Pádraig Ó Caoimh (O’ Keeffe) (1887-1963)

24 November 2006, 9:11 PM GMT

Pádraig Ó Caoimh (O’ Keeffe) (1887-1963)

Pádraig Ó Caoimh (O’ Keeffe) was born in 1887 at Gleantán, Castleisland, Co. Kerry, the eldest of a large family. His father was the local principal schoolteacher and his mother was Margaret O Callaghan from Kiskeam in Co. Cork. Pádraig was reared by his maternal grandparents and then came under the influence of his uncle ‘Cal’ a noted fiddle player. Pádraig returned to Gleantán in his teens and then went to Dublin to train as a teacher. After the death of his father in 1915, he replaced him as principal in the local school. He was careless in the execution of his duties and after many warnings he is reputed to have walked out the door in 1920 and never returned; he obviously was not suited to work under a strict disciplinarian regime.

He had a girlfriend in his early years but his mother disapproved because she wanted him to marry “in his own class”. Thereafter he lived the life of a single man, took care of his mother while she was alive and finally survived as a bachelor with his fiddle as his ‘wife’. As he got older it’s not too difficult to picture him with his mug of tea and packet of woodbines (cigarettes), going weekly to the Post Office for his pension (25p in those days) and spending his time in the ‘local’ where he was held in high esteem. The severe winter of 1962/3 finally took its toll and Pádraig died on 22nd February 1963 .

His Music

Pádraig O Caoimh is probably the most important and influential Munster fiddle player of the 20th Century. He spent over 40 years going from house to house in the Sliabh Luachra area, teaching music to his pupils. He was a fast walker, often covering 30 miles daily in all types of weather but never failed to call into his local for a few pints. He demonstrated bowing and fingering techniques to his pupils, and wrote out tunes in his unique style and signed the sheets in Irish. He devised a system of 4 spaces between 5 lines to show the strings and numbers to show the fingers.

Pádraig played slides and polkas for dancers, but if they demanded faster music he had the habit of breaking a string! He learned some tunes of Coleman and Morrison off 78’s records and his playing of airs was remarkable - O Rahilly’s Grave, Banks of the Danube, Caoine Uí Néill, Caoine Uí Dhomhnaill. Pádraig was recorded in 1947-49 by Seamus Ennis, and later by Ciarán Mac Mathúna, Andrias Ó Gallchóir etc. His most famous pupils probably were Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford and Johnny O’ Leary.

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