Accordionist Jimmy Keane: Irish Fest and the Ward Irish Music Archives

Accordionist Jimmy Keane: 
Irish Fest and the Ward Irish Music Archives


Hi Folks! Jimmy Keane here typing out a few words about my upcoming performance with Mick Moloney at the CelticMKE Center on Saturday, October 21. 

It will be a special night (not only the fact that I get to play music with Mick once more), but that we celebrate two pioneers of Irish Music in America: The Flanagan Brothers. Mike Flanagan (banjo) and Joe (accordion) were born in Waterford and emigrated to the U.S. in 1911 — much like Mick Moloney (banjo) and me (accordion) moving here from Ireland, except it was a wee bit later when we arrived… 

And if that weren’t enough, we also mark the 25th anniversary of the Ward Irish Music Archives as Mick Moloney gives the Chuck Ward Memorial Lecture on the Flanagan Brothers. 

I’ve performed at the Milwaukee Irish Fest since the first one in 1981 when Mick Moloney invited me up to play a few tunes with the Green Fields of America and also asked my sean-nos (old-style) singing Dad, Jimmy “Horse” Keane up for a song. It became a ritual. Whenever I played the Irish Fest from then on, either as a member of the Green Fields, or as Moloney, O’Connell, and Keane — the “Horse” would join us for a song until his untimely death in 1989. If he were still with us during my bohola years, he’d have been up singing a song or two as well. 

Ward Irish Music Archives: Irish Fest Collection 

If you are reading this as a veteran “Irish Fest-er” like me or a newcomer who experienced your first Irish Fest this past August, you will quickly realize that the Festival is far more than the brilliant music, singing, dancing, cultural exhibits, the occasional Miller Lite beer, the “just one” order of Winston’s Sausage and Chips, or the late nights at the soon to be gone Park East Hotel. It is a community, and each year that I am fortunate enough to attend, it is a homecoming of like minds and souls. 

One of the greatest achievements of the entire Milwaukee Irish Fest experience is the Ward Irish Music Archives — established in 1992 and named after Irish Fest founder Ed Ward’s dad, John. It is a tribute to the music and culture we share and in which we have built our community on. If you have not visited the Archives, you must. In fact, come on out an hour or so earlier on the night of myself and Mick’s concert and do a quick browse. One of my favorite exhibits as a musician is the Dunn Family Collection. Of the multiple artifacts in the collection, the highlight is the thirty-two wax cylinder recordings by the great Captain Francis O’Neill (1848-1936) in which you not only hear Francis “circus bark” the name of each tune and performer, but you soon realize that the version of the tune recorded is also transcribed and presented in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903), the mammoth collection of dance tunes, airs, song melodies, and rare pieces of music published by the Captain in his (and my) adopted home of Chicago. I was honored to be part of the Dunn Collection CD release concert a few years back at the CelticMKE Center and am particularly fond of Edward Cronin’s version of the tune, Banish Misfortune — #776 in the above mentioned Music of Ireland book. 

Before I sign off, I wish to thank all the people involved in this great organization and in particular the mighty volunteers who without, there would be no Milwaukee Irish Fest. And for having me up from Chicago all these many years to play a few tunes for you from the music I love. I hope to see many of you in October when Mick and I tear up the stage with tunes, songs, and tales! Take care… 

All the best, 

Jimmy Keane

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