McPeake is born on January 20, 1917 at 43 Malcolmson Street, Belfast, the son of Francis J. McPeake (1885–1971), piper and tram conductor, and Mary McPeake (née Loney). His father, a staunch nationalist, wins the Feis piping competition in Belfast in 1909 and represents Ireland together with a Welsh harper, John Page, at the Pan-Celtic Congress in Brussels in 1911. In July 1912 he wins first prize in the learners’ class when he attends the foundation of the Pipers’ Club in Dublin. He represents Ireland in many instances as one of relatively few pipers from Northern Ireland at the time.
McPeake continues the strong musical tradition in the family. He also plays the pipes and father and son are recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1952. They appear at the Royal Albert Hall in 1956 and later form the McPeake Trio along with his brother James, who plays the fiddle, the piano accordion, and later a harp made by McFall in Belfast. The trio comes to be known as The McPeakes. They sing in Irish and in English and are closely identified with particular songs, such as “The Jug of Punch,” “The Lament of Aughrim,” and “The Verdant Braes of Skreen,” though the one most associated with them is “Will You Go, Lassie, Go?”
The McPeakes win first prize at the international Eisteddfod in Wales in the late 1950s and acquire a strong international reputation with Bob Dylan being among their fans. The trio is later augmented by members of the next generation, recorded by Peter Kennedy again, and make several recordings, including Irish Folk (1964) and Welcome Home (1967), which is a cassette reissue of a 1962 album for the Topic Records label. Some of Kennedy’s recordings of the McPeake family are released on the compact disc Traditional Songs of Ireland (CD-SDL 411) in 1995. A fourth-generation family group follows, Clan McPeake, inheriting the commitment, much of the repertoire, and the verve of the earlier generations.
McPeakes’s gift for teaching is employed at the Francis McPeake School of Music, which is established in 1977, and he writes a well-reviewed tin whistle tutor entitled Smash the Windows, published by Appletree Press in 1981. He also forms the Clonard Traditional Music Society.
McPeake dies on July 7, 1986. The McPeake family remains closely associated with traditional music and with Belfast. The Francis McPeake International Summer School is established in 2004.
(From: “McPeake, Francis (‘Francie’)” by Ríonach uí Ógáin, Dictionary of Irish Biography, content licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 4.0 International license)