I have been immensely lucky to obtain archival material of both P Flanagan and John Joe Maguire in recent weeks, which was previously unexplored. The Dún Laoghaoire Rathdown Emerging Musician in Residency has afforded me the time and privilege to explore the music of two masters whose style of playing is increasingly rare today. Several of their tunes and settings were previously unknown to me and seem to have been lost to Irish tradition. I hope to reintroduce some of this repertoire and draw attention to the important contributions of these humble musicians, among others, in a live performance later this year.
Peter, or P Flanagan as he was more commonly known, was born in 1906 in Co. Cavan. The Flanagan family subsequently migrated to Kinawley in Co. Fermanagh, before settling eventually in the townland of Drumbargy. The Flanagan’s parents were both musicians: their father Phil played the fiddle and the concert flute and their mother was a singer. Peter began playing the flute at age 8 and was self-taught in his early years. He soon joined the Kinawley marching band and became the band’s youngest member.
P was a great admirer of the famed Sligo fiddle player Michael Coleman. His admiration for Coleman may have inspired him to learn the fiddle from his father and other elderly fiddlers in Kinawley. P was more accomplished on the flute than the fiddle, which was likely connected with his father’s mastery of the former instrument. As Glassie noted, Peter ‘likened his father to Coleman as a musician, saying he was on the flute as Coleman was to the violin—the ultimate master.’ (Glassie 2016, 161) Glassie also commented on Flanagan’s playing style: “What you heard when he played was not smoothness, but surprise, not athletic speed, but power and complexity, aspiration and abandon—an urge to the edge.” (Idem) In later life, P travelled around his locality teaching several flute players, handing on the tradition and ensuring continuity in the following generation. Among P’s students were renowned flute players John Joe Maguire and Cathal McConnell.
John Joe “the puck” Maguire
Born in October 1927, John Joe Maguire was the youngest of ten children in “the puck” family—the nickname came from his father’s propensity for playing pranks in school. John Joe originally learned the whistle from P Flanagan, as I have mentioned, but he was largely self-taught on the concert flute. He learned some tunes from two of his brothers who were members of the Kinawley marching band and drew more frequently from the repertoires of local fiddle players Andy Kerrin, Tommy Maguire and Big John McManus. Like P, John Joe’s greatest inspiration was Michael Coleman, and he often played along to Coleman’s records. In reflecting on Maguire’s repertoire and style over the last few weeks, I have notice the impact John McKenna’s 78rpm recordings had on him also.
There were musicians on both sides of his family; his mother was particularly musical. John Joe would later go on to play the flute in The Pride of Erin Céilí Band alongside Cathal McConnell, who was a student of both John Joe and P Flanagan. John Joe died in February 2010. A CD was produced of John Joe’s recordings entitled “The Shy Master”, a title given to John Joe by Henry Glassie.
The majority of the information above, as well as photos 1-3, came from Henry Glassie’s classic ethnography “The Stars of Ballymenone” – Glassie, Henry. The Stars of Ballymenone, New Edition, Indiana University Press, 2016.
The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Musicians-in-Residence Scheme is jointly funded by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the Arts Council and managed by Music Network. The scheme provides opportunities for performers and composers to develop and showcase new work and cultivate new artistic collaborations. The Residencies also serve to enrich the cultural environment of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and beyond.
The dlr Musicians-in-Residence Scheme was established in 2015. Previous Musicians-in-Residence have included composer and guitarist Dave Flynn, the Tommy Halferty Trio, chamber group Ikigai, percussionist and composer Éamonn Cagney, improvising pianist and composer Izumi Kimura, composer, sound designer and multi-instrumentalist Lara Gallagher, vocalist and songwriter Susan McKeown, pianist and composer Conor Linehan, sound artist and composer Craig Cox, musician and composer Sebastian Adams, The Eidola Trio, soprano Elizabeth Hilliard with composer Gráinne Mulvey, jazz drummer Matthew Jacobson and Metier, a jazz quintet led by Ronan Guilfoyle.