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O'Keeffe Clan

Gathering and Rally

9, 10 and 11 Sept 2016

guided tours, lectures

historical and genealogical exhibitions

cultural and musical events,

buffet banquet Saturday evening
Padraig O'Keeffe
and the music of Sliabh Luachra

The legend of Padraig O'Keeffe a half century after his death.

By Matt Cranitch.
In the history of human endeavor and achievement, many of the most significant contributions, across a wide range of activities and disciplines, were made by individuals. In many cases, the enduring spirits of these people triumphed in the face of great adversity, and now shine like beacons, as we look back over the centuries, one such individual was Padraig O Keeffe (1887-1963), the great iconic figure whose name is indelibly linked to the music of Sliabh Luachra.

He has become a major name in the wider world of Irish traditional music, particularly in the realm of fiddle playing. padraig o'keeffeHis influence is audible today through the rich tradition of music he left, directly through his own playing, and by means of his manuscripts written in his special notation system, as well as indirectly through his teaching of so many of the great Sliabh Luachra players.
Perhaps his most abiding legacy is the way in which he passed on the unique repertoire of music as well as the style of playing of his own locality Music formed a very important part of Padraig’s childhood and developmental years, with his mother’s family, particularly his uncle, Cal O Callaghan, being a major influence.

Padraig became a teacher, but it was not the life for him, he gave five years (1915-1920) teaching at Glenntan National school where he was principal. The confines of the classroom were placing too many constraints on his creative spirit and the kind of life of playing his music, as well as what went with it, which he preferred and enjoyed. From then until his death in 1963, he travelled throughout the Sliabh Luachra area playing the fiddle and teaching music. Most of his pupils learned the fiddle, but he also gave lessons in the melodeon. The pace of the class was matched to the ability of the pupil, so each benefited to the greatest extent. Most of his teaching was done in the pupil’s houses, he travelled the roads in Sliabh Luachra for four decades approx., he had a Rota of houses to call to and some he would stay overnight in.

As part of the lessons he would write out a number of tunes, typically five, and for which he would receive payment. He charged six old pence a tune, and called to eight pupils a day. He used two different styles of notation/tablature when writing his tunes for his students, one for the fiddle and one for the accordion.

All his fiddle manuscripts included full bowing instructions, a feature that adds so much to the importance of these manuscripts. He addressed issues related to the holding of the fiddle, the positioning of the hands, and the tempo at which the music was to be played at. He related rules for these verbally and written for his pupils.

Reference is often made to Padraig’s carefree disposition and to the unconventional nature of his life. He is often described as having been a ‘character’ and ‘wit’ who lived a ‘rakish’ and ‘bohemian’ lifestyle. He taught many of the ‘greats’ of Sliabh Luachra tradition, among them Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Paddy Cronin and Johnny O’ Leary.

Although Padraig was genial and outgoing in company, it would also appear that, in various ways, he was a ‘private’ person who spent a great deal of time alone. While walking the roads of the area gave him the opportunity to think about, and reflect on his music. He spent protracted periods of time in the solitude of his house in Gleanntan. Here, he was able to continue his study of the music and the fiddle, and also play for himself.

He was a highly accomplished fiddle player, accurate intonation, with a sweet and consistent tone were hallmarks of his. Some private houses and public houses locally kept a fiddle for his use whenever he called, at times he had no fiddle of his own. With the passage of time, he became well known in the area, being held in particularly high esteem by his pupils. His fame and reputation also travelled outside the boundaries of Sliabh Luachra, with a number of collectors visiting to record his music.

Recordings made by Seamus Ennis provided the material included on the two commercially available recordings, ‘Kerry Fiddles’ on LP 1977 and CD 1993, with two of Padraig’s stellar pupils, Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford whom are also featured, this was recorded in Castleisland. The “Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master” on CD 1993, was made from recordings for Radio Eireann in 1948-1949. This provides an invaluable opportunity for people now to hear an extensive range of his own solo playing, across the various different tune-types., these gives in extensive insight into Padraig’s music.

Many of the wonderful versions of tunes which now constitute the general repertoire of the area are attributable directly to him. The way he played airs has been an inspiration to many. However I think this greatest contribution was as a teacher, both directly in terms of the number of people whom he taught, and also because of the legacy of tunes and style he left us in his unique manuscripts, complete with bowing details. Without him, the Sliabh Luachra style as we know it today would definitely be much the poorer, if there at all. (Journal of Cumann Luachra, Vol. 1 No 16. Nov. 2014.)

pokPadraig played with music with many of the great musicians, it is noted that when he played with Din Tarrant Knocknabowl, it was said they made the stones dance. When he played with Denis Murphy, they complemented each other so well and blended together beautifully. Padraig taught Paddy Cronin and Paddy picked up the tunes so fast from Padraig, that Padraig had to write thirteen tunes at a time instead of the usual five. (Journal of Cumann Luachra, Vol. 1 No 16. Nov. 2014.)

Padraig O Keeffe became ill during the severe winter of 1962-63, he was admitted to Tralee Hospital where he passed away 22-02-1963. He is buried with his family in Kilananama graveyard, Cordal, Kerry.

The Padraig O Keeffe Festival is held in Castleisland every year over the October bank holiday, there is a ‘Padraig O Keeffe award’ presented each year for outstanding service and commitment to the music and culture of Sliabh Luachra. (Journal of Cumann Luachra, Vol. 1 No 16. Nov. 2014.)