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Michael McNamara was born in 1936 to parents Patrick McNamara and Bridget Reilly. Second eldest in a family of five living children, Michael’s mother died when he was five years old. Subsequent to his mother’s untimely death, Michael was reared by his father in their homestead in Carrickavoher, Aughavas, Co. Leitrim.
Though life was not easy on a subsistence farm, Michael and his siblings grew up in a house which constantly received visitors, particularly local farmers who visited on a Sunday night to ‘ceili’ and keep company with Michael’s father Patrick. Though not musicians or singers, these neighbours were influential in developing Michael’s great interest in storytelling.
Michael’s dad also had songs that he would sing around the fireplace to his young children to entertain them after the chores for the day were completed. This had a particular influence on Michael’s sister Josephine.
Of particular significance in Michael's life were the visits from local flute player, singer and storyteller, John Blessing. Witnessing this master player an early age, progressed to lessons on the whistle in 1951 and eventually the flute.
Michael met his wife Mary (nee [?]) at a dance in Belturbet, Co. Cavan in the early 1960s where she was dancing and he was playing as a member of the Eugene Leddy Ceili Band. They married in 19[??] and raised a family of five children all of whom play traditional music. While reluctant to be in the musical limelight Mary was the 'nucleus' of the McNamara Family. Mary died in August 2015.
Michael’s passion for the music, and desire to hear and learn good music, motivated him to acquire a Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder in 1959. Few such devices existed in the Irish traditional music community at that time. It was on this tape recorder that Michael captured the Ceili Mór in Aughavas in 1959, and the local crowning of his sister Josephine as the Ballad Queen of Ireland, following her successive wins at All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in 1958 and 1959.
As more advanced technology came to the market, Michael invested in Toshi and Sony tape recorders. The Sony tape recorder is shown below. The expense and availability of new tapes meant that many of the reel-to-reel tapes were re-used for recording. But in total 83 reel-to-reels still exist capturing multiple hours of material from 1959 to the early 1970s.
From the early 1970s Michael moved to the more convenient cassette tape recorder.
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