This detail from the photo on the next page shows O’Neill (upper right) as a musician. In the upper left is O’Neill’s son, Rogers O’Neill, who died in 1904, shortly after this photo was taken. The man in the lower right is piper John Ennis.
new way. Curiously, however, he does not mention his use of the new technology in his published writings, which makes it difficult to know exactly when he started recording.
AFC’s recordings are not the only extant O’Neill cylinders. Thirty more are in the archive of the Music Department at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland; O’Neill apparently sent these as a gift to his friend Richard Henebry, who was a professor of Irish Language at UCC. There are also dubs of two Chicago-made cylinder recordings in the archives at University College Dublin (UCD) that seem to feature O’Neill playing whistle in trio with Edward Cronin on fiddle and Thomas Kiley on banjo-mandolin; the original cylinders were loaned to UCD by a relative of Henebry. Thus, we know that O’Neill sent some cylinders to Henebry, but how many remained in the United States is still a mystery.
The end of O’Neill’s career as a recordist is as mysterious as its beginning. We do know that eventually O’Neill gave away his cylinders, partly because of his family’s tragic history. Over the years, O’Neill and his wife suffered the loss of six of their ten children to various illnesses, and when their last son, Rogers O’Neill, died in 1904, it was the end of music in their house- hold. Although O’Neill continued his musical pursuits outside of the home, out of respect to his wife and her mourning, no music was played in the house either live or on phonograph. O’Neill stored his phonograph at the house of his colleague and fellow musician Sergeant James Early, and his cylinder recordings, too, were given to Sergeant Early or other friends for safekeeping. Some of them ultimately made their way to the home of Michael Dunn.
Michael Dunn was a friend of Francis O’Neill’s. He was a decorated captain in the Milwaukee Fire Department, a fiddler, and a piper. He was also renowned for building and repair- ing uilleann pipes; O’Neill (1913, 231) wrote that Dunn was “an expert and ingenious mechanic in all that pertains to the
fittings of the most modern Irish chanter.” Dunn emigrated from County Laois, Ireland, in the 1880s, and in 1900 moved into the Milwaukee house where the cylinders were discovered. When O’Neill had occasion to come to Milwaukee, he visited and played music with Dunn. Apparently, O’Neill, or possibly Early, gave or loaned some cylinders to Dunn, and they were forgotten for almost a hundred years.
When David Dunn found the cylinders, he had an inkling of what they might be. Along with the cylinders was a piece of pa- per penned in lovely Victorian handwriting that listed the titles of thirty-six selections, most of them Irish dance tunes. Dunn knew that his grandfather had been an Irish musician and a friend of Chief O’Neill’s. It had been suspected for some time that O’Neill had given some of his cylinders to Dunn, but they had never turned up; indeed, ten years ago Nicholas Carolan (1997, 50) speculated, “O’Neill gave part of his collection [to Dunn], including cylinders. These were destroyed after Dunn’s death.” Knowing some of this, David Dunn began inquiries among Irish music enthusiasts, and was soon put in touch with Barry Stapleton, Director of Milwaukee’s Ward Irish Music Archives.
Stapleton knew of O’Neill’s wayward cylinders, but had heard only that someone in Milwaukee had destroyed them. When he was told that a local doctor was coming to see him with some Irish music cylinders, it didn’t occur to him at first that they might be the legendary lost cache. That would change, however, when Dunn arrived in his office. “When Dr. David Dunn came in and put the old case on the table, it started to overwhelm me,” Stapleton said. “After Dr. Dunn explained his grandfather’s relationship with Chief O’Neill, it was clear to me that these were the supposedly ‘destroyed’ cylinders.”
Even without the family connection to O’Neill, the enclosed list pointed to the Chief. Each title was followed by a letter: “E,” “C,” “D,” “T,” or “McF.” These are the initial letters of the last names of five of O’Neill’s best-known musical sources, members of the group the Chicago Tribune called his musical “committee of inquest”: James Early, Edward Cronin, Barney Delaney, Patsy Touhey and John McFadden. It seemed that the list was indicating who was playing on each recording, a theory that was confirmed when the cylinders were finally heard; a voice announces the tune and its player at the begin- ning of most of the cylinders. The identities of the players point strongly to O’Neill as the collector, and it is quite possibly O’Neill’s voice announcing the tunes as well. Furthermore, it was not surprising that more of O’Neill’s recordings should be found, as Nicholas Carolan recently pointed out to us. “He put great store in preserving his collections,” Carolan said. “It makes sense that he would have given [his cylinders] to friends for safekeeping.”
As a music archivist, Stapleton knew that wax cylinders are fragile, and can be played only a few times without significant damage. “It was clear that they needed to be transferred by