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

Life: Beginnings

Patrick Kelly was born in Cree, Co. Clare in 1905, the only child of Tim Kelly and Maria Killeen (1863-1951). Tim Kelly, born in 1866, played the fiddle and had been a student George Whelan, a traveling fiddler from Kerry who was in the area around 1880. Speaking to Mick O’Connor in 1972, Patrick said this about his father:

My father spent his life playing music, but he died young. I was young when he died. I had a certain amount got from him, such as the Foxhunter’s reel, and a lot of set pieces. But he had a lot of music that I don’t recollect at all. Or probably I did, but I being too young I didn’t learn any music.

Did he play the same style as Denny Mescall?

No, no he did not. Completely different style, I would be thinking. A different style of music. He was a great air player. He had a great opportunity: he had two sisters that were reared in the convent, or were educated in the convent, and they had all of Moore’s melodies and one of them was a noted singer. She was a noted singer and that’s how my father was such a great air player, because he was brought up with them two girls, more or less, which is a great advantage to know something about the song, for to play airs.

As well as fiddling and doing the work of a small farm, Tim Kelly was an active teacher and an ardent nationalist. Pupils would come to the house to learn music, giving Patrick an early opportunity to absorb the tunes. In conversation with Séamus Mac Mathúna, Patrick remembered his father’s lessons:
Would he have a type of people that come: was it young people who came?

‘Twould surprise you the advanced people that came, and people that I had no account of.

Had he a special time?

No, no – time didn’t matter in them days. Time didn’t matter.

Would he take them one at a time?

He’d take them single. Well, if they were good enough, which you often would have them. I could sit down in the corner on two stacks of turf, of course there was turf in every corner that time, and I could be sitting down over there, listening to him teaching the music, and I could play that when they were finished.

You started on the fiddle at what age?

Around ten.

The Foxhunter’s now, would he tune up the fiddle for that?

Oh, he would.

Would he give you lessons as well, or would you just pick it up?

Oh, he gave me lessons, he did. 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.

He taught two bands then, of course. He taught a band in the period, maybe around ’92 or ’94, and then another in 1917. He was a great nationalist, which very few of the Kellys were.

Tim Kelly died at 53 of unknown causes, 2 April, 1919. Patrick was 14 years old, and he and his mother relied on the help of neighbors to carry out the work of the farm, a system of mutual reliance that lasted for decades. Patrick’s son Jim spoke of how the community would come together to make the harvest last:

They’d all join, you see, to do the work. They shared the work. When the pig would be killed, people made what is known as puddings. The black pudding that you’d get here. The intestines were washed and cleaned out, and washed and re-washed, and then they’d be filled up with the blood. When it would be taken from the pig, they’d be kept stirring it and then you put in the oatmeal and onions and spices and fill the puddings. And they were boiled then, and hung up on a rack, or the handle of a brush across some chairs. And then some of the puddings would go to the neighbors all around, and a few slices of the pig, steak. And when the other person killed the pig then, you see, we got it back again. So you hadn’t a whole lot of it – for a long, long time you were in steak, you see, and fresh pudding. That was the way it went around. The same way it went with the cutting and putting in of the hay. People came and they made up the hay and you went then, my father was one for making the wynds, making sure they were straight. He had an eye for that, and that was his job in the hay-yard. He’d keep going all day, showing them where to hit down the hay, and he’d be raking around the side of it, keeping it.[2]
Life: Grown

Patrick married Margaret “Dilly” Golden from Cree around 1930. Their first child, a daughter, was born in 1931, with the family growing to seven children. “A small man, and slight,”[3] Patrick was regarded a neat and tidy farmer, and was looked to by neighbors for advice and help.

People used take him into their confidence about things, neighbors. They’d be looking for advice, or maybe they’d be low on money. Whatever he had, he wouldn’t leave them short. I didn’t discover that until I was bringing a neighbor to hospital that had cancer, and ‘tis he told me about all the times my father helped him out with money.[4]

House dances were common in Patrick’s younger days, and his son Tom had a number of stories about Patrick playing for dancers.

He’d go to town fairly often, cycling—there was no other way to travel at that time. Mitchell Lillis was a smith who lived in the village, just beyond the turn in the village. And he’d two big open doors on the forge, and he’d see everyone as they’d pass. So he’d see my father passing in the morning, and he’d have a set ready for the night then. Patrick Kelly has gone down today, there’s going to be a set at Jackie’s tonight. Jackie McInerny was his name, and the set would be there that night. Because Mrs. O’Keefe told me she often went up to the door at night to hear them dancing the set. There’d be a set there every time.[5]

Tom went on to describe some of what would happen those nights.

