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Chris Smith: Words & Music

Hornpipes: Chief O Neill's Favorite/Kitty's Wedding

(Chris Smith (banjo), Randal Bays (fiddle), Roger Landes (bouzouki))
2005-09-08
They’re common tunes, but there’s a reason for it: just two beautiful, simple hornpipes in D. They also flow from one into the other beautifully, and the grooves feel really good. I always like to use these tunes when asked to play for dance classes or feiseanna (competitions), because I don’t mind playing them over and over for hours at a time! “The Chief”, of course, is Francis O Neill (1849-1936)—sailor, whistler, castaway, schoolteacher, cargo handler, and General Superintendent of police in Chicago 1901-05—whose collections of tunes are the cornerstone of the music’s written record. This tune (1850 #1556) is associated with the Chief’s home county Cork and was recorded by both Sligo’s Michael Gorman and Clare’s Willie Clancy. I might have first heard it from fiddler Dave Swarbrick, and later melded versions by Paddy Glackin and Johnny O Leary, but have come to associate it with the great set- and step-dance teacher Kathleen Finley, a treasured musical comrade. . I’m pretty sure I got “Kitty’s Wedding” (in O Neill’s 1850 as #297) from flute- and concertina-player Grey Larsen in Bloomington, Indiana—I certainly got a lot of others from him. Tommy McCarthy of Clare and London had a beautiful version too. This is one of the tunes that survived the Atlantic passage: it shows up not only in Ireland but also in West Virginia, and is a close relation to one version of “Sugar in the Gourd.”