Honored February 15, 2003. R.I.P.
The great Sligo influence on traditional Irish music, which continues to resonate in the New York area to this very day, touched the young Tubbercurry native at the age of five. Mike who was born in 1926 was a natural on the flute and received no formal training but he learned by listening to the older men in town. Before long, Mike could be found playing at dances, weddings, and many a feis throughout Ireland.
Mike made his way to England in 1947, playing both the flute and fiddle at many dances and sessions. It was his unique style on the flute that landed him in the Royal Albert Hall in London. This led to BBC sessions and various records, accompanying the great Paddy Killoran and Mike Gorman, among others. Despite his success in England, Mike made his way to New York in 1955. Soon after arriving, he joined a group of about 50 other traditional musicians to form the Paddy Killoran Club in Manhattan.
Mike became a mainstay in the New York traditional Irish music circles, making several more records with Paddy Killoran. He made annual appearances in the Knights of Shamrocks extravaganza, the Ted Mack Show, the Arthur Godfrey Show and Harry McGurk Show through the early 60’s. He could also be found marching and playing with the County Down Fife & Drum Band in St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York. The 1976 Bicentennial celebration in Washington, DC, was one of Mike’s last formal appearances where he appeared along with 51 other musicians and dancers from Ireland and America. The greatest times were had playing for the dancers at all of those great New York area feis events with the likes of Mike Preston, Mick Moloney, Paddy Reynolds, Sean McGlynn, Andy McGann, Joe Burke, Louie Quinn, Martin Wynn, Felix Dolan, Fr. Charlie & Jack Coen, and Mike Rafferty. If the feis represents Irish music and dance at its best, then surely it played a role in Mike’s greatest creation.
Along with his lovely wife Liz, a fine Clare woman, they raised one daughter, Dympna, whose five American Stepdancing Championships and exquisite performances on tin whistle evoke fond memories for all who know this great Irish American family. Mike and Liz, married nearly 44 years, reside in Elmhurst, Queens. Mike is also the proud “pop” to grandchildren Ryan, Liam, and Roisin.
– Roger DeBonis