last updated 11 February 2000

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Junior Crehan


Copyright © 2000 Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy

Farewell to Junior Crehan

by Muiris Ó Rochaín

The address delivered at the grave, 5 August 1998
Táimid anseo d'fhonn slán a fhágail ag Junior Crehan. Do bhí aois mhór aige, ceithre fichid slánaithe aige. Chuireas féinig aithne ar Junior Crehan triocha bliain ó shin agus is mó oíche shuailceach a chaitheas leana chois idir an dá linn. Is mó duine a ghlaoigh ina threo, a bhfurmhór ag lorg ceoil agus cuid acu ar thoír seanachas agus scéalta. D'fháiltigh sé rompu go léir. Tigh fial fáilteach oscailte ba ea tigh Junior ina raibh fáilte Uí Cheallaigh roimh gach éinne. Bhí a bhean

Cissie mar chrann taca aige i gcónaí agus éinne a tháinig go dtí an tigh bhí sí flaithiúil leothu i gcónaí. Bhí cruinneolas ag Junior ar gach aon bhlúire dá cheantar dúchais. Ba dheas a bheith ag éisteacht leis ag cur síos ar na heachtraí agus imeachtaí ar fad go raibh sé sáite iontu agus go bhfacha sé.

Ba chneasta agus ba shéimh an duine é agus bhí féith láidir grinn ann. Duine ar leithligh ab ea é a thuig an saol ghealach agus níos tabhachtaí fós, thuig sé cad é mar chailliúint don náisiún imeacht an tsaoil san. Faoi mar adúirt, duine breá sochar abe Junior agus ní fhaca riamh sceitiminí air. Thaitin Raidió na Gaeltachta go mór leis agus ba bhreá leis bheith ag éisteacht le amhranaíocht ar an sean-nós, a léitheid Seán Ach Donnacha, Joe Einniú, Seán de h'Óra, Níoclas Tóibín, Diarmaid Ó Suilleabháin agus le déanaí Lillís O Laoghaire a thaghadh go minic ar chuaird chuige.

We are here to say slán, farewell to Junior Crehan. It is impossible to separate Junior from the place where he was born in 1908 and spent practically all his youth and adult life-Junior inherited generations of tradition and every day of his life he added to that legacy. Junior was keenly aware of this rich and valuable background and the way it shaped his music and personality. Junior witnessed many changes in his lifetime and of his youth he had vivid memories of the last of Gaelic speakers in the area. He was very conscious of the great richness within the Irish language and like Willie Clancy he found music in the spoken language of the gaeltacht. He listened avidly to Radio na Gaeltachta and watched TnG since it came on air. I met Junior on a regular basis and invariably he would have some Irish phrases or words which he would inquire if I knew their meaning or the context they were used in. The Irish tradition at all levels had an intense interest in high quality speech and one can recall Diarmaid O Sé, the Kerry poet's death bed appeal speaking in Irish to his friends said, "Neighbors, do not let this fine speech die." The Clare poets Séamas MacCruitín and Seón Ó hUaithnín uttered the same sentiments. Junior would appreciate that.

Junior spoke with passion about the country house dances; as he said himself a "place where the traditions of music-making, story-telling and dancing were passed on." These were all an essential part of Junior's life and he spoke of wonderful occasions of house dancing in his own area and in Quilty which he had a special grá, love for. These were natural forms of entertainment but in the 1930's the State and clergy taught otherwise and the Dance Hall Act of the mid Thirties tried and unfortunately succeeded in banning the house dances. To quote Junior, "The Dance Hall Act closed our schools of tradition and left us a poorer people." Junior was engaged in farming all his life and his work was very meticulous and he took great joy in having things right.

His knowledge of farming lore, seanchas, oral and local history was phenomenal. Fortunately Tom Munnelly of the Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin, has recorded extensively from Junior over a number of years. The next issue of Béaloideas published by the Folklore of Ireland Society will carry an extended article on some of Junior's great store of stories, lore and seanchas.

