The World of Paddy Murphy

Pioneer of Modern Concertina Playing

The survival and popularity of the concertina in rural Clare, long after it had fallen off the grid in other parts of Ireland and England, may well be explained by the fact that the area lay beyond the reach of modern technology for so long. Despite its proximity to Ireland's first electricity plant at Ardnacrusha on the Shannon - which was operating since 1929 - many parts of rural Clare were still without electricity in the 1950s. Given that he spent most of his life living in this isolated rural milieu, it is remarkable that Paddy Murphy managed to develop one of the most sophisticated concertina styles of his time. His only contemporaries were Pakie Russell who developed his own personal style of concertina music twenty miles to the north in the coastal village of Doolin, and Gerdie Commane from Kilnamona who learned much from Murphy's ingenuity.

There is no denying that Murphy was familiar with the Columbia and Victor phonograph records made by William J. Mullaly in Camden, New Jersey in 1926-27. While Mullaly's recordings did not enjoy the same mass appeal as those of his Sligo peers, in contrast to Coleman, Morrison and Killoran who found many imitators, Mullaly found very few disciples who were able to unravel his technical wizardry. What was significant about Paddy Murphy's quiet revolution was his uncanny ability to demystify Mullaly's music and adapt it to develop his own unique style - without access to teacher or classroom, manuscript or book. Surrounded by a sea of average players, most of them using one row of keys on German concertinas, Murphy managed to step out from the crowd and row against the musical tide of the time. Armed with a Wheatstone concertina bought in Cork for £10 in 1940, he perfected the three-row ornamental style of concertina music that has now become a benchmark for the Irish concertina.

An astute listener who perpetually sought out new tunes and tasteful settings, Paddy experimented with alternative scales, melodic runs, cuts, rolls and double stops - many derived from fiddle, flute and uilleann pipe music. His complex phrasing moved effortlessly through a range of dance music metres, lacing them with a treasury of ornaments from single note cadences to subtle double-octave variations. Gentle and understated, his rhythm gave as much meaning to the illusive domain of the backbeat, as it did to the dominant beat of each measure. Cradling the instrument at an angle on his left knee, his expression stoic and trance-like, Paddy seldom forced the pace of his music, nor broke a sweat while playing. After a lifetime of familiarity, his concertina seemed more like a natural extension of his body than a cumbersome machine that had to be pulled and dragged to make music.

By the 1970s, Murphy was being sought out by younger players all over Ireland. These included Gerard Haugh from Lissycasey, the Dinkins from Monaghan, Mícheál MacAogáin from Dublin, Ciarán Burns from Armagh, Miriam Collins from Kilmihil, as well as John McMahon and Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin from Ennis. His most exemplary student was undoubtedly Noel Hill from Caherea, who has since taken the Irish concertina to a new level of technical exuberance, and whose teaching has influenced concertina enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic. When concertina students assemble today at Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy or Éigse Mrs. Crotty in Ireland, or at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, or Friday Harbor Irish Music School in the US, they are invariably learning stylistic features pioneered by Paddy Murphy and passed on by teachers like Noel Hill, Yvonne Griffin, Tim Collins, Pádraig Rynne, Fr. Charlie Coen, Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, Edel Fox and Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh.

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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