Charlie O’Neill (1916 – 2013)

Charlie O’Neill was born on Christmas Day, 1916 and was known thereafter as Charlie ‘Santa’ O’Neill. Surrounded by a vibrant music tradition, local players included Paddy McDyer and Charlie McCahill as well as visits from travelling fiddlers such the Doherty family. Indeed, at nine years of age he played his first tune on a tin fiddle made by Daniel Donnelly Gallagher and Gallagher was also one of his foremost influences. Charlie recalled the famous composer, Arthur Darley collecting traditional tunes in Letterbarra and the surrounding area in the 1920s. On migrating to County Armagh aged 16, Charlie brought with him a store of local mazurkas, polkas and highlands, and later played with popular ceilidh bands of the period including the Johnny Pickering Band, The Treanor Brothers, The Clancy’s and the McCusker Brothers. His son, Paddy O’Neill is a fine musician and many of Paddy’s contemporaries including Desi Wilkinson (flute) and Gerry O’Connor (fiddle) have commercially recorded some of Charlie’s repertoire. As well as being a fine fiddle player, Charlie had a great love of traditional dances thereby informing the strong pulse present in his fiddle music. Charlie is remembered for his wit and intelligence, kindness and imagination in both storytelling and music.

Charlie playing ‘The Bluestack Polka’ [rec. by Marie Burns, 1985]