The enduring story of the life and hard times of Sliabh Luachra musical genius, Patrick O’Keeffe got another airing to a near full house at Scartaglin Heritage Centre on Saturday night.
The ongoing Handed Down lecture series provided the backdrop and stage for the larger than life story. In the mind’s eye, O’Keeffe and his accomplishments stand as tall and as proud as any of our great Irish heroes.
Great Man’s Deeds
While stories abound about the great man’s deeds, there was never a hint of scandal other that the fact that he threw a pensionable job in the faces of nagging national school inspectors.
That he suffered the financial consequences of his actions is true beyond doubt. That the loss of his good job blighted his life couldn’t be further from the truth.
From all accounts he lived his life as he saw fit and travelled light wherever he roamed. There were times when he walked for miles without even ‘the wife’ as he referred to his fiddle.
On those occasions he knew there was a fiddle in the houses / pubs he was travelling to.
Often his only concession to bad weather was to put the safety pin he carried behind the lapel of his coat to good use.
Still Crazy About the Story
It is easy to get the impression that Saturday night’s guest, Peter Browne is still crazy about the story of O’Keeffe after all these years.
It is, after all, a quarter of a century since he went, microphone in hand, tracing the long footsteps of the Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master.
What he collected on tape at the time was pricless; it’s pure gold now.
And we got nuggets of it in Scart on Saturday night and a solid bar on The Rolling Wave on RTÉ Radio One on Sunday night.
The latter featured an extended interview he did with Paddy Cronin at the time he was collecting material for the documentary on O’Keeffe.
Some of it was included on the original, 1993 broadcast but Sunday night’s ‘special’ on the late Paddy Cronin is a lesson on keeping the tape rolling.
It was a fortunate intervention in the musical history of Sliabh Luachra that Browne recording path was signposted this way.
The man who turned all the signposts this way, John Walsh was in Scart on Saturday night too. We sat together in the audience. He didn’t mention his influence on Peter Browne’s decision to go after ‘the O’Keeffe story’ but Peter himself did on several previous occasions.
Changed the Course
Browne himself isn’t the only one glad that he did. He quite understatedly conceded on Saturday night that his visits here from 1992 onwards may have changed the course of the music and its associated events.
Peter Browne’s stage appearance on Saturday night was preceded by musicians: Meabh O’Connell, Cill na Martra; Kirill Healy from Kilcummin; singer, Joe Creedon, Macroom and Billy Clifford in a trio with Bryan O’Leary and Paul de Grae.
Superb Scene Setter
Castleisland archaeologist, Maggie Prendiville-Keane did a superb scene setter for the main act of the night. She collected photographs to illustrate the Cordal, Scartaglin and Castleisland of Patrick O’Keeffe’s lifetime – with special emphasis on the public houses he frequented.
She talked the audience through the slide show with the professionalism that makes her a favourite on these matters in the area here and on Skellig Michael.
There was a special welcome in Scart for Mary McCarthy of the Central Bar, Castleisland. Mary, who celebrated a landmark birthday recently, was a good friend to Patrick O’Keeffe.
It was in the bar run by herself and her husband, Tom that Patrick tasted his last draught of stout on his way to hospital in Tralee – where he died on this day, February 22-1963.
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