct. 17th, 1912
Click to Read Transcription
5448 Drexel Ave
Chicago Oct 17th 12
My Dear Friend O’Leary
Your letters never fail to realize their pleasurable anticipations, yet the tone of sadness always in evidence indicates but too clearly we are one in sentiment and realize in spite of stimulated optimism, that like the most charming of evenings we cannot blind ourselves to the inevitable decline of day.
Spasmodic revivals unsupported by virile national sentiment seem little more than the premonitory symptoms of approaching death.
An energetic Secretary of the Dublin Pipers Club drummed up 17 competitors at the July Oireachtas, the largest number ever assembled but there were only 3 Young players. Nicholas Markey a fine old gentlemanly minstrel is the teacher in Said club. There are some few young fiddlers of promise. Few of those pipers get
more than occasional patronage. The audience went wild about the playing of John O’Reilly of Dunmore Galway a patriarch of 73 with not a grey hair in his head or chin whiskers and James Byrne of Mooncoin Co. Kilkenny. The latter is a travelling piper who up to a year ago or less was a physical wreck from the Irish conception of hospitality. Byrne is the only union piper now in the South of Ireland excepting May McCarthy. Think of it – not a piper in Kerry Clare, Limerick or Tipperary and I don’t know how many more counties.
At the Gaelic Feis in New York a few months ago only two pipers could be induced to appear – Patsy Touhey was engaged filling theatrical dates – he has a sketch.
At the Gaelic Feis in Chicago only two pipers (Union) competed – Mr Conners is dead, Beatty is dying, Delaney retired from the police on pension of £11- per month and went to the Gulf of Mexico to live. Sergt Early is nearly 70 and a little stiff from rheumatism. A young man of fine promise can’t find money enough
to spend, let alone fix his pipes and there you are.
Donal O’Connor Gaelic League Organizer although in every sense an admirable fellow do what he would could not arouse any interest much less enthusiasm among our so called leading Irishmen clubs or societies. An attorney of no particular force or standing finally allowed his name to be used as chairman. Seeing the professional Irishmen were absolutely indifferent in the movement yours truly took a hand with a few others – workers not wind jammers came to his active aid – and succeeded in assembling the largest crowd that ever stood in Gaelic Park. Personally with Offr Wm Walsh we induced Seven Highland pipers – one being a maiden of 15 to take part. Walsh and Kilday altered their Highland to Irish Warpipe to fill the programme. I hunted up fluters hitherto unknown, and there were quite an array of fiddlers – most of whom got “cold feet” when they saw or heard Miss Selena O’Neill. She of course won first prize
and her brother (John 16) of whom we expected little was awarded second prize. They are only distant relatives of mine. Still friendship Keeps the young girl in the Chicago Musical College for the last four years although she has a large number of pupils already.
As the old instrumentalists die there are few or none to take their place. Sentiment is so generally lacking that Irish music and musicians excite little more than passing curiosity. When you realize the utter barrenness in music or musical atmosphere in the old land how can emigrants stem the decay in America. Many new arrivals look at an Irish pipe with curiosity having never seen or heard one at home.
In the world of music the Irish are now nonentities if we may except such composers as Victor Herbert, Sam Lover’s grandson Villiers Stanford (in England). German, Polish, Bohemian, Hungarian, French and Swedish aye even Russian musicians invite and certainly have gained the ear of the public
while the Irish like some blighted race are no longer recognized in that art in which they once led the world. We have been for generations dominated by a class not interested in Nationality or its concomitants their eyes are directed not to he banks of the Liffey or the Shannon but to the Tiber.
They want teach Irish music if you please but how can they when they never learned it themselves? Tastes, particularly tone accent, and music, are largely the result of environment and association. Where can such conditions be found now?
Warpipes are discarded instruments tolerable in their day. Their vogue cannot be lasting. The Irish developed the most delightful of instruments of that character of any nation. If they let them die what justifies the hope of the Warpipes popularity and perpetuation – and I say this as one who is no mean performer on the Highland pipe
himself. We are always impulsive, seldom practical in many respects.
John S Wayland the tireless enthusiast who founded the Cork Pipers’ Club, the first organized, is now probably landed at Perth West Australia. He set Munster afire in 1897, but sooner than end his days in the poorhouse he prudently emigrated.
My Dear Friend your remittance was duly received and the music books were forwarded as directed promptly. I have little doubt that they reached their destination but you can never judge anything by Ireland.
Last November I forwarded two packages of valuable illustrated works to my nephew and niece. ‘Twas May before I received a postcard acknowledging their arrival, and I really believe even that belated action was prompted only because of a request for some money! Again in November 1910, I sent by US Express prepaid a box containing a dozen Patsy Tuohey records and a doz- McFadden fiddle records to Rev D. Henebry University College Cork
Well his Reverence though hysterically fond of music has given no sign of their safe arrival so far. I know from another source that he has them, for Mr Wayland saw them but didn’t hear them for his high mightiness would not find time to open the box and put them on. I ask you in all earnestness what can be hoped for from such people and such a country? However I will write at once to Fathers Maguire & O’Connor. The date of shipment was Jan 17 – 1912.
The Irish Music Club of Chicago died in 1909 – it had struggled for years before that without musicians of any ability and few of its members are now on speaking terms. Years before, bloodshed was narrowly averted by my personal interference at an executive meeting. I could not sacrifice my dignity to the probability of a repetition of these disturbances being Gen Supt of Police and the combatants were my subordinates. So I did not attend after that. The chief musicians who found through my efforts
and continued thro the prestige of authority and gradually dropped out. The tactless outbursts of the President were unendurable. Besides I learned to experience the sting of ingratitude. A music club of Boston was even much shorter lived.
