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Aeroplanes out of Scrapheaps: Patrick Kelly from Cree by Brendan Taaffe

Music: Influences

Patrick learned his early music from his father Tim, who had, in turn, been a student of George Whelan. As described earlier, Patrick sat in the corner, on a stack of turf, while his father was teaching tunes to local students, absorbing the music. He had lessons with his father, starting around the age of 10, and retained a lot of his father’s repertoire.

Such as that ‘Apples in Winter’, or ‘Gillan’s Apples’ I should say, or the ‘Ace and Deuce’, things that I do remember. And the Job of course, but he played another tune then that I never heard, or knew anything about, ‘The Downfall of Paris’, which was this old one up in Glenbeg that heard it played on the radio years after he’d been buried, they told me that me father played it. ‘Tis in the book.[21]

Tim Kelly is rumoured to have taught a specific bowing to each tune, but my only evidence for this is second-hand accounts of conversations with Patrick. Of his father’s teaching, Patrick did remark that he was, “very particular about the bow hand.”[22] George Whelan remains a somewhat mysterious figure in the account: we know that he was from North Kerry, near Ballyduff, may have been blind, and may have had a brother who was a piper. Whelan taught in Cree, Cooraclare, Doonbeg and Kilmihil in the 1880’s, and would have taught Denny Mescall as well as Tim Kelly. Clearly he was a remarkable player, for his memory remained important to Patrick, born some 25 years after Whelan visited the area. Patrick spoke of Whelan and Mescall (ca. 1850-1934), whom he remembered as a great friend and good player.

Yes, I would say that [the music of West Clare] has origins in Kerry because my father got a heap of music from George Whelan, the blind fiddler that came in from Kerry, maybe 80 years ago or thereabouts. And he left a lot of music here in West Clare, but he didn’t go north, never went into Miltown, which surprises me. But he would have stayed a very long time here because a good part of the music in West Clare that I heard was played and taught by George Whelan. I saw and heard and played with a blind man by the name of Schooner Breen, that’s buried thirty or thirty five years, probably, and he wasn’t a great player, but he had a lot of music that he got from George Whelan. Played on the fiddle. Then I heard from my great friend Denny Mescall that every tune he got was from George Whelan, every tune he was able to play was from George Whelan and I don’t believe that he ever altered a note.[23]

Denny Mescall taught in the locality, but Patrick doesn’t mention being a student of Mescall’s.

You knew Denny fairly well, I suppose.

He was the best of them lads I knew because the rest of them were dead when I was getting strong, and Denny was alive. And I knew the Schooner, the Schooner he got small pox, but that he remembered to see the birds. Remembered to see the birds, he was three years of age.

Denny Mescall, did he teach many himself?

Oh, he taught. Didn’t he walk back from where he lives to the Protestant church in Kilkee to teach Magrue’s wife music, two bob a tune. And you can put that down anyway to about 14 miles a day. That’s a long run. Well, he done that.

The one thing Denny didn’t do, or that he did do, he always insisted on leaning on the bow. He was a small bit deaf, and the majority of the fiddlers he left were all a bit on the rough side.[24]

Outside of his father and Denny, Patrick would have had contact with a small number of highly skilled players. Tom Kelly recalls Willie Clancy being a regular caller to the house, and Mrs. Crotty being a great friend. Patrick himself spoke highly of a number of musicians, including Tomeen O’Dea, Daniel McNamara, Johnny Doran, and Garrett Barry. Patrick held a special regard for Thady Casey, a good friend; “I thought that he was very good, and that tradition went dead in West Clare when Thady died.”[25]


Aeroplanes out of Scrapheaps