Francis O’Neill (1848-1936)


Life
[Captain Francis O’Neill]; b. Tralibane, Bantry, Co. Cork; ran away to sea; travelled world as seaman; shipwreck in Pacific; taught school at Edina, Knox, Co., Missouri; worked in freight yard; reached Chicago, 1871, and joined the city police force, July 1873; witnessed great fire, strikes, and political corruption; on premotion at Deering St. Station, he found one Mahoney playing a double jig on the flute, with four other policemen accompanying on fiddles; when one stood to attention, O’Neill picked up the flute and continued where he had left off;
O’Neill was shot in back and promoted for bravery, becoming General Superintendent, 1901-05 [var. 7 yrs. as Chief of Police]; published 13 vols. at his own expense, the tunes being transcribed by Sergeant James O’Neill as he played them; retired from the police force, 1905; works incl. The Music of Ireland, 1850 Melodies (1903); Dance Music of Ireland (1907); O’Neill’s Irish Music (1908); Irish Folk Music, A Fascinating Hobby (1910), with an account of his collection; Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913); Waifs and Strays of Irish Melody (1916); there is a biography by Nicholas Carolan (1997);
his “Sketchy Recollections”, written at aetat. 83, have been edited by Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch (2008); donated 1,500 books to Notre Dame Univ. Library. DIB DIH

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Works
  • The Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies (NY: Regan 1903);
  • Dance Music of Ireland, 10001 Gems of Irish Melody (NY: Regan 1907);
  • Irish Folk Music, A Fascinating Hobby (NY: Regan 1910);
  • Irish Minstrels and Musicians, with Numerous Dissertations on Various Subjects (NY: Regan 1913) [contents], and Do. [ rep. edn.], with introduction by Breandán Breathnach (Cork: Mercier Press 1987);
  • Irish Folk Music; A fascinating Hobby, with some account of Allied Subjects, incl. O'Farrell's “Treatise on the Irish or Union Pipes” and Touchey’s “Hints to Amateur Pipers”, with a new introd. by Barry O’Neill (Darby, Pa., Norwood Editions, 1973), xi, 359pp., ill. [24 cm].

See also Ellen Skerritt & Mary Lesch, eds., Chief O’Neill’s Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago (Dingle: Brandon Press 2008), 331pp., ill. [incls. cat. of 1,500 books donated to Notre Dame UL].

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Bibliographical details
Irish Minstrels and Musicians, with Numerous Dissertations on Related Subjects, by Capt. Francis O’Neill, compiler of [...] The Music of Ireland; Dance Music of Ireland [&c] (Chicago: Regan Printing House 1913; for sale by Lyon and Healy, Chicago, and M. H. Gill & Son, Dublin). Preface: ‘No class of Irish worthies has been treated with less consideration in biographical literature than Minstrels and Musicians ... Mirth is God’s medicine and never ... &c’. “Authorities” cited include signally Barnaby Rich, Bunting; Brewer (Beauties of Ireland 1823); Bartlett and [J. S.] Coyne; Thomas N. Burke; Carr; T. C. Croker; Carleton; Prof. Conran; Thomas Davis; Giraldus Cambrens-is; Grove’s Dictionary; Grattan Flood; Hardiman; Mr and Mrs Halls; Haverty (300 Irish Airs, 1858); P. W. Joyce; Keating; Lynch (Adversus Camb.); Ledwich; Lewis (Topograph. Dict. of Ireland 1837); Lover; Lady Wilde; Le Fanu; Madden (Infirmities of Genius 1833); [Charlotte] Milligan Fox; Charles O’Conor (Dissertations 1766); O’Halloran (General History of Ireland 1788); Miss Owenson (Patriotic Sketches 1807); O’Donovan (Annals &c 1851); O’Curry (Manners & Customs 1873); Plumptre[e]; Ryan (Worthies 1821); Stanyhurst (De Reb. Hib. Gest. 1584); Smith (History of Cork 1750); Thackeray (Irish Sketch Book 1842); Walker (Historical Memoirs 1786); Walker (History of Music in England 1907).

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Commentary
A. P. Graves, under ‘Folk Song’, in Irish Lit. & Mus. Studies (1913), p.177, ‘Crossing over from Dublin to Holyhead, I met the collector of another vast body of Irish music, Mr O’Neill, for long the distinguished chief of police in Chicago. The folk song enthusiast, being by setting down the Irish airs learnt at his Irish-speaking mother’s knee, and then through a course of years tapping the memories of fellow-countrymen who had drifted to Chicago from all the four corners of the Green Isle, has succeeded in putting together some 1850 airs, of which at least 500 have never been in print. The great value of this collection consists in the number of instrumental airs which it contains.’

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Notes
Notables: The most notable collections in print, The Music of Ireland (1903) and The Dance Music of Ireland (1907) came from Captain Francis O’Neill of Chicago. Although a great number of airs which they include come from other printed sources, they are particularly valuable because they contain hundreds of dance tunes which were noted from the many emigrant traditional players who frequented Chicago at the beginning of this century. Bibl. O’Neill’s Irish Music (Chicago 1915). [Q. source.]

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