I am a web designer by trade and have always had a keen interest in music, history and folklore. I am a musician too, I play the concertina and played the fiddle in my younger years. John Kelly Senior, my grandad died when I was 8, but I have lots of very fond memories of him.
Out of my siblings I was supposed to be the quiet child and I remember spending a lot of time drawing in the back of his shop. I am also lucky enough to have inherited 2 of his concertinas.
I had an idyllic childhood surrounded by some of the best musicians in the country who I just knew as friends of my families. I have many good memories of running around when there were sessions in houses or pubs.
John Senior & Aoife Kelly. Circa 1983.
The idea for the project
Throughout my life when people find out about who my family is, I am regularly told stories about my grandfather. I had always thought about noting these stories in some way.
It was really the family folklore and history about family members that first led me to think about doing this project. Although my family have given a lot to the amazing Irish Traditional Music Archive, we still had a lot of photographs and documents around the house about my family as well as personal knowledge about tunes. I also completed a website detailing the tunes of master fiddle player Connie O’Connell which I think also sparked my interest. And my good friend and great musician Conal Early pushed me to apply for funding from the Arts Council to actually be able to undertake it.
In sessions all over the world some of my family tunes are regularly played, but the history about those tunes can sometimes be lost or muddled. For instance, a favourite tune of mine is Mary Brennan’s Favourite, and others play this too, so I wanted to be able to share some information about who this woman was, where she was from and a photo of her. I have done that where possible on this website and also my remit expanded to approximately 50 tunes that my grandfather played and looking into the history of each of them.
Sometimes during this project I felt more like a detective than a website designer. I was searching for the photo of Gilbert Clancy for the tune that my grandfather plays, Gilbert Clancy’s Favourite. After a long search and being told that one did not exist I finally found one.
Details: Gilbert Clancy (left) and his brother Jimmy taken in the U.S.A circa 1900.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Bríd O’Donoghue, Miltown Malbay.
The project itself
Although starting with family in mind, in the end this project, I hope anyway, has shone a light on other musicians that were in my grandfathers life who may not be as widely known. They are all important in the rich tapestry that is traditional Irish music and I am very happy to acknowledge them here.
Traditional Irish music for me is about so much more than tunes, it is the stories and community that binds us together. I am so grateful to my parent’s for bringing me up in this wonderful community.
I am proud to be able to put this project together. In some ways I feel that my specific background has led me to be able to take on this project; From needing Irish to be able to translate some of the website, being able to edit video and audio, having a background in multimedia, a musician. This has all led me to be able to take on this task.
In lots of ways throughout the project, I felt like my Grandad was there helping me. He would note the date of different cards or bits of paper he had, making it so much easier to put them in context. Even in the interviews he gave, he nearly always answers the questions I have.
This project is a snapshot of John’s life, though his own eyes. His tunes, his friends, his family. It is a social history of Clare and Dublin through the eyes of a musician that was hugely involved in the Irish music scene for his whole life.
The project is by no means finished. I am sure that there will be more information given to me as I go along and I will add to it. I am also sure that there are some things in the website that I have incorrect, and I am very willing to edit or change any errors that I have made.
I am indebted to all of the contributors to this website of which there has been many. I have tried to go through them in detail in the contributor’s page. I am also indebted to the wider traditional music community, whom this website is for.
A special thanks must go to all of my family who has helped in so many ways.
I hope you enjoy the website.
A word from John Kelly Senior himself
Credit: John kelly Junior Interview, 1979. Capel Street, Dublin.
John Senior talking about giving Muiris Ó Rocháin the tapes:
“John is giving me a hand with this, of course, I’m no good for setting up these machines. But he’s anxious to you to look after the tapes. He’d like to get them back because ’twill be for posterity, I suppose. When I’m dead an’ gone they might play this oul’ gibberish that I’m talkin’ about.”
Just a quick note on the transcription of the tunes that are on this website. This was done exhaustively by my husband Charlie Le Brun, who is a talented musician:
“My attempt at transcribing the music of this project is merely a reflection of John’s personal interpretation of tunes, based on specific recordings of a given moment in time and place. Those transcriptions should therefore not be considered as a definite version of any tunes, nor as John’s unique way to play certain melodies but rather as an effort to help musicians and wider audience visualize some of Kelly’s favourite tunes. As best practice, I would always encourage everyone to access the first-hand recordings and footage available on this website.”
Charlie Le Brun
To give an idea below of what Charlie was dealing with, please listen to John speak about changing the order of the parts of tunes before playing the tune.
Details: Date: Nov 1985. Location: Cultúrlann na hÉireann, Monkstown, Dublin.
Credit: Recorded by Mick O’Connor as part of the Coiste Ceoil of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Eireann.