James McNelis (1914 – 1987)

(18th May 1914 – 13th July 1987)

James McNelis (left) and James Meehan (Jnr)

James McNelis (left) and James Meehan (Jnr)

James McNelis was born and raised in the townland of Goirt Sháile along with his four siblings. His two brother’s, Bernard Joseph (Brian) and Paddy also played the fiddle while a sister, Ann, played the melodeon. James was quite shy in nature, but was regarded locally as having quite a special talent as a fiddle player. Growing up in the nineteen twenties and thirties, James frequently visited the house of his uncle, the fiddler James Meehan of Leirg an Dachtáin, and he formed a playing partnership with his cousin, also James Meehan. James may also have remembered the fiddle playing of John Doogan, Leitir who died in 1932. Various accounts from the oral tradition demonstrate the high regard in which he was held. Anthony Hiúdaí Byrne of Mín na Croise relayed an interesting description of an encounter between James and John Doherty which occurred at John Maloney’s pub in An Charraig in the year 1947. Though initially reluctant, James eventually played a special version of the reel ‘Miss Monaghan’, after which John Doherty refused to play another note. According to Tommy Meehan, James could also play ‘The High Level’ in different keys and positions on the fiddle. He also met and played with the fiddler Seán McGuire both at John Nora’s pub (John Joe’s) in Cill Charthaigh in the 1950’s and later in London. James was also recognised as a good weaver. He worked at home and often cycled to Cill Charthaigh with the finished web on the handlebars of his bicycle. He emigrated to London some time in the 1950’s and remained there for more than twenty years. It is not known if he played very much after emigrating. He lived his final years back at home in Cill Charthaigh and although he played a little he could not recapture the same level of dexterity as in his youth.