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

Repertoire

Of the available recorded tracks of Patrick’s playing, the majority of his tunes were reels and most of these are widely known: ‘Bonny Kate’, ‘The Flogging’, ‘Paddy on the Turnpike’, ‘Sheehan’s’, ‘The College Groves’, ‘Fermoy Lasses’, ‘The Maid Behind the Bar’, ‘The Morning Star’, ‘The Salamanca’, ‘The Star of Munster’, ‘The Bird in the Bush’, ‘The Mason’s Apron’, ‘Drowsy Maggie’, ‘The Bucks of Oranmore’, ‘The Milliner’s Daughter’ and ‘The Foxhunter’s’. Though the tunes are in common circulation, Patrick’s settings are unique, as the transcribed examples of ‘The College Groves’, ‘The Salamanca’, and ‘Drowsy Maggie’ demonstrate. When Patrick spoke of Denny Mescall he made the comment that Denny “played tunes exactly as he got them, which would have been a criticism”.[26]

From that comment, and the evidence of his playing, it’s clear that Patrick valued the personal interpretation of dance tunes. A look at Patrick’s setting of ‘Drowsy Maggie’ may shed light on this aspect of his music. Patrick’s setting of the tune is very close to Mrs. Crotty’s playing of ‘The Reel with the Birl’, her distinctive rendition of ‘Drowsy Maggie’. Of the transcriptions that follow, Patrick’s version of the tune is first and Mrs. Crotty’s second: I have transposed Mrs. Crotty’s version from the original key of A minor for ease of comparison. We can see that the basic motif of the A part is the same between the two versions, but bars 3 and 7 show definite departures. The B part of the tune has significant variation; particularly at bar 9, where Patrick alters the contour of the melody as it moves to the E; at bar 11, where the rhythm and melody of the tune are altered; bar 12, where the contour is again changed; and in bars 14 and 15 where the melody is different altogether. As Mrs. Crotty is held to be the source of the tune, the differences between the two versions show Patrick’s creative process at work, adapting a tune to fit his instrument and personal style. By inference, we can assume that the same creative process was at work in his other settings, many of which are unique.

Drowsy Maggie
Drowsy Maggie
[27]

The Reel with the Birl
The Reel with the Birl

Jigs are next in prominence, with recorded examples including ‘Banish Misfortune’, ‘The Frieze Britches’, ‘The Geese in the Bog’, ‘Sweet Biddy Daly’, and ‘Gillan’s Apples’. In Séamus Mac Mathúna’s opinion, Patrick was at his best playing jigs. “I would think that from the fluency with which he played some of those jigs that he was putting a fair bit of his own creative thing into it, just from the kind of momentum and vehemence, if you like, that was in the tune.”[28] Certainly, the use of quadruplets, as in ‘Banish Misfortune’ (bar 9) and the ‘Frieze Britches’ (bar 49), is one of the most spectacular features of Patrick’s playing. He plays four notes in the space of the usual three, giving the tune the effect of a “broken” rhythm, though the pulse remains steady across the ornament. The notes of the quadruplet figure are the same in both tunes, suggesting that Patrick took the ornament from one to the other.

Banish Misfortune
Banish Misfortune[29]

The Frieze Britches
The Frieze Britches
The Frieze Britches

On other jigs, like ‘Gillan’s Apples’ and ‘The Rambling Pitchfork’, he doesn’t use the quadruplet device, but still plays with great verve and fluency.


Gillian's Apples
Gillian's Apples[30]

Small in proportion but significant in Patrick’s repertoire, in the context of West Clare, are a number of slides. Since slides have a strong connection with the repertoire of Sliabh Luachra and Kerry in general, my initial assumption was that the slides came to Patrick through the legacy of George Whelan, but there is no evidence on the origins of the tune. Batt Scanlon, another pupil of Whelan’s, published a manuscript in San Francisco in 1923 titled ‘Violin Playing Made Easy and Attractive’, containing a tutorial and tunes that Scanlon got from Whelan. That manuscript is extremely rare and I have been unable to view a copy, but have it from personal conversation with Matt Cranitch, who does have a copy of the manuscript, that the slides in Patrick’s repertoire do not appear in the book. The first slide below, ‘Mickey Callaghan’s’, is from an unpublished recording of Patrick in Séamus Mac Mathúna’s collection, and also appears in the repertoire of John Kelly, Sr. of Loophead and Micho Russell of Doolin. The second slide is the version played in Sliabh Luachra, for which I have no title.

