O'Beirne, James Lad, 1911-1980

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O'Beirne, James Lad, 1911-1980

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Of the four fiddling 'greenhorns' who arrived in New York in 1928, just in time for the Great Depression - James Lad O'Beirne, Donegal native Hugh Gillespie, Roscommon man Larry Redican and Mayo-born John McGrath, Lad O’Beirne has perhaps the greatest reputation among traditional musicians.

Born in 1911 in the townland of Bellanalack near Ballymote, County Sligo, ''Lad'' was only 16 when he disembarked in New York. But as a son of fiddle master Philip O’Beirne, one of Michael Coleman’s chief influences, he was soon welcomed into elite musical circles. The connection to Coleman was strengthened when he married the older fiddler’s niece Mary in 1942. O’Beirne never made a solo commercial disc of his own, though he did cut a handful of 78 rpm sides, including one fantastic hornpipe duet with a band led by Louis Quinn. Cassette copies of some of Lad’s privately made home disc recordings circulated for years, and some of those discs have now been added to ITMA’s collection. Lad’s reputation as one of the greatest of Irish fiddlers is largely based on the impression he made on fellow musicians at house parties, private sessions and on trips back to Ireland.

Perhaps the greatest collection of Irish fiddle players ever assembled in one neighbourhood lived and played in the south Bronx in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Lad O’Beirne was the dean of this college of fiddle masters. Reels and jigs echoed from O’Beirne’s apartment every Friday night, windows thrown open to ventilate parties that drew the likes of Paddy Killoran, Paddy Sweeney, Tim Harte, Tom Connolly, Larry Redican, Louis Quinn, Vincent Harrison, Martin Wynne, Andy McGann and Paddy Reynolds. Cavan-born Philadelphia resident Ed Reavy was a frequent visitor, bringing his latest compositions to New York for the delectation of his musical peers.

Paddy Reynolds, Andy McGann, Vincent Harrison, Louis Quinn, Ed Reavy and Sligo brothers Séamus and Manus McGuire are among the many musical associates who attested to Lad’s genius as fiddler and composer. Several of Lad’s unnamed compositions are now in general circulation among traditional players the world over. When he passed away in 1980, Lad, like Coleman, Morrison and Killoran, was laid to rest in St. Raymond’s cemetery in the Bronx. 


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