The World of Paddy Murphy

The Fiach Roe Céilí Band

By the late 1930s, the effects of the draconian Dance Hall Act (1935) were being felt throughout rural Ireland. In many communities, the act was used to outlaw unlicensed dancing in country houses and at crossroad gatherings. People found in defiance of the law frequently saw their names and court cases cited in local newspapers. Others endured the shame of hearing their names read from the altar during Sunday mass by priests anxious to impose the laws of church and state. In Clare, many small towns and villages had acquired licensed dance halls by the outbreak of World War II. In places where parochial funds were not so well endowed, national schools were used to hold dances. These were alcohol-free gatherings supervised by the priest who kept 'respectable' hours and saw to it that dancers returned home in a 'proper' moral state. While the simplistic view is to condemn most of the Catholic clergy of the time as cassocked tyrants, every now and again, oral history turns up evidence to the contrary. Being sensitive to the musical taste of his flock was often a key source of goodwill for the parish priest. Patronizing a local céílí band was even a more astute strategy. Unlike many of his peers, Fr. Roche, the parish priest of Connolly, knew better than to alienate himself from his parishioners. Instead, his generosity helped to launch the Fiach Roe Céilí Band in 1940.

Anxious to acquire instruments before wartime shortages set in, Paddy Murphy and his friends borrowed money from Fr. Roche and headed to Crowley's music shop in Cork in October 1940. Armed with fiddles, flutes, concertinas and a kit of drums, they set up a céílí band, which was to last until 1958. While never intending 'to travel out' as a band, the Fiach Roe Céilí Band began playing at local parish functions to reimburse their priest for his generosity. In the course of the next eighteen years, as céílí bands enjoyed renewed popularity at fleadhanna and céílí gatherings, the Fiach Roe played throughout Clare and made frequent trips to Oireachtas na Gaeilge (Irish language arts festival) in Dublin to participate in céílí band competitions.

While they grafted new tunes onto local repertoires, their style of music reflected the older clachán world of the nineteenth-century music maker, in which extended kin and neighbours safeguarded indigenous tunes, settings, rhythms, and other dialectical features. Its members were drawn from within a five-mile radius of Connolly. The original line up included fiddlers Hughdie Doohan, Fred Markham, John Joe Cullinan and Tom Power, flute players Mickey Hanrahan and Jimmy Kennedy, piano accordion player John James Markham, concertina players Paddy and Martin Murphy and drummer Mickey Dillon. As emigration and other factors changed the composition of the band, other players came and went in the 1940s and 1950s, among them fiddlers Tom Eustace, Joe Ryan and Michael McMahon, drummer Jack Keane, pianist Paddy Clune and flute player Peadar O'Loughlin. Galway accordion player Joe Cooley sat in with the band on occasion, as did Dublin fiddler Tommy Potts who played piano with the Fiach Roe at the All Ireland Fleadh in Ennis in May 1956.

The People:

Paddy Murphy

Peadar O'Loughlin

Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin

Tom Eustace

The Place:

Maps of Clare

Map of the Parish

The Music:

The World of Paddy Murphy

The Irish Concertina

Music News of the Time



Other Sites of Interest:

Celtic Crossings

Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin

The World of Paddy Murphy

An essay by:

Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, MBA, Ph.D.
Smurfit Stone Professor of Irish Studies & Professor of Music
Center for International Studies, University of Missouri-St. Louis

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