Honored posthumously, February 16, 2008
My Dad was born in Boyle, County Roscommon, on April 30, 1908, to Tom and Ann (Kielty) Redican. He was the youngest of five children: Tom, James, Paddy, and Nora were his older brothers and sister.
The family moved to Dublin some time later and stayed with Nora and her husband Sean Harling in Rathmines. My Dad studied the violin with Arthur Darley who had been classically trained and was one of Ireland’s foremost traditional musicians. He was the first traditional player to perform on Radio Eireann.
My Dad also had a great friendship with Leo Rowsome and the other members of The Pipers’ Club who frequently played for the ceilis at the Gaelic League. He always made sure to stop there on any of his trips to Ireland.
During the Insurrection of 1916 both of my Dad’s brothers, Tom and James, were heavily involved with the Volunteers and James was sent to the Frongoch concentration camp in Wales along with Michael Collins and some of the other survivors. (But that’s another story all its own.)
My Dad came to America in 1928. He met and married my mother Mary Sullivan from Tourmakeady, County Mayo, in 1933, and they settled in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
Later, they moved to the Park Slope section where I was born in 1936. I don’t know too much about his outside-of-the-house musical activities during that time as I was preoccupied with growing up in the tough Irish-Italian neighborhood. I do know that every night he would play the fiddle,learning new tunes and composing some of his own. On the weekends the house was always full of people, musicians and avid listeners. There would be music all night. During that time there were very few venues for traditional music other than the home.
In the 1950’s my Dad played for the ceilis of the St. Brendan’s branch of the Gaelic League on Willoughby Street in Brooklyn. He was soon joined by Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, Matt Donohue, Felix Dolan, Jack Coen, Lad O’Beirne, and Jerry Wallace. Sean and Paddy O’Sullivan, Nick Erwin, and others would sit in as well.
The Gaelic League was one of the few places available for traditional musicians to gather together, and rousing renditions of The Humors of Bandon and The High Cauld Cap would be roundly applauded by appreciative dancers.
There were four branches of the League at that time: St. Brendan’s in Brooklyn, The Bronx Gaelic League, The New York Gaelic Society in mid-town Manhattan, and the Philo-Celtic Society in Queens. Each one held a ceili on a different Saturday night during the month. A “controlling” organization, the Comhorla na Cumann Gaelige, made up of individual delegates of the four societies along with members of An Fainne (the all-Gaelic Speaking society), coordinated activities and would sponsor such things as Monster Ceilis as fund-raisers for feiseanna held in the Spring and Summer, usually at Iona College.
My Dad could be found at at least three ceilis a month, along with Andy McGann and Paddy Reynolds. Between dances you could see them, heads together, my Dad usually showing them how he had gotten from one bar to another or demonstrating some “bridge” he had constructed to smoothly go from place to place. They would be discussing these little twists and turns among themselves, oblivious to any disturbances in the background.
My Dad also was continually called upon to play for the dancers at “Open Competitions” at one feis or another. Not many musicians could immediately play “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” “The Ace and Deuce of Piping,” “Planxty Drury,” after numerous renditions of “The Three Sea Captains” or ” The Blackbird.” Such was the depth of his repertoire. He was always asked-for by the McNiff Troupe of dancers, as they were very innovative and respected his wide knowledge of tunes as well as his skill in providing them with a flawlessly smooth background from which they could shine on stage or platform. He appeared with them on T.V. on the “Arthur Godfrey Show” and on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” usually around St.Patrick’s Day. They frequently appeared on stage as an opening-act for Carmel Quinn, the popular Irish singer.
My Dad worked every day in a factory in Queens for Elizabeth Arden Cosmetics and did so for thirty some-odd years. A grueling job. And yet, at night, he relaxed by playing his fiddle. As I did my homework for school I’d kind of whistle along. I recognized all the tunes but didn’t have names on them. I’m still the same.
Some of my most vivid memories are about the visitations to the apartment in Brooklyn by newly-arrived musicians from Ireland. I especially remember one night. Returning from a late night class at St.John’s I arrived home to a strangely quiet place. There were clouds of smoke coming from the living room and the murmuring of many men. Sitting in the middle of a wide semi-circle, with his Paolo-Soprani accordion on his lap was Paddy O’Brien. The men in the room whispered to one another rather than talk loudly. Paddy was a quiet man who let his accordion do most of the talking. Out of respect, the rest of the men tried to restrain their enthusiasm and confined it to “oohs” and “aahhhss” along with requests for another reel or jig. Paddy had a special “gift” which was immediately acknowledged by the gathering. Men leaned forward, listening to every note. They nodded to one another. They closed their eyes and squinted to enable them to concentrate even deeper. No one picked up an instrument. This was a Showcase. My Dad took his seat with the other men and my Mom spent the night in the kitchen making tea. Soon after that night Paddy was doing the ceili circuit with my Dad. They got along famously. Neither one tried to out-do the other and there was a mutual respect for one another’s abilities.
A not-very-similar event took place the night Sean Maguire came to Brooklyn. The room was packed again, the smoke billowing out the open windows. There was more of a crackling electricity in the room. Maguire was not one to be quiet or timid. Quite the contrary. He actually tried to out-do himself. By the time he had ended his signature piece “The Moving Cloud” there was little horsehair left on his bow and the towel around his neck was sopping wet. When he let loose. there was a great whooping and hollering to urge him on and he loved it. It’s a wonder we weren’t thrown out by the landlord after that night.
Another visitor to Brooklyn was Ciarán MacMathúna from Radio Éireann, who came with boxes of tapes and recording devices and asked my Dad to introduce him to the traditional musicians in and around the town. Together, they traveled back and forth to every nook and cranny in the city to tape an interview or a series of tunes. My Dad took him to Philadelphia to meet Ed Reavy, who had composed many reels of his own and who invited many of his fellow Philadelphians in for a few sessions. Ciarán had quite a lot of good music for his program Mo Cheol Thú, which aired every Sunday morning from Dublin.
I could go on and on with these small vignettes from my memories but I imagine they might be very repetitious. I wanted to paint with a wider brush to give you a better idea of my Dad’s unselfish commitment to the music. I loved my Dad. I loved him for his reverence for his music. I loved him for his uncritical respect of his fellow musicians. I treasure his memory and the few tapes I have of him playing and composing in the evenings at home. They were all truly a Band of Brothers in those days. They kept a tradition alive.
My Dad died with the fiddle in his hands, on the stage of the Inish Fada Irish Society in Mineola, New York, just after he had played a selection of reels to thunderous applause on January 26, 1975.
Larry Redican, Jr.