Jimmy O’Rourke (b. ca.1884)

Jimmy O’Rourke was born in the mid 1880s and his older brothers, Irwin and Mickey O’Rourke were described as ‘tinsmiths’ in the 1901 census. The O’Rourkes were a highly regarded chieftain family in County Leitrim who were dispossessed of their lands and territory after the Flight of the Earls in 1607. Many of them drifted north to Donegal, took to the road and survived for generations through migratory trades including tinsmithing. Jimmy and his brothers were the last generation in a long line of tinsmiths in the O’Rourke clan. Jimmy  lived on Pearse Road in Ardara where he continued the family trade and was in much demand up to the late 1940s. He regularly travelled the roads of Ardara and Glenties with a donkey and cart both selling and repairing tin utensils such as pots and pandies. As a Travelling man, Jimmy was a good source for news and events in south-west Donegal and his home was regarded as a great raking house for news and entertainment.  He had, in common with many of his generation, a strong belief in the otherworld and claimed that he picked up some of his repertoire from the ‘good people’ including the tune ‘Walker’s Brae’.  In the course of research for the 1959 Walt Disney movie ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’, Lawrence Watkins, a Disney representative visited Ardara and was introduced to Jimmy. It is said that Watkins was so taken by Jimmy that he changed the main character in the film from a dancer to a fiddle player! Jimmy kept two fiddles hanging on the chimney breast, a regular wooden fiddle and a tin fiddle that he made himself.