Alan Morrisroe - An Appreciation, Charlestown in Co. Mayo

Alan Morrisroe was born in Barnacogue, Parish of Charlestown, County Mayo, in October 1951 to Joe and Mary Frances. He was born into a home with a great musical heritage, the kind of heritage that kept our traditional music alive in our homes today. The early influences in his life of music were his loving grand-mother, known far and wide as Catty Nell, and his father Joe. Another influence in his life was Hughie Gallagher.

From times past, most people in Ireland entertained themselves with music and song and entertainment in their own homes. Times might have been bad, but the people were strong and despite the curse of emigration, traditional music thrived in the hearts of the people.

Alan began his house recordings in 1981, recording elderly people who could still play a musical instrument or sing an old song. Alan worked with Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, an organisation formed in 1951 to revive the older form of traditional music and song. Little of the older forms of traditional music would have been saved, were it not for people like Alan and his father Joe.

Like any period in ones life, the people you meet along the way, can have a great effect on the musical tradition that we cherish. One such person was Alan’s grandmother, Catherine Gallagher (Catty Nell) who was a melodeon player, singer and dancer. She was taught dancing in Catherine Corley’s barn in the town land of Killaturley. That was in the 1890’s and the blind fiddle player Patsy McHale from Straide provided the music.

When Catty Nell died in 1981, Alan was compelled to do something about the music of the past and that he did. He began to search out the location of the oldest players of traditional music in a wide area. The list is a long one, but every name deserves a mention. They also must be given a lot of praise for their efforts to preserve our heritage.

His near neighbours, sister and brother, Mrs Delia Henry and Paddy Lenihan of Baile Lenehaun, Killaturley, were two people with whom he spent a lot of time recording their thoughts and music in the 1990’s. He recorded Delia on quite a few occasions, the last being in 2011.

They were from a family of extraordinary musicianship and possessed extraordinary old tunes, many of which were lost with the passage of time and the disappearance of traditional music and dance from the old days.

Their knowledge of local lore was as astounding as their personalities were warm. Delia was a National School Teacher. She graduated from Craiglockart, Edinburgh, Scotland. Delia who is now 103 years of age, is an extraordinary lady in every respect.

His father Joe, has been one person that he has looked up to, as a fine melodeon player, and the liveliest dancer of the local Half-Set and Lancers, and what great dancers his category were, when the right dancers and musicians were available.

The musicians and dancers that Alan has written about, lived their lives in the present, knowing that in the future they most certainly will have a place in the past.

©Cathal Henry 2013

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