O'Neill: O'Neill's Irish Music

Pdf O'Neill, Francis, O'Neill's Irish Music, Dublin: M.H. Gill And Son
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O'Neills' Irish Music is a collection of sheet music for hundreds of Irish reels, jigs, dances, ballads and laments produced for the international Irish diaspora. Many of the songs or the airs of many of the tunes have very ancient roots. Many of the songs collected and popularised by Frances O'Neill have become part of the canon of the Irish traditional music genre.

Frances O'Neill (1848-1936) was born near Bantry, Co. Cork at the height of the Great Irish Potato Famine in which over a million died and over a million fled in the 'coffin' ships for the New World. Despite their misery Irish people had a vibrant musical culture in which O'Neill was immersed from childhood. From the 1840s generations of Irish people emigrated to the United States. Irish Americans proudly retained many of the traditions of the 'Emerald Isle' especially traditional music for whom collectors such as O'Neill published sheet music.

O'Neill himself was aged 16 when he became a cabin boy on an English merchant ship. While on a voyage to New York, he fell in love with Anna Rogers and the couple were married in Bloomington, Illinois. In Chicago, O'Neill became a policeman with the Chicago Police Department in 1873 and twice served as Chief of Police from 1901 to 1905.

There was a large Irish-American community in the city who dominated the police force. O'Neill patronised traditional Irish musicians by recruiting them into the ranks and among these men were Patrick O'Mahony, James O'Neill, Bernard Delaney, John McFadden and James Early. O' Neill collected countless Irish tunes from all the big performers who sent him wax cylinders and regularly visited him in Chicago. He was also constantly looking for new sheet music.

O'Neill retired from the CPD in 1905 and for the rest of his life he publicised Irish music. He collected and published collections of jigs, reels, dances, ballads and laments. Before radio, television and cinema became widespread, people amused themselves in their own homes with a violin or piano. Music halls also drew huge audiences. It was in this atmosphere with Irish neighbourhoods continously absorbing new immigrants from Ireland that O'Neill made connections with musicians and amassed his collections.

O'Neill died in 1936.


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