Mr Jageurs kindly sent copy of the Advocate and a long letter. I am grateful for the information concerning Coughlan. Yet some of it I know was unreliable particularly about Flannery. He died in James Quinn’s house and not with the Coughlans for Quinn buried him and was left his pipes and the latter were brought to Chicago. Delaney has them now. My forthcoming volume will be much longer than Irish Folk Music A Fascinating Hobby and ought be interesting. Yet it is doomed to be a failure financially as the Irish seldom buy any books though they sometimes borrow.
When I hear from Cavan I will write again.
With warmest regards to Mrs O’Leary and Yourself
I remain Most Sincerely Yours
5. May 12th, 1914
Click to Read Transcription
Chicago May 12th 14
Dear Friend O’Leary
I waited patiently for news of your having received copy of Irish Minstrels and Musicians but not much more so than the subsequent letter which you mentioned. My interest and enthusiasm have calmed down since then however. Praise galore from press and people has been mine, but our people are too much engrossed in other affairs to be actively interested in such work as I have been engaged in. The patronage has been disappointing, altho’ the Irish press and the leading Irish or Catholic papers gave the work praiseworthy recognition. Even the leading musical journals were unanimous in its praise.
Almost desperate efforts were made by Donal O’Connor, Gaelic League Organizer, when I had aided in this Country, and other leading men to promote its sale; our windy national saviours were too timid to pay out money. There was praise in plenty and keen competition to borrow my presentation copies, but paying for a book could not be thought of. I expended thru Prof. P J Griffith £5/ for ads in
Dublin papers, besides mailing the editors of the principal Irish papers presentation copies (13 ½ pence postage). Your Anglo Celt I never heard from after. Yet the Oban Times the great Highland organ published an extremely appreciative review. Donal O’Connor personally took charge of affairs in his native Kerry, with indifferent success.
Now to the Chicago Citizen - our home paper. In his apparent eagerness for the work Prof Cahill editor asked for and received a set of proofs in order to have the subject matter digested in advance – Nothing came of it. The alleged review was the work of a Miss Lupton whose literary pretentions and connections foists her on some Irish or Catholic paper, her dominion being society notices.
Cahill a professor of Languages and Scientific mechanics pretended to feel angry at the fiasco and threatened to produce something worthy, while when he had mastered the contents, but nothing came of it. I have paid for that paper for many years but no one holds me in leading strings. Neither am I adaptable material for the tail of any man’s kite.
The Chicago Citizen has changed owners, editors
and management several times in the last few years since Col Finerty’s death, and was bankrupt at least twice under his control. Jealousies, conspiracies and I might say malevolence among our Irish organizations lead to those results, and factionalism and some other characteristic Irish failings will ensure their continuance.
A couple of clergymen control its destiny now, and a couple of their nieces constitute their office staff. Prof Cahill who has transferred his talents to Loyola University spends about one hour one day in the week at the Citizen office.
At a chance meeting at Irish Fellowship Lunch the Prof. in subdued tones and furtive glance asked me to call on him at the University, but as I was then about to make a trip to the Gulf of Mexico the call has been unavoidably delayed. Just think of it – a city inhabited by more Irish than Dublin not able to support one Irish paper and you would wonder why I would not entertain the idea of getting up a memorial in my honor. Independent personally and financially
I have followed my inclinations while filling responsible office through all grades, and wound up as member of the Mayor’s Cabinet under two administrations with an untarnished record, altho’ I had to run the gauntlet of Conspiracies fostered by members of my own race and religion during the last 12 years of my official career. I could neither be bribed, bullied nor handled. Whatever honors, or recognition have come my way were in no sense due to Irish influence, and although I enjoy the friendship and respect of Archbishop Quigley, and Bishops McGarick and Muldoon and Dunne I am not the kind of a man the professional Irishman and his satellites look upon with affection. Hence my instinctive and experienced distrust of my unreflecting and short-sighted countrymen.
Years ago I listened to the plausible appeals of a suave book agent named Purtill from Rozelle Balmain Sydney Australia for a consignment of The Music of Ireland. He deluged me with testimonials from officials including the Mayor of his town. – Well he got them freight prepaid
Excuses were my only remittances for a time. Eventually I got about enough to pay the freight charges or so, and then silence ensued. Some two or three years later a whining letter reached me embodying hard luck tales – Now the circulation and preservation of Irish Music being my aim at any cost I sent him more books. He got them all right, for he wrote saying he wondered that I would trust him again – I didn’t, and wasn’t disappointed when I never heard from him since altho’ I have seen his name in the papers once or twice.
I fared something better in my dealings with Mr. Linehan of Little Collins Street, Melbourne – His style of accounting was not illustrated in my mathematical studies. Now all this tale of woe in regard to Australia was brought to mind by Mr. Linehan’s order for ten copies of Irish Minstrels and Musicians and four or five Dance Music Collections. I forwarded them yesterday to his agent in New York. Even if I never hear from him again I am content – I feel I have done something while others have merely
talked or deluded their hearers though my experience has cost me at least £1000/ to say nothing of my labor of years and years.
Now I am a free man my ambition gratified and my plans fulfilled and finis written on my musical literary labors – Thank God.
Your letter explains why I never heard of Wayland – a glorious enthusiast- since sending him a copy of my late work. Wayland did wonders in Ireland and overcame obstacles seemingly unconquerable: Yet I pity his plight.
I will gladly forward to you as many copies as you care to get and will be satisfied with whatever the result may be – nothing if necessary.
With Kindest Regards to your family and Yourself
Capt Francis O’Neill
5448 Drexel Ave