Mickey Callaghan's Slide
Mickey Callaghan's Slide

Sliabh Luachra slide, untitled
Sliabh Luachra slide, untitled

One link in the puzzle is Scattery Island, in the mouth of the Shannon. Purchased from the Limerick Harbour authorities at the beginning of the 19th century by a group of Kilbaha families,[31] John Kelly’s grandmother, Mary Brennan, lived on Scattery. John Kelly went to Scattery Island as a young man and was impressed with the joie de vivre of the islanders, finding them a, “lively, witty people with a great passion for music, singing, and dancing.”[32] The bulk of the islanders made their lives on the sea and so had a lot of music from encounters with other sailors, including a number of Norwegian tunes. John Kelly was surprised, on his early visits, that there were a greater number of waltzes on the island than there were on the mainland. Most important, in respect to the puzzle of the slides, is the link between Scattery Island and the music of Kerry.

My grandmother had a lot of tunes that weren’t known in county Clare, polkas, slides, and single jigs. She told me that when she was a girl, boatloads of people from Kerry would put in to the island almost every Sunday in summer. Then there was a dance in the lighthouse. In this way the Scattery people picked up the Kerry music. From my grandfather and grandmother I learned quite a number of Kerry style tunes…later when I got to know Willie Clancy I played these tunes for him. He had never heard of them in his part of the county.[33]

Whelan is reputed to have only traveled in the area of Cree, Cooraclare, Kilmihil and Doonbeg: but the ferry at Tarbert was well-used and one imagines that there were a number of musicians crossing back and forth across the Shannon, with musical influence moving in both directions. A more curious question is the role that the slides played in Patrick’s repertoire. In general, most of the music in the locality was that played for dances: dancing in Cree would have mostly been the Plain Set, with the Caledonian Set coming on in later years. Both sets were danced to reels or polkas, depending on the version, for the majority of the figures, with a jig figure in the middle and a hornpipe figure at the end. Possibly the slides were played for the jig figures, though both Patrick and John Kelly make a distinction in the classification of their repertoire between slides and other kinds of jigs. Or they were listening pieces, played in respect of the men who handed them down: Tim Kelly, Denny Mescall, and George Whelan. A second slide in Patrick’s repertoire is ‘Denny Mescall’s’ as played on ‘Ceol an Chlair’. This is a stronger link to Whelan’s repertoire than the first slide: Patrick said of Denny 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.”[34] Denis Murphy played a similar version, transcribed by Breathnach, called ‘Nelly O’Mahony’s’. In conversation with Matt Cranitch, he remarked that, “this tune is in circulation in the present-day Sliabh Luachra tradition, and is generally known as ‘If I had a Wife’, although Pádraig [O Keefe] played a different tune with this same title.”

Denny Mescall's Slide
Denny Mescall's Slide

Nellie Mahony's Slide
Nellie Mahony's Slide

Patrick also played a number of set dances: ‘The Blackbird’, ‘Humours of Bandon’, ‘Job of Journeywork’, ‘Ace and Deuce of Pipering’, ‘The Priest in his Boots’, ‘An Suisin Ban’, and ‘Rodney’s Glory’ are all in O’Neill’s. Patrick’s settings, though different in small particulars, stay fairly close to those in ‘the book’. He mentions several of these as being handed down from his father: given their presence in O’Neill’s one can assume they had a fairly large distribution. A set dance seemingly unique to Patrick’s repertoire is ‘O’Connell’s Farewell to Dublin’. Patrick recalled getting the tune off of Daniel Mack from Kilmihil, an old man when Patrick knew him, who, “had a wonderful collection of music.”[35]

O'Connell's farewell to Dublin

O'Connell's farewell to Dublin
O'Connell's farewell to Dublin

While Patrick’s settings are highly personal and creative, there is little variation in his playing. Once he arrived at a satisfying version of a tune, it seems to have remained fairly static. This is true both through the playing of a tune—in ‘The Frieze Britches’ the quadruplet ornament is used the first time through the fifth part of the tune on each repetition—and across time—in the recordings done by Séamus Mac Mathúna and the home recordings recently put out by the family, recordings separated by at least a few years, Patrick’s playing of the ‘Foxhunter’s’ is nearly identical. What variation does exist generally amounts to the interchangeability of two quavers for a crotchet on the same note, as can be seen in the transcription of ‘O’Connell’s Farewell’. ‘The College Groves’ is one exception, with a certain amount of variation on the third repetition of the tune, particularly at the top of the B part, bars 9-11. In bars 9 and 10 rolls on the D and C are repeated, rather than following the roll with an arpeggio as seen in the earlier repetitions of the tune. Measure 11 is one of the few instances of substituting different melodic material, going up to the A from the F#, rather than down to the D.

College Groves
College Groves

Hornpipes figure little in Patrick’s repertoire, with ‘The Liverpool’ being the only recorded example. There is one waltz among the recordings, a piece called ‘The Dew Drop’ that comes from the home recordings. Completely different in effect from the other tunes, it features an extensive use of vibrato and has a continental feel.

Dew Drop
Dew Drop


Music, Influences

Aeroplanes out of Scrapheaps

Style