Kathleen McGinley (1931-2011)

Kathleen McGinley

Kathleen McGinley pictured with Teelin fiddler Mick Brown

Compiled by Martin McGinley. Uploaded on 6.10.20

Like many east Donegal fiddlers, Kathleen McGinley (pictured with Teelin fiddler Mick Brown) was born into a musical family. Her mother Ellen played the melodeon at house dances in the early decades of the 20th century. Her father Tommy had a lifelong interest in traditional songs. A couple of her brothers played the Scottish bagpipes, which may have contributed to her lifelong interest in Scottish music.  

Kathleen went to fiddle lessons with a neighbour, Bob Peoples (a relative of Tommy Peoples), known as a good player with a knowledge of written music. Unusually for the time, the 1940s, she went to boarding school, in the Convent of Mercy in Strabane. She had some classical lessons during her years there. She attended secretarial college in Derry and got a job doing clerical work for Donegal County Council. 

It may have been during her time in Derry that Kathleen started taking an interest in jazz. Derry was a hotbed of jazz during the Second World War, when it was a US naval base and even had its own forces’ radio station. There was still a highly active jazz scene in Derry and Donegal in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Kathleen was a keen follower of local jazz bands, and the Paddy McCafferty band from Ballybofey was a particular favourite. 

Marriage to Seamus McGinley in 1959 meant Kathleen was forced to resign from her job – a consequence of the so-called ‘Marriage Bar’ in the public sector, which only ended in the 1970s. Five children in six years meant she rarely attended social occasions – the family joke was that her annual outing was to a dinner dance associated with her husband’s work. 

However, when her son Martin started going to classical violin lessons in Raphoe, she picked up the starter ‘Lark’ violin occasionally. Her late flowering as a fiddle player began with her at home playing along with the music of the testcard on Ulster Television – tunes from Scottish pipe bands. 

Irish traditional fiddling became a passion, which was encouraged by the start of the local sessions in the Central Hotel in Raphoe in 1975. She enjoyed the company of Claire Kelly, who owned the hotel with her husband Willie, and the musicians and singers who made this low-key session such a success over many years. She made many musical friends.

Before long she and her trusty yellow Toshiba tape recorder began to make trips further afield – to fleadhs in Donegal and neighbouring counties; to music weekends and festivals; and to annual get-togethers such as Glencolumbkille Fiddle Week and the Glenties Fiddle Weekend. 

In the 1970s women were not absent from the Irish traditional music scene, but remained marginal in a male-dominated preserve. Kathleen McGinley was one of the few women of her generation actively involved in the traditional scene in Donegal. 

Her interest in Irish traditional music of all shapes and sizes continued to the end. She died in November 2011 at the age of 80.

1  Interview with Joe Peoples, son of Bob Peoples, in St Johnston on 15.2.20


Kathleen McGinley Jig