Junior saw harsh times in the 1930s and 1940s-the economic war had almost brought rural Ireland to its knees. Emigration was very high and as if immigration was not bad enough, the passing of the Dance Hall Act seemed as if the powers that be were bent on making life as difficult and miserable for those who stayed at home. But despite all this traditional music, song and dance were never totally suppressed in West Clare and went on all the year around. The tradition was too strong to be suppressed and Junior's fiddle did what D H Lawrence said was the function of art: it cleared away the essential and articulated the message that came to us from field and bog and sky and water. Junior spoke with great affection of his mentors and in particular the influence of the Caseys from Annagh, John Scully Casey and his cousin Thady. From the Caseys he picked up many of the set dance tunes and many slow airs as well as the background material to these airs. He spoke of the draíocht, magic of Scully's music and how both he and Willie Clancy were captivated by it. Junior always proudly spoke of Scully Casey's influence on him. His son Bobby who is here with us today from London proudly carries on the rich and wonderful fiddling tradition of the Caseys.

Junior also witnessed the last of the great travelling musicians to the area and in particular Johnny Doran, a man who had a strong influence on Willie Clancy. Johnny came to the Quilty area in the 30's and made a lasting impression on all who met him. The impression he made was of a vigorous colourful personality whose music was powerful to hear. Junior was regarded as a first class musician and was invited to all the social activities which occurred around him. He played regular at the local feisanna for the various competitors. One of the earliest photos of Junior is with his life long pal Josie Hayes playing at the Dunsallagh Feis in 1936.

He often spoke of the dancing masters in the area and in particular Thady Casey who had a range of very complicated and wonderful steps. He said when Thady was dancing he was king of the floor. He often spoke of a travelling dance master also-Pat Barron who spent two extended periods around the Mullagh area-1914-1918 and from 1935-1936. He learned a lot from Pat Barron and Pat Barron is part of the folk memory and heritage of West Clare.

Junior also played the concertina and the usual instruments of the time were concertinas, fiddles, piccolos and old melodeons. He often spoke of the 78 records coming to West Clare from the States.

All combined with the travelling musician, dancing masters and country house-dance made music, song and dance a natural and integral part of life in West Clare. When I was speaking in Irish at the beginning I referred to Junior's great love of singing. He had a great love of local songs and spoke about one local bard in particular Martin O'Brien, a cooper by trade who lived near him. Junior was a regular visitor to Tom Lenihan's house and the two were particularly close life long friends. It was a great honour to have known both and we travelled together to many musical occasions.

Junior composed many songs, many of them of a personal nature and two which he always claimed were very special to him. To quote Junior, "One was for my music master Scully Casey, the other my friend Willie Clancy. When Scully Casey died there passed away a wealth of fiddle lore because for my generation Scully represented a connection with the great fiddle players of the past; and when Willie Clancy died the link with such great pipers as Garrett Barry and Johnny Doran was broken."

Junior composed many a tune and as he said himself sound appealed to him, birds singing, the noise of a stream, the throb of an engine, anything that can give a rhythm. These inspired him to compose jigs, reels and hornpipes. Junior was a generous person with his music and gave it freely to his fellow musicians. In a tribute to Junior on RTE Radio 1 yesterday, Paddy Glackin and Liam Flynn gave testimony to Junior's generosity. Many of his compositions tunes are now being played world wide and are to be found on disc by some of the best known Irish musicians anywhere. Junior said "traditional music and song come out of a feeling for people and things-long may we have that feeling with us."

Junior was involved as a founder member of many well known national organisations in Irish music today. He was very active in Comhaltas Ceoltoíri Éireann and worked very hard for its success. He was the Clare president of Comhaltas for a time. He remembered great times of recording-with Séamus Ennis and in particular Ciaran MacMathúna. He was very actively involved with the Laichtín Naofa Ceili Band and travelled widely with it in the 50s. He often claimed that the Laichtín Naofa Band played a large part in gaining recognition and appreciation for the distinctive style of traditional music in the area. He played an active role in the Willie Clancy School since its foundation and has been its President for a good number of years. I personally can thank Junior for making the Willie Clancy what it is. Junior was a placid person but had great strength of character when it came to stand for things he believed in. Junior was never afraid to voice his opinion when necessary and I can personally thank him for a number of occasions we had to make important decisions.

There's a proverb in Irish which states no prophet is recognised or accepted in his own area. Fortunately in the case of Junior Crehan this was not true. The Arts Council of Ireland made a presentation to Junior on his eightieth and ninetieth birthday. He was selected as Clareperson of the year in 1989 and it is gratifying to see the Clarepeople's Association selecting people to honour who have made a cultural contribution to Irish life. President Robinson spoke very eloquently of Junior when she opened the Willie Clancy School in 1993. The opening lecture of the school was on Junior given by Barry Taylor and President Robinson sat next to Junior while the lecture was being delivered.

