Joe Douglas (1892-1978)

Compiled by Martin McGinley. Uploaded 7.10.20

The way Irish traditional music travels through generations in families was well illustrated at the music sessions in Raphoe in the late 1970s by the Douglas family from St Johnston. Three generations were regulars at the Central Hotel session in its early years – Joe Douglas, his son Paddy and his grandson John. 

Joe may have been the earliest-born musician at those sessions. He was born in 1892 in Lanarkshire in Scotland. It’s thought he came to the St Johnston area to work when he was just 13. He played fiddle and also had a big repertoire of songs.

His son Paddy was born around 1926, one of a family of eleven. He was a fiddler.

The third generation of the Douglas family at the session was John, another fiddler, born in 1957. 

John thinks that his grandfather Joe may have had some family connection which took him to work at Transallagh outside St Johnston at just 13. He doesn’t know if Joe started the fiddle in Scotland or Donegal.

“He played a bit at home, highlands and stuff like that, but he never would have played out,” says John. “But if he was out and there might be a drink, he would start singing and you couldn’t get him to stop!”

Joe’s ‘party piece’ at the Central Hotel sessions was a comic song called ‘The Funeral’. 

“We used to ask him if he was going to the session in Raphoe and he’d say, ‘I’m not going up because I’ll be fair tortured with that ‘Funeral’’. He enjoyed going there.”

John says the family don’t know a lot about the Scottish connection, apart from Joe having two sisters, Annie and Martha, and brothers, including one killed in WW1. 

“I looked up the census [1901 and 1911] in Lanarkshire and it’s full of Douglases,” says John.

Joe’s wife was Annie née Doherty from Kinnycally, beside where Tommy Peoples’s family lived. John thinks Annie’s brother Bob made the occasional fiddle, and another brother Billy spent most of his life in Scotland and played the fiddle. Bob’s son Bobby was a drummer.

One of Joe’s jobs was working in a local scutch mill, a common occupation in the area. Scutching was part of the process of making linen, a massive industry in the north-west at one time, and was dangerous. Some workers lost fingers or hands.

Joe Douglas died in 1978 at 86 years-old. Accessed 25.9.20