Phil McGroarty (1896 – 1981)

Phil McGroarty, by Barry Britton [source: Seosaimhín Nic Rabhartaigh]

Phil McGroarty was born in the townland of Drumkeelan in 1896 to James and Ann (née Griffin) where he grew up in an environment alive with fiddle, lilting and dance music. In his youth, a neighbour of Phil’s called Anne Burke used to lilt every Sunday afternoon for groups of dancers at a spot called ‘An Bearna Dhearg’ [The Red Gap]. Dances also took place on the roadside in Mountcharles outside what is now ‘The Lazy Bush’ bar. The McGroarty family were all noted singers but both Phil and his brother James took up the fiddle at a young age. A stone mason by trade, Phil married Mary Williamson, a school teacher, in 1929. They relocated to Rossnowlagh shortly after and Phil established  his stone-cutting business at Coolmore. His musical journey brought him into contact with many great players from Donegal and further afield including Jimmy Lyons and Frank Cassidy of Teelin, Frank and Declan Curneen of Glenade, Co. Leitrim and Ben Lennon from Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim. Phil also met a host of musicians who worked on the ‘Hydro-Electric Scheme’ in Ballyshannon between 1946 and 1955 and through this he formed ‘The Four Provinces Céilí Band’ with John Joe Gannon (accordion), John Egan (flute) and Paddy Reynolds (fiddle) among others. Jack Clarke, a brick layer from Co. Dublin stayed with the McGoarty’s at Coolmore for a number of years and Phil and Jack played regularly with Jack playing the pipes. The family tradition is continuing today through Phil’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.