Con Cassidy (1909-1994)
Con (6th July 1909 – 5th February 1994) a fiddler, was born and reared in Cruachlann, Teileann, where he was exposed to musical influences such as his cousins; John, Paddy and Frank Cassidy. Other players who were prominent at the time included Mick McShane, Jimmy Lyons and Connie Haughey. Apart from periods in the 1940’s and 1950’s spent working in England and a short time in Belfast, Con lived the rest of his life in Teileann. In 1948 he married Mary Kate McBrearty, also from Teileann and they settled initially at An Cheapach and later in the townland of Iomaire Mhuireanáin where they reared three daughters. His modest character and devilish wit made him a very popular figure in traditional music in south-west Donegal up until his death in 1994. Although a very individual fiddle player with a unique style, Con formed strong playing partnerships with among others, James Byrne, Dermot McLaughlin and Dermot Byrne. Con’s playing can be heard on the CDs ‘The Brass Fiddle‘ (1987) and ‘Con Cassidy – Traditional Fiddle Music from Donegal.‘ (2007)
Con’s parents were Frank Cassidy and Mary Haughey. Although they did not play music, they were very fond of it. From about the age of nine years, Con used to visit the house of a neighbour, Paddy Barron. Paddy played the fiddle and it was a tin fiddle that Paddy had. This was very common at the time in this area. (The Mc Connells & The Dohertys were travelling tinsmith families who were good musicians, mainly fiddlers, and they made a lot of tin fiddles, which were cheap to buy and were easy to get. They were literally delivered to your door). Con used to visit Paddy Barron’s house almost every day and would be allowed to have a go at Paddy’s tin fiddle.
In 1924 Con’s sister, Mary Cassidy, was working in Letterkenny. She came across a shop that sold fiddles and she wrote to her father with the details of the price and delivery details. Soon after that Con got his own fiddle in the post!
The other fiddle playing Cassidy’s of Teelin were cousins of Con’s, namely Johnny, Paddy and Frank. Con had a lesson with Frank which lasted half an hour. Apart from that he worked it out himself.
Like many from the area, Con had to go away to get work. He worked in England for a time as a general labourer and at one time staying in the same digs as the box player, Joe Cooley.
Con was married in England to a girl from his own area, Mary Kate Mc Brearty. They returned to Teelin soon after that. Con played for Séamus Ennis when Ennis was working for the Folklore Commission. Séamus transcribed some tunes but did not record Con at that time.
John Doherty lived in Carrick for a time in the 70’s and Con used to play with John often in those days. There was a great increase interest in the music of that area in the late 70’s.Young fiddle players such as Dermot Mc Laughlin, Máiréad Ní Mhaonaigh, Paul O’Shaughnessy , Máire O’ Keeffe, Maurice Bradley and others came regularly to visit, play with and learn from Con.
When Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí started its work in the early 80’s, it aimed to boost the profile of the local fiddle players. The group used to award a painting as a recognition of the extraordinary contribution particular persons had made in maintaining the tradition. The paintings were by Máiréad Ní Mhoanaigh and were the Donegal Fiddle equivalent of the Oscars. Con was awarded one of these.
Con Cassidy died in 1994.