The Campbells, from near Glenties Co Donegal, are a very well known musical family. As a partnership, brothers Vincent and Jimmy were very active fiddlers and were always in great demand until Vincent’s passing in December, 2018. Another brother, Columba, remains a very highly regarded fiddle player, though he doesn’t play much these days. Today, Jimmy and his son, Peter play regularly in the Glenties area, throughout Donegal and further afield.
Vincent Campbell (1938 – 2018)
Just a year younger than his brother Jimmy, Vincent grew up in a house that was steeped in Donegal fiddle music. Their father, Peter (1900 – 1995), was a well known fiddle player as was his father , James. Their home was a regular venue for musicians to come to visit and play music. As if they weren’t lucky enough in terms of growing up and learning to play the fiddle in this environment , their house was a place where both John and Mickey Doherty regularly called and spent time.
Vincent and Jimmy were keen to learn the fiddle when they were young boys. When both parents would be out of the house, they would take turns at playing their father’s fiddle while the other kept watch. This was a risky business as there were strict orders in the house that no one was to play around with the father’s fiddle. Money was very scarce in those days and if you had a fiddle (which not every fiddle player had !) it would be well looked after as it would not be easily replaced if it was broken.
Like many in the area Vincent had to leave home to find work. He spent some time in Scotland and England, and after returning to Ireland he spent some years in Co. Meath. He returned home to Glenties to rear a family, combining working a small hill farm and working at building.
Vincent Campbell’s fiddle playing was truly wonderful as it had a real old time sound to it. His repertoire was huge with much being derived directly from the famous Doherty brothers John and Mickey. He had many tunes and special versions that no one else has. His bowing, fingering and droning were often quite spectacular. Listeners often wondered how just one fiddle player could be doing so much all at the same time. Vincent was born in 1938 and passed away in December, 2018.
Like Vincent, Jimmy thankfully managed to sneak enough time on his father’s fiddle to learn how to play. In his young days at home before he emigrated for work, house dances were still very popular in the area and Jimmy was a popular fiddler at these. Jimmy left home at a young age and went to Scotland to work digging tunnels (as did Vincent). After this, Jimmy went to England and spent a number of years around London working at building. Jimmy settled down around London and reared his family.
All the while he kept up his interest in the music. Some of his regular playing partners were other Irish exiles who worked in London, such as Brendan McGlinchey, Brian Rooney and another mighty Donegal fiddle player, Danny Meehan. One of Jimmy’s children , Peter, has taken on the music. Peter, of course, was familiar with the music at home and in Glenties when the family came back to Donegal on holidays.
Jimmy has returned to Donegal to live some years ago and has been a great addition to the local musical life there. For some years, Peter was constantly travelling back to Donegal from England. He eventually decided to stay and has been living in Glenties now for some years. Some of Jimmy’s daughters have also followed him home and now live around Glenties.
Jimmy Campbell’s son, Peter, was born and raised in England. He has now returned to his family’s home place and lives in Glenties. Peter is much in demand as a solo fiddle player.
Peter and Jimmy are also in great demand as duet players and with local dance teachers Connie Mc Kelvey and Ann Conaghan with whom they travel widely with to deliver dance workshops and performances.
Recordings of Peter Campbell are on The Fiddle Music of Donegal CD series Vol. 3
The youngest of the Campbell brothers is Josie. He had a go at the fiddle when he was a boy but did not stay at it for long. As the youngest, by the time he came around to trying it, the older brothers had already made great progress. Having a good ear, he realised that compared to them he didn’t sound so good at all, so sadly he didn’t stay at it. Josie, and many like him in rural Donegal communities, have an important role to play in the music scene given their knowledge of the folklore and the tunes. It is not unkown to happen that if the other lads are stuck for the start of a tune or the name, they simply ask Josie and he will know it.
Some years ago the Campbells were always saying that they thought that Mickey Doherty had never gotten the public acclaim and recognition for his high standard of fiddling. John was the fiddler of the Dohertys who got the public attention. Their level of respect and regard for John’s playing abilities is without question, but they thought that Mickey should be honoured in some way. So they and a few of their neighbours who were great friends of the Dohertys built a monument to remember Mickey Doherty. This monument is built in the shape of the gable end of a traditional cottage and is built on the site of a locally famous incident where Mickey had a close brush with death. Before Ireland gained Independence from Britain the Black and Tans were patrolling the area and a very strict military curfew was in force. Mickey was out on the road since he made his living as a travelling tinsmith. He timed things rather badly that night though and was caught out after curfew. He heard the Black and Tan’s truck on the road and figured out who it must be and hid in a culvert under the road. The Black and Tans spotted him however and pulled him out from his hiding place. He protested his innocence of any wrongdoing and since a tinsmith on the face of it did not seem to be a threat to the British Empire, they told him to prove who he was. So on the spot Mickey got out his toolkit and made a tin mug or pandai as they are called locally. This monument to Mickey Doherty is built on the spot where this incident happened. Josie Campbell has carved a stone fiddle which is set into this tribute to a local musical hero.