Junior was a very discerning person in many ways. He had the great fortune of a wonderful wife and family. Cissie his wife was always such a welcoming host and it is she who will miss Junior most. Our sympathy today are with you Cissie.

With the death of Junior Crehan an era in the traditional life of West Clare has come to an end. The rather cliched phrase, 'Ní bheidh a léitheid ann arís' is all too true. All of us who used to meet at a regular basis at the house of Jimmy and Nell Gleeson in Coore will miss him dearly. I referred to Junior as a composer of songs and one of the songs he composed in memory of Willie Clancy very aptly portrays his own loss:

"There's a gap in the tradition that ne'er shall be filled
A wide gap that ne'er shall be mended."

Duine uasal geanúil gaelach ab ea Junior, fear a sheas riamh lena dhúchas. Bhí grá agus meas ag na mílte air, agus ní gá ach féachaint ar an gcomhluadar anseo inniu chun sinn a chruthú. Is boichte an tír seo agus sinn go léir a dhuluainn. Slán leat a chara agus codhladh sámh anocht agat i measc do chomharsain, do chairde agus do chomh ghael agus chomh ceoltoirí ar fad.

Junior Crehan laid to rest as he would have wished, to the sound of music

by Gordon Deegan

The Cork Examiner, 6 August 1998
The father figure of traditional Irish music, Junior Crehan was laid to rest amid a musical celebration, yesterday, in the West Clare village of Mullagh as over a thousand people packed St Mary's church to pay tribute to the legendary fiddler and story-teller.

Members of the Crehan family, playing at the graveside at the funeral of traditional musician Junior Crehan in Mullagh, Co. Clare, yesterday. The tiny village was brought to a standstill as many of the luminaries of traditional music, lovers of Irish music and friends of Junior joined his family in paying respect to the man whose life spanned the great changes traditional music has undergone this century.

Junior's last wish that his death would be celebrated with music was fulfilled as his funeral Mass became a celebration [of] sound as piper Liam O'Flynn, Junior's nephews and nieces, Peadar Ó Riada and members of the Cor Chuil Aodh paid tribute to the native of Bonaville.

Speaking at his graveside, where the music and song was continued, Willie Clancy Summer School [director], Muiris Ó Rochaín paid a moving tribute to Junior.

Mr Ó Rochaín said Junior made a lasting impression on all who met him and who were struck by a vigorous, thoughtful personality, adding that he had enabled music, song and dancing [to] become an integral part of life in West Clare.

Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and speaking below the blue skies, Mr Ó Rochaín said Junior was generous with his music and musicians everywhere played his compositions.

Musicians Paddy Glackin and Seán Talty at the funeral. Minister for Arts and Heritage, Silé de Valera said: "It is a sad day for all of us. Of course, he will be missed first and foremost by his family but also those who have a particular love for Irish music."

Ciaran MacMathuna said Junior was the father figure of traditional music, representing the whole century in music.

"He was born at the beginning and is here at the end. He is the best loved musician in the country and was at the forefront of the great revival though he never pushed himself forward, he formed an integral part."

Feakle-based fiddler, Martin Hayes said: "He knew where the heart and soul of music was. If you could understand Junior, you could understand the music."

Concluding his tribute Mr Ó Rochaín quoted Junior: "Traditional music and song come out of feeling for people and things, long may we have that feeling with us."

Junior's family and friends will be able to derive a lot of satisfaction that Junior has been able to instil that feeling in the people that have been fortunate enough to learn from him during his long life.

Music's Elder Statesman Bows Out

By Martina Scanlan

The Clare Champion, 7 August 1998
As befitting the elder statesman of traditional Irish music, Junior Crehan was laid to rest on Wednesday afternoon to the accompaniment of uillean pipes, whistles, fiddles and concertinas.

Musicians from all over Ireland and Britain had been gathering in West Clare since Tuesday to bid their farewells to the ninety year old Mullagh man, one of the most influential figures in Irish music this century.

Junior died peacefully at his home in Bonavilla on Monday evening with his wife, Cissie, his son, Pat and daughters, Angela, Ita and Margaret at his bedside.

According to his great friend, Muiris O Rochain, he had been ailing for a few months but his mind was clear and he was delighted that over a hundred musicians and singers had gone to visit him at his home during the Willie Clancy Summer School.

Although better known as a fiddler, Junior was also a fine concertina player and earned praise among traditional musicians everywhere for his compositions.

