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Patsy Geary


Patsy Geary (1857 – 1936) was a fiddle player and a mentor of Johns when he was younger and still living in Clare. John believed that Patsy was from Drangan in County Tipperary and after he got married he lived in Cloughansavaun near Ross, a townload just a few miles from where John grew up in Rehy West.

Patsy was a travelling musician and John stated that he played for the big houses and also for dances and American wakes and at the Galway races. John also states that Patsy was meant to have been the best player from West Clare in those times.

John talks about the difficulty of learning tunes from Patsy and his memories of going over to visit him house and he paints a vivid picture of Patsy and his family from these. John also remembers Patsy as being illiterate which is confirmed from the census records that I found.

Patsy’s birth year is from census records and death year from John Kelly’s memory.

Credit: Geary family census form from 1911. Patsy is listed as 60 years old here and the head of the family. Link. 


John Kelly Senior talking about Patsy Geary and playing the Salamanca Reel

“There’s a lot of the people that was associated with the fiddle in my young days, not a lot, but they’re all dead, they’re all gone you know but eh. I suppose Junior and myself and Jimmy Ward would be the oldest men in showbusiness at the present moment.

Well twas great meeing the old timers and they had. They were nasty in a lot of ways, they wouldn’t even show you anything. I used to steal into Patsy Geary after riding a bike about 3 and a half miles in a hilly crooked road, and and I’d be… I’d park my bicycle someplace around the house. And I’d be listening at the door to find out how the situation was. But I daren’t enter at all. And I’d find him maybe sitting at the fire. He used to always keep a lovely fire and the house well painted.  And 7 or 8 alarm clocks then …and many more of course, they were decoration.

His son Seán was a man of the house in those days you know. And he was very interested in the music and he’s say to the father, would you father take down the fiddle, the boys after coming a long way and ’tis a  bad night. “Musha John I don’t feel like playing tonight John.” He’s go on like this. But I’d a drop in my pocket, which I hadn’t the price of at that time. He’d be playing I’ll tell you. And he couldn’t be stopped. 

But it was an insult to come into his house without a drop in the pocket. Which of course I was only a young lad about 14 or 15 years of age and I didn’t know the etiquette, or what was going. Anyway we hadn’t the money. Apart from… my Mother woudl kill me. “What are you bringing drink up to Patsy Geary to hear him play music.”

Patsy came from the old school. You know like and he loved that touch because he played in the big houses. All those people they were the radio and televisions of the day you know. Of course I might as well add you see that he was a travelling man do you see at one stage and he married Mary, a woman by the name of Mary MacNamara, Máire Mac was her name.  And he stole her from her husband, at the wedding. The wedding was at 4 o’clock in the evening and Patsy was there all day, and Máire was there all day.  And the dance went on fine and before the groom came anyway, Patsy had eloped with the bride to be. That’s sure. I hope none of the gearys are around here now.

She was a great musician too and she used to feen and cry and pull the shawl across. She was a big woman. She used to sell carigeen and mussels and things on the strand ’twas no bother for her to go 18 miles to Kilrush to sell her wears. But eh, she loved the music.

Twas like a dream land in my day to go in a meet that man and when he played…When I got a bit better then I had studied, I heard a few tunes from the record from Michael Coleman. Lord McDonalds reel was, it was wonders when we heard it first.  I was trying to teach it to the pupiles there. It was the greatest of all times when  we heard Michael Coleman play it. 

Now I was advancing at this stage, I supposed I’d be 20 and I used to come armed now, not the shite fella anymore that was trying to.. I came as a….

I had a bad fiddle, was made by a Blacksmith. He often gave it a dirty look when he used to see it…

And he used to get things from the states. His daughter …Maria? Geary went out to the States, he had a big big family.  They used to send him the best of things. Oh his fiddle was great. He told me it was the greatest fiddle,  not in Clare but there was nothing in South munster like it he said. It was an awful statement, I kind of believed him too. I don’t think that he were telling the truth probably. 

….Do you know what he said to me I played it, and he shuffled and he stuck the tongs in the fire and he put a coal in the pipe and he looked around. “Ah John Kelly he said and where did you get that introduction.” Glory be to God almighty, he cut the ground from under me completely.  Well I needed to be told the man I heard playing that you wouldn’t be fit to rock in the boat with he stayed in his own corner.  And that’s the time I won out and that’s the time I won out. When I spoke up for myself.

