seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Francis McPeake II, Uilleann Piper & Singer

Francis ‘Francie’ McPeake II, uilleann piper and singer, dies in Belfast on July 7, 1986. He is a crucial figure in preserving the great Ulster piping tradition.

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)


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Death of Joe Heaney, Traditional Irish Singer

joe-heaneyJoe Heaney, traditional Irish singer also known as Joe Éinniú or Seosamh Ó hÉanaí, dies in Seattle, Washington on May 1, 1984. He spends most of his adult life abroad, living in England, Scotland and New York City, in the course of which he records hundreds of songs.

Heaney is born Carna, a remote village in the Irish-speaking district of Connemara, County Galway, along the west coast of Ireland on October 15, 1919. He starts singing at the age of five, but his shyness keeps him from singing in public until he is 20. He learns English at school in Carna. When he is 16 years old, he wins a scholarship to attend school in Dublin. While there he wins first and second prizes at a national singing competition. Most of his repertoire, estimated to exceed 500 songs, is learned while growing up in Carna.

In 1949, Heaney goes to London where he works on building sites and becomes involved in the folk-music scene. He records for the  Topic Records and Gael Linn Records labels. He is married for six years until his wife dies of tuberculosis.

Heaney is recorded by Pádraic Ó Raghallaigh for Raidió Teilifís Éireann, and by Peter Kennedy for the BBC in 1959. The BBC recordings are assembled on a BBC LP, not commercially issued, as BBC LP 22570.

Heaney comes to the United States in 1965 at the invitation of the Newport Folk Festival. After singing at Newport, he decides to move to America and settles in New York City. From 1982 until 1984, Heaney is an artist-in-residence at the University of Washington in Seattle after previously having taught at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Joe Heaney dies of emphysema in Seattle on May 1, 1984. The Joe Heaney Collection of the University of Washington Ethnomusicology Archives is established after his death. The Féile Chomórtha Joe Éinniú (Joe Heaney Commemorative Festival) is held every year in Carna. An Irish-language biography of him has been written by Liam Mac Con Iomaire, and a biography that discusses his work in the larger context of Ireland and the United States was published in 2011 by Sean Williams and Lillis Ó Laoire.