His storytelling skills were another important feature of the man. Tom Munnelly from UCD's Folklore Department collected extensively from him and some of the folklore and tales passed on by Junior will for the centrepiece of next month's edition of Bealoideas.

In his lifetime, the Mullagh man also played a key role in the promotion of Irish music. He was President of Comhaltas Ceótoirí Éireann in County Clare and of the Willie Clancy Summer School, named for his great friend in Miltown Malbay.

The Clare Association in Dublin voted him Clareman of the year in 1989 and he was honoured by the Arts Council on his eightieth birthday and again earlier this year when he turned ninety.

Muiris O Rochain, who gave the oration at Junior's graveside on Wednesday afternoon, told The Champion this week that an era in the traditional life of West Clare had come to an end with his passing.

The End of an Era in West Clare

Martina Scanlan details the life and career of musician, composer and storyteller Junior Crehan who died earlier this week . . .

The Clare Champion, 7 August 1998
Muiris O'Rochain was a friend for 30 years and when he stood by Junior Crehan's grave on Wednesday afternoon to give his oration, he acknowledged the impossibility of separating the man from the place where he was born ninety years ago and where he spent most of his life.

Junior, he said, inherited generations of tradition and every day of his life, he added to that legacy. He was keenly aware of this rich and valuable background and the way it shaped his music and personality.

Martin Junior Crehan was born on January 17, 1908, the third in a family of seven boys and three girls. His father was a teacher at Shanaway National School which Junior himself attended until he was fourteen when he enrolled at St Flannan's College in Ennis.

His memories of the diocesan college were not happy ones. Corporal punishment flourished, he said, and he once got such a bad beating - thirty two slaps for an offence he didn't commit - that he refused to return after his Inter Cert.

After six months at Copsewood College in Pallaskenry, he was brought back to Mullagh for a job that never materialised and so stayed to work the land with his father. Muiris O'Rochain remembers him as a meticulous farmer whose spirit had never been dampened despite the hardships of the Thirties and Forties.

After his father handed over the farm to him, he was married on St Patrick's Day, 1941 to Cissie Walsh, a noted dancer from the Mullagh area. They had five children - Tony, who died a few years ago, Pat, Angela, Ita and Margaret - all of them, like their father, gifted musicians.

Music had been Junior's hobby since he was six when he learned the concertina and whistle at his mother's knee. The fiddle came later and he was an avid student of the older fiddle players, watching and learning their bowhand and styles.

He always acknowledged the influence of his mentors, John Scully Casey and his cousin, Thady from Annagh. In fact, throughout his life, he reckoned that Scully Casey - father of Bobby - was the greatest exponent he ever heard of the ornamental style of West Clare fiddle playing.

He was an admirer of the last of the great travelling musicians to visit the area, particularly Johnny Doran who had such a profound influence on Willie Clancy. Johnny arrived in the Quilty area in the Thirties and, by all accounts, made a lasting impression on all who met him.

Then there was his love song and his admiration for one local bard in particular, Martin O'Brien, a cooper by trade who lived near the Crehan farm. He was also [a] regular visitor to Tom Lenihan with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship. Many of the songs he composed himself were of a personal nature but there were two which were very special to him - one honouring his music master, Scully Casey, the other for his friend, Willie Clancy.

Junior himself played at country house dances, at weddings, at concerts and at the crossroads. But in 1936, the State and clergy combined to ensure that house dances were banned under the Dance Hall Act, a development he regarded as the greatest crime against Irish culture and the traditional way of life.

After the ban, the music, song and dance faded away as many of Junior's friends emigrated to England and the United States. It was a sad and lonesome time, he said, until Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann set out to retrieve what had been lost.

The Mullagh man joined CCE in Miltown Malbay in 1954 and helped form a ceili band which soon won a prize in the Oireachtas. As a fiddler, he earned second place in the All-Ireland Fleadh in 1955 - beaten by just one mark - and he won an All-Ireland medal for composition in Mullingar during the Sixties.

Junior was particularly proud of the tunes and songs he composed and was regarded as very generous to other musicians. A gifted story teller, he was equally liberal in passing on his store of folklore and tales, particularly to Tom Munnelly of the Folklore Department in UCD who collected extensively from him in recent years.

His death at home in Mullagh on Monday evening marked the end of an era in the traditional life of West Clare, according to Muiris O'Rochain, a friend of three decades' standing and a close associate in the running of the Willie Clancy Summer School at Miltown.