So that was one of the stories of my young days learning the fiddle. But he was a beaufiul player though. He used a long bow and he had great touches and beautiful tone and oh he was, when he got the fiddle, I think that you couldn’t knock tone out out of the fiddle that you couldn’t knock any fiddle. I could never knock the tone out of it anyway.

I’ll try to play something that he…This reel now that he used to play, the Salamanca. I’ll try to play it now as he used to play it. He had some nice cuttings in it.”

John then plays The Salamanca Reel on the fiddle as Patsy used to play it.

Recording Details:  Session 1, ‘Demonstration in hall by various artists in Fiddling’

Location: Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, Parochial Hall, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Date: July 5, 1975.

Credit: Recorded by Barry Taylor,  part of his book “Music in a Breeze of Wind” about music in West Clare. Link. 


John Kelly Senior talking about Patsy Geary

Details: Location: Miltown Malbay. Date: 1974. Collector: Séamus MacMathúna.

Credit: © Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. Séamus MacMathúna Sound Collection Link.


John Kelly Senior talking about Patsy Geary

“About in 1921 I was at a wedding. And a country wedding was a great thing was a great thing at the time all the neighbours were invited and horses and side cars and saddle horses, and everybody geared up for he days event. And whoa to the wedding party, Everybody had to be invited if there was anybody left out there would be terrible trouble.

But that night Patsy Geary was playing at the wedding. I was sent home but I was too young you see but I heard, it started early on the Sunday evening, before the parties went to get married. It started at 6 o clock in the evening. I have good memories of him playing do you see, and I thought he was great. I was very young. 

He died in 1936 and I was a steal boy in those years in 1936. He’d be about 82 years at that time. But he in turn was a mighty man, he was a travelling man and I think from Drangan in County Tipperary. He had a brother Jim. And they were like Sonny Brogan and Bill Harte, one was 6 feet 4 and the other fella was a small little fella. Patsy was a small little fella. And Jim his brother was a big big man.

Sonny Brogan and Bill Harte used to walk around Dublin and Bill wore a black suit and a beautiful hat. And Sonny used to come up with a cap on him. 

Well the two of them loved eachother. I suppose they got consolation from one another. Because a big man can feel too big sometimes and a small man is very handy near him.

Well these two, my friend Andy Conroy knows it too. This Patsy Geary played around fairs and the Galway races and all. I think he was illiterate. His brother Jim was a professor, he has some degrees in music he used to play in Rockwell College and he used to play in Ring and he used to play lots of places. Patsy maintainted that he was a better Reel player than him. 

But Patsy was invited to this wedding in Carrigaholt and the brides name was Máire Mac, Máire MacNamara.  The wedding used to start very early in the day, 11 o’clock or 10 o’clock. People would drift in and out. And then the wedding would, the marriage would take place in the evening. Sometime about maybe 7 o’clock. But during the time Patsy was playing the dancing…. was going…wasn’t himself and Máire Mac getting sweet on eachother. And she, her marraige was with another man from the village. And  by God, about 5 of clock in the evening they started looking for the bride and she was gone, no trace of her. And there was no trace of Patsy either, the two of them eloped and away they went. 

That was the fiddle player. The father had the grass of one cow, he had one acre of land and a thatched house in Ross. And Máire Mac reared about 10 children. And she reared em, and she picked…on the coast… And she brought them to an ass and cart in Kilkee and sold em and Patsy played the fiddle and that’s how they made their living. 

The neatest house that was ever known. There was every colour of paint that was ever known, was in the doors and around. …

The most perfect house, and a … floor and a fire blazing. And there was welcome there….they made a great impression. And Patsy played at dances and American wakes. And he had 2 sons and they were 2 good concertina players. He was supposed to be the best fiddle player that was around in those days, and I’d believe it too.”

Recording Details: Lecture: ‘My Musical Youth – John Kelly’

Location: Willie Clancy Summer School, Community Hall, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Date: July 4 1978

Credit: Recorded by Barry Taylor,  part of his book “Music in a Breeze of Wind” about music in West Clare. Link. 


John Kelly Senior talking about Patsy Geary

Details: Location: John’s house in Capel street. Date: 1979. 

Credit: Recorded by John Kelly Junior.

Life & Family in Clare Musical Context

Patsy Geary