tion, an indication that his deep involvement with Irish music was appreciated by the public as an interesting and unusual facet in the life of a prominent public servant.
“The Job of Journey Work”: O’Neill’s Printed Collections
Initially, O’Neill’s preservation of Irish tunes on paper was a personal project intended for private use. However, he soon realized that a published collection would be a great boon to musicians and scholars. Having grown up surrounded by jigs, reels and hornpipes, O’Neill regarded them as neglected treasures that deserved to be restored to prominence. Accord- ing to his own account (1910, 61), “scarcely any attention had been paid by collectors and publishers of Irish music to dance tunes….” To fill this need, he compiled a large book, the now famous O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, published in 1903. Consist- ing of 1,850 separate pieces, over 1,100 of them dance tunes, it was at the time the largest collection of traditional Irish instru- mental music ever made. Over half the melodies in this self- financed tome came from the memories of Chicago musicians; the rest came from older printed sources that Chief O’Neill had in his vast library. O’Neill was a conscientious collector, and noted down his source’s name next to many of the tunes.
O’Neill (1910, 62) writes that this first book contained “many times more [tunes] than were supposed to be in existence.” In compiling it, he encountered many wonderful melodies—often with several versions or “settings” of the same tune. Some- times, he felt that one was clearly superior to the others; in writ- ing about Cronin’s version of Banish Misfortune, he comments that it has three “strains” or parts, which makes it “much superior” to the two-strain setting in George Petrie’s volume Complete Collection of Irish Music (1910, 88). However, he did print more than one setting of a given tune if he felt each had its merits. These decisions made compiling the book a labori- ous exercise in comparison.
O’Neill’s efforts were rewarded on the publication of the vol- ume. Both the press and private citizens commended O’Neill; the Dublin Weekly Freeman commented, “no one has ever done anything like this for Irish music,” while his friend Richard Henebry, a professor in Ireland, wrote that it was “incomparably the best collection we ever had” (O’Neill 1907, back cover). According to O’Neill (1910, 61), many of the letters suggested “the issuance of a smaller and less expensive volume devoted to dance music exclusively.” This prompted the 1907 publica- tion of O’Neill’s Dance Music of Ireland -- 1001 Gems. This second volume contains many of the same tunes as the first, but adds over 100 new items.
Both books are still used by musicians today. The second, which was less expensive and had a greater circulation than the first, is the sacred reference text for many players of Irish
music in both America and Ireland; it is sometimes referred to as simply ‘’the book.” If Francis O’Neill and James O’Neill had not gathered and transcribed the tunes when they did, many of them would have been lost forever to musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Through his books, Francis O’Neill probably had greater influence on the course of Irish traditional music than anyone else in the twentieth century.
“Where Did You Find Her?”: O’Neill’s Cylinders
As Francis O’Neill was rising through the ranks of the Chi- cago police, Thomas Alva Edison was establishing a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, that would eventually come to be known as “the invention factory.” One of his very first inven- tions at this facility, in 1877, was a machine that could record sound in grooves engraved on the outside surface of a cylinder. Edison initially used cylinders coated with tinfoil. Soon, spurred on by healthy competition from Alexander Graham Bell, Edison
Cylinder containing the tune “Banish Misfortune,” played by Ed- ward Cronin. This is one of the few cases where O’Neill recorded the same person’s playing of the same tune documented in one of his books.
refined his machine to record on hollow cylinders made of wax. Each wax cylinder was approximately four inches long and two inches in diameter, and could record about two minutes of sound.
Wax recording cylinders were being mass-marketed by the 1880s, and by 1890 were being used to make ethnographic field recordings (the first were made by Jesse Walter Fewkes of Passamaquoddy Indians in Calais, Maine; they are in the holdings of the American Folklife Center). The cylinder recorder would thus have been available to O’Neill by the 1890s. It must certainly have been exciting for O’Neill to preserve music in this
Thomas Edison poses with a cylinder-recording machine in the 1870s. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, LC Prints and Pho- tographs Division; call number LC-BH826- 31346 B
STEPHEN WINICK, AFC