At the graveside on Wednesday, Muiris said that although his friend had been a very placid character, he had great strength of character when it came to standing up for his beliefs and was never afraid to voice his opinion when necessary.

He added that Junior's own tribute to the late Willie Clancy aptly fulfilled his own loss - There's a gap in tradition that ne'er shall be filled - A wide gap that ne'er shall be mended.

Junior's last wish was that someone should play over his grave for a good long session of music. And his wish was fulfilled on Wednesday afternoon when scores of players joined forces with Peadar O'Riada and the Coolea Choir for Mass in St Mary's Church before accompanying the coffin to the adjoining churchyard.

Then, as the musicians played, he was laid to rest by the side of the chapel where he had been baptised ninety years earlier.

Junior Crehan

Irish Times, August 1998
Junior Crehan, who died last Monday at the age of 90,was one of the legends traditional music. He rarely travelled far from his native parish and he made few recordings, but thousands of musicians play his tunes today and his influence will be felt for many years to come. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Musicians pay final tribute to Junior Crehan

By Arthur Quinlan in Miltown Malbay

Irish Times, 8 August 1998
Musicians from all over Ireland gathered in the west Clare village of Mullagh yesterday to pay a final tribute to Martin "Junior" Crehan (90), the last in a line of great musicians who made that part of Co Clare a mecca for traditional Irish music and dance.

Although one of the outstanding traditional fiddlers, he also played the concertina and in his younger days had been an Irish dancer of note, traditions carried on by members of his family.

Junior Crehan was one of the founders 25 years ago of the Willie Clancy Summer School, which commemorated the great piper who was a close friend of his.

Peadar Ó Riada played the organ and conducted the Cúl Aoda Choir at the Requiem Mass in St Mary's Church, Mullagh. They were joined by the piper Liam Óg Ó Flionn, who later played at the graveside. There was a graveside musical tribute also from members of the Crehan family. One daughter, Ita, played a slow air on the flute. Another daughter, Angela, joined her on the concertina, while a grandson, Tony Crehan, who now lives in California, played the fiddle. They received musical backing from members of The Chieftains and other groups.

Mr Muiris Ó Rocháin, vice-principal of St Joseph's School in Miltown Malbay, also one of the founders of the Willie Clancy Summer School, gave the graveside oration. He said that an era in the traditional life of west Clare had come to an end with the death of Junior Crehan.

Mr Crehan is survived by his wife, Cissie, son, Patrick, and by another daughter, Margaret.

Tributes to Junior

The Clare Champion, 14 August 1998
Tributes continue to pour in to Mullagh man, Junior Crehan, the elder statesman of traditional Irish music, who died on Monday week at the age of ninety.

In his tribute, Labhras O Murchu, ardstiurthoir of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, referred to Junior's own eulogy of his great friend, the piper Willie Clancy: Lament ye musicians, the king of the music is dead; the light our star in dance, house and Fleadh Cheoil is shed . . .

According to Senator O'Murchu, these words were appropriate as the musician and composer's own epitaph. He went on, "Junior, the Ballymakea musician and custodian of seanachas, once said of another musician that 'his music was like fairy music, it was full of draiocht'. Many a musician today would say the same of Junior's own musical renditions."

Crehan, Junior

Bonavilla, Mullagh

The Clare Champion, 28 August 1998
Junior' wife Cissie, his son Pat, daughters Angela, Ita, Margaret, sisters, brothers and relatives thank most sincerely all those who sympathised with them in their bereavement. Those who had attended the funeral Mass and burial, those who travelled long distances, all who sent Mass cards, letters of sympathy, floral tributes and phone calls. A special thanks to Fr. Tuohy PP for his great attention during Junior's illness and to Fr. Larkin and the many priests who concelebrated Mass. Mile buiochas do Cor Chuil Aodh for coming to sing the mass for Junior. To Lillis O'Laoire, Tim Dennehy and to all the musicians who played. Our gratitude to Dr. Billy O'Connell, Dr. Boland and staff at Elderly Care Unit and OPD Ennis General Hospital. To Jamsie O'Friel and George Morrissey. A special thanks to all our kind neighbors especially those who prepared refreshments in the Hall and those who prepared the grave. To Muiris O Rochain a very sincere thank you. As it would be impossible to thank everybody individually, we trust this acknowledgement will be accepted as a token of our sincere gratitude. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass will be offered for the intentions of all. The Month's Mind Mass for Junior will be celebrated on Thursday 3rd September at 8 p.m., St. Mary's Church, Mullagh.