O'Neill - Irish Minstrels and Musicians, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 113

O'Neill - Irish Minstrels and Musicians, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 113
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periodical Publisher
Regan Printing House, Chicago, 1913
periodical Editor
periodical Title
O'Neill - Irish Minstrels and Musicians
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224Irish .Minstrels and 1 /IusiciansHe was commendably liberal with his music in public and in private, and henever failed to entertain his callers to their hearts content. His style of execu-tion was close staccato of the classic Connacht school of piping, and, like mostold-time players, he was inordinately addicted to embellishing his tunes with asurprising number of variations. Many a rare tune has been preserved throughhim. Besides John K. Beatty, Michael McXurnev, afterwards alderman, andSergt. James Early, who were ins pupils, Pat Coughlan and John McFadden,famous fiddlers, played in concert with him for many years in Chicago, and conse-quently acquired and perpetuated his music.As a wit and a story teller he was in a class by himself. Keen, observantand gifted with a phenomenal memory, we can well believe that his fund ofanecdotes was endless. Revered in death as lie was loved when living, thistypical piper and minstrel, although summoned to eternity over a score of yearsago, is still affectionately referred to as Old Man Quinn by a large circle ofsurviving friends, as well as by his numerous descendants.JOHN HrcxsMost Irish musicians have their specialties, and this characteristic is particu-larly true of the pipers. Sonie who can play the niost difficult dance music withease and unconcern seldom attempt to entertain an audience with airs, marchesor other slow measures except when called for; w-hile others, on the contrary,who enjoy playing airs and even modern compositions, are incapable of renderingthe sprightly dance tunes with that peculiar rhythm and swing which instinctivelysets our feet in niotion.The subject of this sketch was a notable exception. He had neither fads norfavorites, for he was equally proficient and charming in all kinds of music, ancientand modern, which came within the compass of his instrument.From his own lips in Chicago I learned that he was a protege of SportingCaptain Kelly of the Curragh of Kildare. His musical precocity when a boyattracted the Captains attention, and many a time. perched on his patrons knees,did the youthful prodigy play on his flute for the entertainment of company.To Mr. M. Flanagan of Dublin, a fine musician himself, we are indebted forsome interesting information concerning I licks early life. J-Ie was horn on theedge of the Curragh, about the year 1825, and was left without a father whenquite oung, the only son of his wid;wed mother. His musical proclivitiesendeared him to his generous patron, who, by the way, was an enthusiastic piperhimself, and loved the niusic of his country as clearly as he loved the turf. Whatcould better exemplify this intensity of feeling than his custom of naming his studof racers after parts of the instrument, such as Chanter, Bellows, Drone, etc.?The inheritance of musical talent survives in his grand-nephew, Mr. John KellyToomey, a Dublin attorney, but it finds expression on the fiddle instead of theUnion pipes.And, by the way, Captain Kelly did not monopolize the sporting blood of thefamily, for it was his sister, Mr. Flanagan says, who staked an immense sumand her coach and four on Dan Donnelly when he fought and defeated Cooper,the English clianipion pugilist, on the Curragh of Kildare.But to return to our subject. Johnny Hicks became a piper under the patron-age and instruction of Captain Kelly. He turned out to be an apt pupil, and ifwe are to judge of the teacher by the style and execution of those who graduatedunder his tuition. the renowned turfman must be ranked among the best pipers ofhis clay.Pipers in the Second Half of the 19th Century225How Hicks got started as an independent piper is best told in Mr. Flanagansown words, which follow:I am sure you will be interested to learn that I was born and brought upwithin a stones throw of a little wayside public house where Hicks played manya day and many a night. This was before niy advent in the family, but the piperlived in the memory of my elders. He was introduced into the neighborhoodby a fiddler named Patsy Kilroy, and the piper soon cut the roots of the fiddlerto such a degree that Kilroy bitterly rued his unselfish act. One night the piperand fiddler were playing in concert a reel called Fishers Fancy, at the publichouse referred to. when in comes Bill Thompson, the local blacksmith andfarrier. Bill, who was as fine a specimen of the Irish peasant as I ever laid eyeson, listened patiently while the musicians played a few rounds of the tune.Placing his brawny hand on, Kilroys shoulder, he softly said, Put up that wash-staff avic and let the man play the pipes.The public house which John Hicks had made his headquarters was situatedon the Dublin and Galway mail-coach road, about midway between Edenderryand Innfield. It was kept by the widow Cleary- and was a place of great resort,because in those days there was something o a population in rural Ireland.Hicks must have left the neighborhood in or about 1850. He was then quite ayoung man and was a promising rather than a finished player. In fact, therewas in the parish at the time a niuch superior piper, Tim Ennis, who afterwardstaught me all I know on the instrument. Although denationalized in manyaspects, the people of my parish had the old gra for the Union pipes, and a fiddlergot but little countenance. Yet when I took up the study as a young fellow therewas not another young piper within a radius of ten miles.The Kildare piper must have conie direct to America in i8 o, for he waswell known in all the cities along the Atlantic coast almost a generation beforehis visit to Chicago in i88o, an account of which can be found in Irish FolkMusicA Fascinating Hobby.His playing was wonderfully even and rhythmical, and the tones were clear,full and melodious. Other performers heard in Chicago at later dates excelledhim in brilliant execution and variations, but no piper of our acquaintance wasso popular with a mixed, or American audience as John Hicks, because of hisversatility in playing all kinds of modern music, including polkas, waltzes, andschottisches. One great favorite which never failed to please was GeneralGrants Grand March, a composition which served equally well as a schottische.He was also a fiddler, and could transpose written music into keys suitable forthe pipes when necessary.He ventured on the stormy sea of matrimony more than once, his secondwife being a lady of fortune. Her death before the birth of an heir, under theprovisions of the ante-nuptial contract, deprived him of the inheritance.Clerical in attire and appearance though he was, it did not protect him frombeing the victim of a fatal assault late one night in the year 1882. He was onhis way home to New York after playing at an entertainment on the Jersey sideof the Hudson River. . Just as lie reached the Hoboken ferry-dock someonewhose identity was never ascertained struck him on the head with a sandbag.No attempt was made to rob him, but lie died in a short tinie without regainingconsciousness.In the account of his tragic death, the press honored his music and himselfwith many flattering paragraphs, due no doubt in some measure to his amiable
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O'Neill, Capt. Francis
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O'Neill - Irish Minstrels and Musicians

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