I remember my father describing long ago, ‘tis an eye-lamp would be hanging up on the pier just behind him, with a globe on it and two wicks on it and that would be the lighting. There was no electricity you see, and he would be playing and of course he would never be blamed. He would be under it and up would go the bow and he’d just hit the globe and down the globe would come on top of him. But there was always someone blamed and never him. I often heard him telling that, and I heard him telling one night, there was two rooms, one room down there and the partition only went the height of the wall and there was a knee roof on the place. In the middle of the set one night, the tick and feathers came up over the top of it and landed in the middle of the floor on top of the lads that were dancing. The tick and feathers – they used to sleep on the bed—and a couple of lads took it from down below and flung it right out over and it landed right in the middle of the floor. Oh, what usen’t go on there. There was a hasp on the door, there was one of them on the door and, of course, a lad outside he put on the hasp and put a piece of tin through and, Jesus, you couldn’t get out, you’d have to go through a window. He used to be playing for the dances, one time.[6]

In 1935 the Fianna Fail government enacted the Public Dance Hall Act, declaring that ‘no place...shall be used for public dancing unless a public dancing license... is in force in respect of such a place.’ A license was issued only to those whom a district judge considered of ‘good character’ and often licenses were refused to rural communities based on the difficulty of supervision. Even though the act did not specifically cover house dances, local clergy and gardai used it to ban these as well. Séamus Mac Mathúna had, “heard it being said that they felt that nights were being organized to support republican causes, but it was a damnable thing to decide. The government was supposed to be all Gaelic Ireland and all that: that they should, with the strong encouragement of the clergy, bring in this law that would end the house dances.” [7] Séamus, living four miles away from the Kellys, can remember the last dance in his home being held around 1947, with house dances being almost extinct by the 1950s.

Throughout his musical life, Patrick seems to have been a solo player. When I asked Tom Kelly if there were ever others playing with Patrick at the house dances, he replied that, “I never heard him saying there was anyone else there.” [8] In the absence of dances, Séamus Mac Mathúna remembered that there were plays in parochial halls where musicians would play.

I recall numerous nights in Cooraclare as a young fellow, the likes of Solus Lillis, Jer O’Sullivan, Tommy Carey, and a whole lot of people only slightly older than myself would be playing. Paddy Breen if he was home. I don’t think Patrick played at such functions very much – I couldn’t be sure now. I certainly don’t recall it. [9]

Given certain hallmarks of Patrick’s style—the uniqueness of his settings and the fiddle tuned low—it makes sense that he was primarily a solo player. There were, however, a few ensemble opportunities: Patrick recalled his father teaching two bands, a Land League band in 1892 and a Sinn Fein band in 1917. There was also a Cree Ceili Band, apparently short-lived, that Patrick took part in. Tom Kelly recalled the last appearance of the band at a football match in the 40’s, and went on to describe the members:

They had fiddles in it; Micky Kelly I remember. Tommy Golden, he was in it, my uncle. He played the drums. I don’t know if they have any picture of it. ‘Twas the first band ever to broadcast on Radio Eireann was the Cree Ceili Band, and it was done below from the town hall, through the phone. And Mrs. Crotty was inside in the pub and she went out to tell them to tune down the drums that they were smothering the music with it. ‘Cause she could hear it on the radio inside.

Who else was in the band?

All that crowd now. Probably Paddy McInerny and Paddy Cunningham, Tommy Golden and my father and all that crowd. And I think a couple from Kilrush played with them that are dead and gone now.[10]

RTÉ’s early live broadcasts were not preserved, so it’s impossible to verify Cree’s claim to fame. No mention is made of the band in other sources, and it would seem to have been of minimal influence on Patrick’s style and approach to music.

In addition to the fiddle, Patrick played some whistle and could “knock a rattle” out of an accordion.[11] He had a keen interest in other traditional players and strong opinions, holding that the introduction of Coleman’s 78s damaged the local tradition. “[Coleman] was wonderful, but that was the downfall of traditional music in the country. Before those days we had two, three, four or five fiddlers in Cree, now there isn’t one.”[12] Patrick held strong opinions and was possibly a bit feisty. When Susie May, Patrick’s eldest daughter, brought some contemporary 78s into the house, they met an ignoble fate:

There was fellow used to repair bicycles, just above Cree, Bill Green was his name. And he started selling records, and Susie May went back and bought a record one day. ‘Twas burned. My father burned it, that’s a fact. It didn’t last long.

Did you have a record player?

Oh we did. A gramophone.

I’m surprised your father let a gramophone in the house.

Oh, the gramophone was there.

But you wouldn’t have had 78s of Coleman and Morrison in the house.

Oh, there was, yeah. I don’t know; he probably bought them. He’d allow them fine, but there was no way Buttons and Bows would come in to our house. About the only thing he listened to on radio was the news and Irish music.

Would he listen to Ceili House and the other programs?

All that, and he had his tape recorder ready, his small Grundig, with three inch tapes above on the top of it. And he’d be taping different bits of music all the time.[13]

Patrick wasn’t a man for traveling, or for drink. He didn’t teach regularly, though there were a few young players, like Séan Keane and Mick O’Connor, who would call to the house to pick up some tunes. None of the seven children play, and Patrick felt that music had taken him away from his responsibilities.

