John Kelly (1921-1988)

24 November 2006, 9:11 PM GMT

John Kelly was born in Rehy, Cross, Kilballyowen, West Clare in 1912. He was one of a family of eight of parents Michael and Elizabeth. His mother was a concertina player so it was only natural that John’s “craze for the music” was nurtured. Irish was the spoken language in the area at the time, surviving there much longer than anywhere else in Co. Clare. John’s grandmother was originally from Scattery Island of St. Senan fame and the people of West Clare had a close affinity with the islanders and helped them with their harvests. John picked up a lot of Kerry tunes on the island which had never been played on the mainland. He was also influenced by fiddlers Patsy Geary and Mrs Galvin; she had known the famous piper Garret Barry. John also had some tuition from Mary Holohan on the concertina. At Kilkee races in 1932 John met the travelling piper Johnnie Doran and they formed a lasting friendship - in fact John Kelly was instrumental in having the Irish Folklore Commission record Doran’s only remaining pieces prior to his tragic death in 1948.

In 1945, John moved to Dublin permanently and his shop in Capel Street became a magnet for all musicians. He joined up with Joe Ryan in particular, another Clare fiddler and could be heard regularly at O Donoghues and Slatterys pubs and Pipers Club. He became a founding member of O Riada’s Ceoltóirí Cualann in 1959 and on its disbanding, helped to form Ceoltóirí Laighean. Fleadh Cheoil an Radio on Radio Éireann featured Ceoltóirí Cualann for over two years, followed by “The Musical Heritage” which showed the contrasting styles of Sligo, Donegal, Clare, Kerry etc. John was a noted member of the famous Castle Ceilí Band. John annually became a noted tutor and lecturer at the Willie Clancy School in Miltown Malbay and was later joined by his sons James and John who have kept the famous tradition alive. John never left the countryside really and always showed his love of nature and the weather and its effect on crops. He had a very relaxing attitude to the modern rushed society - “There’s plenty o’ day” - he’d remind his listeners. His command of language, folklore, history and wit mingled with his playing on the fiddle or more rarely on the concertina ensured a great night. John died in 1988.

His Music

He could without any apparent effort insert variations into his music. His use of the long drawn out bow and double stopping was very pronounced. He had a great store of unusual tunes and again unusual settings of some well known tunes.

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