Junior Crehan on Pat Barron – Irish dancing master

Ceol Tíre 7 November 1976

Junior Crehan, Mullagh, co. Clare, talking to Proinsias Ó Conluain, producer of a radio documentary on the Irish country dancing master entitled ‘Hayfoot, Strawfoot’ and first broadcast on 19 September 1976.

I remember a dancing master; his name was Pat Barron. He came from West Limerick near the borders of Kerry, and I often heard them telling the story that he was eighteen years old and his father also was a dancing master, travelled the counties of Munster and Connaught and he came back an old man. He had retired and the son Pat said that he’d like to go on the same job as his father. So he said ‘Fair enough, but if you go’ he said ‘I pawned my fiddle in Limerick and that fiddle is a good one; you’ll hear it above the noise of all the dancing and all the ruction that happens in a country house, and there’s a red cross on the back of it, he said, and if you can get that fiddle, buy it.’

So Pat proceeded to Limerick and lucky enough he got the fiddle. So he travelled on through Tipperary, Limerick, Clare, Galway, all the counties, and part of Cork where music was appreciated—West Cork—and he came into Clare. I was only a kid, five or six years, and he taught the generation before me and he had schools in different places, in country houses, and people were fighting to have him. He was like one of the old bards. He used to sing, dance and play music, and he was a grand fiddle player.

So the 1914 war came on and things were interrupted and there was no music much in the country. So he said he’d go. and I remember well to be with an old workman we had at home, a concertina player that used to play for Pat Barron when he’d be teaching the dance, and I saw the long box that he had under his hand and I didn’t know in the world what was inside it. I was used to the concertina because my mother and all her family played the concertina, and I said ‘Is it a concertina? and he said ‘No, it’s longer than a concertina and there’s a bow attached to it’. And I never thought at that time that I’d be able to play the long instrument that he was talking about. So he said goodbye and he left, and about twenty or twenty-five years passed when he returned again. He came from Kerry across the Shannon, Kilrush, Doonbeg, Cooraclare, up into Quilty, where people were very anxious to have him, because it was the home of traditional music and dance at that time; but sad to say, it’s gone a bit on the pop side now and I don’t like it.

—But. he had his day and you all had your day?

—Oh we had. yes. He taught jigs, reels, hornpipe—Blackbird, Job of journeywork, Garden of daisies, everything you could ask for, and he had one special dance that’s forgotten but I got the tune off him. It was called The drunken gauger. It was danced

kind of in a drunken fashion. The gauger, of course, was always tippling at whiskey and rum and those things and he used to get drunk, and the dance was called The drunken gauger.

—Have you got it yourself?

—1 have, yes.

—Maybe you’d play it for us later?

I will, of course I will. So he started his school then in Quilty and round our places Ballymaclare, Mount Scott, where people were steeped in tradition, and he had three schools in three country houses. Well, one crowd would stay at one school and so on, another crowd—. There might be three miles in between and I used to travel to all the schools. We paid a shilling a week for three nights, which was great value, and if you were fairly good to pick up steps or sets, you’d have a bag of dance and music going home, Well, everyone would be trying to practise their steps at the crossroads and the turf bank, here and there, everywhere, and theye be all dancing and ’twas great crack and you’d like to have the step when you’d go back the next night to the school. He also had the National Schools, the kids, and he taught them dance, but it was all dance and music and fun in the spare time but we had to work our day outside of that—and work hard.

— Was Barron very particular bout the steps—the way you did them?

— Oh he was, he was.

— What would he say? What sort of instructions would he give you?

— He’d say ‘Naw, that’s not your right leg’.

Some people would start on their left leg. ‘No,

he’d say and he had a cane and held give you a tip

On the shins, ‘the other leg. And he’d make you

dance it straight out on the right leg first and then the left leg. Well, of course, 1 suppose maybe the right log was better active to dnce than the left leg, but still they carried on and they

practised on the left leg more than the right leg and they got it in between.

Well, he stayed around for five or six years and there was great dancers and they danced at weddings and the American wakes. And more of the people went of the country to America. and the American wake was a sad affair because you hadn’t the heart to play the lively music. It was more or less of a caoineadh than a jig or a reel and you’d see poor Johnny going to America and he often gave me a hand at the hay or he often gave me a hand at sowing the potatoes and poor Johnny was going maybe never again to return. It was like going into the coffin at that time. Lots of them went and never came back but they brought the dance to America and the people that stayed at home kept the dance at home. But poor Pat married a widow woman down here near the village of Mullagh and she was no great help to carry on his tradition. They used to be telling her that he had a girl last night at such a place

and that he had a girl in another place. She gave him the tongs down on the head more or less. But he was a grand man. He was a singer, a musician and a dancer, but 1 think lately it’s gone a bit lobsided. They don’t practise the thing we had years ago.

—How long did Barron keep up the dancing class?

—Well, he was about six or seven years the second time he came back to here, around this district.

—What period would that be..

—About the year 1934 to 1939 or 40.

—That’s not all that long ago indeed. And would you still play the tunes that you heard from him?

—Yes, I do, yea. He had one tune he used to play for the jig. It was Mind yourself of the turkeycock or the turkeycock will bite you’ and he used to play it in a high key—two strings, so that the noise wouldn’t smother the music and it could be heard all over the house.  It was played in the key of G. It was a kind of lower down and wouldn’t be heard so much, like.

—Can you play it yourself, Junior?

—Yea, yea.

—Well, maybe you’d play it for us now?

—I will. I’ll try it.

Excerpt of an RTE recording made and transcribed by Proinsias Ó Conluain.


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