He didn’t want you all to play because he didn’t want you coming in at all hours?

He didn’t want us coming in in the morning, falling about the place. No.[14]

While other musicians of the time traveled to Fleadhs, Patrick preferred staying at home, though he did make it to the Fleadh in Kilrush in 1963. Jim Kelly remembers that his father would always make time for playing, even during the farming season.

He’d never work late. He’d always finish – well the cows would have to be milked in the evening, but he’d always finish in fair good time, unless there was rain promised or something and we were making up hay, he wouldn’t stay out too late. He’d come in there and I can see him sitting down there in the corner, that corner there, by the wall. We had an open fire, a big open fire before we put in the range. And he’d sit into the corner there and he start to play, and he’d play away for the night, every tune he had. He’d never go back over one he had played, he’d play away for the whole night.[15]

Patrick took great enjoyment from his encounters with other musicians: Mrs. Crotty was not far away, and Patrick was a frequent caller. One visit is particularly legendary in the minds of the family: this account is from Tom Kelly.

He described one day going down to Kilrush with a toothache, a terrible bad toothache, so he decided that he’d go down and have it drawn. He was just going around the corner of Crotty’s below and he sees this man on a butter box playing the pipes. He pulled up beside him and stayed with him for a while and who was it but the famous piper in Dublin that the wall fell on him – Johnny Doran. So they went into Crotty’s and spent the rest of the day and a good part of the night and then came home after that, and he came home with the tooth and it was buried with him.[16]

Patrick was clearly impressed by Doran’s piping, going as far as saying that Doran was a better piper than Garrett Barry.

John Harrison invited Johnny Doran for a night’s music, and he did arrive in good time. The house was full, street was full, everywhere was full, but an act of parliament had been passed here, I think by the Fianna Fail government at that time, that allowed only about 30 people in a house for entertainment, a dance. I think around 30 people. And guards landed in due time out there, and cleared the whole goddamned place, but Harrison brought him again, and he said that he was a better piper than Garrett Barry.[17]

Other stories show the central role of music in Patrick’s life, something that would take him away from a harvest or keep him out until the morning.

I remember one particular day, we were at home and we had about ten acres of hay down, just west of the school there, and there was no way for turning hay or making hay. ‘Twas all hand fork – turn the hay and rake it in with a rake and get a horse and put it into the trams and bring it home. But three or four fellows came, they were Australians, fiddle players, and they came into the meadow above and we were all there, and they were talking away for about quarter of an hour and the next thing you know he stuck the fork and went off and we didn’t see him for two days. We were left saving the hay. Ah, it was something that would take you away every now and again. He didn’t come home until all hours of the morning. He didn’t want us to learn music because he saw what it done to himself and to other people. They stayed out, they stayed out until morning. Because I remember my mother describing looking out the window one morning, waiting for him to come home and bring in the cows to get them milked. And she looked out and there he was out on the road, sitting up on the pier of the gate, in the morning, and there was a fellow that lived in the house right across the road from us. And he was a step dancer by the name of McInerny, nothing to Paddy now, but he was on the road dancing. And this was before the road was tarred now, and my mother could see the dust coming up over the fence. Wasn’t that some picture? Of a six o’clock in the morning, of a fine summer’s morning, and she could see the dust coming up, and he above only playing the fiddle and your man dancing out on the road.[18]

Life: Endings

His main interest in life was music, so he would have been listening to anything that was on the radio, and he’d be impatient to start talking. In the ‘60s he would generally be sitting by the fire, but by the ‘70s, the last five or six years, he was usually in bed.[19]

Having suffered from emphysema for a number of years, Patrick Kelly died in 1976, at the age of 71. Given his proclivity for staying home, his music would have remained little known had it not been for the work of two collectors: Seán Ó Riada and Séamus Mac Mathúna. Ó Riada recorded Patrick in 1961 for ‘Our Musical Heritage’, a RTÉ program that showcased different regional styles. Ó Riada had heard of Patrick from his father, Seán Reidy, who was originally from Kilmihil and had once studied the fiddle with Patrick.[20] ‘Our Musical Heritage’ was Mac Mathúna’s first exposure to Patrick’s playing, in spite of the fact that he had grown up in such proximity, and led him to record Patrick in 1966 and ’67, tracks of which would later be used on the compilation ‘Ceol an Chlair’. Outside of Ó Riada’s program, Patrick did not have any other radio appearances, something the family chalks up to poor relations between Patrick and Ciarán Mac Mathúna, the major radio presenter for traditional material at RTÉ. In 2004, the Kelly family brought out a CD of remastered home recordings that had been done by Tom Kelly in the ‘60s and preserved by Monsignor Martin O’Dea, of Tullabrack.


Aeroplanes out of Scrapheaps

Music, Influences