In memory of Seamus Creagh
The late Seamus Creagh, Rylane and Westmeath
IT is only a month ago I sat listening to fiddle player Séamus Creagh play a slow air at a concert during 'The Gathering' festival in Killarney, where he performed alongside the accordion player always associated with his name because of a famous album they made in the 1970s, Jackie Daly, flanked by two of the best accompanists in traditional Irish music, Alec Finn and Paul de Grae.
I joined Séamus, his wife Marie Annick, his son Oisín, and a friend of ours, for a meal just before that concert in the Gleneagle Hotel, where we clinked our glasses and wished him happy birthday, as he was 63 on the day. He told me he had nothing in particular lined up for the St Patrick's Day festival, but that he was looking forward to the summer season and the gigs he regularly did at that time of the year in Clonakilty and Skibbereen.
Just a month later, it is hard to take in that Séamus passed away last week after a short illness that struck him back home in Rylane at the beginning of March.
I got to know Séamus Creagh when he came to live in Ballyvourney in the late '70s. He was well known there because of the legendary nights he and Jackie Daly played earlier that decade at the Mills Inn, where people heard a new accordion-fiddle duet sound, drawn from deep in the traditional music well of Sliabh Luachra. People associate that Cork-Kerry border region with polkas and slides, but the two lads showed the country there were jigs and reels there too, as well as slow airs.
It was the air of the song – 'An Ciarraíoch Mallaithe' – Séamus played a month ago at the concert in the Gleneagle Hotel, the audience of 500 people in the old ballroom absolutely entranced by his beautiful intonation, as they showed with rapturous applause and whistles that lasted for a minute afterwards.
He was the best player of a slow air since the days of Pádraig O'Keefe, the internationally recognised fiddle master from Sliabh Luachra. "It would bring tears to a glass eye," remarked his fellow musician Jackie Daly to great laughter from the crowd. There was fun in the music always with those two.
Séamus Creagh didn't start out on the music road with the Sliabh Luachra tradition. He was telling me at the table a month ago about a period in the 1960s he played electric guitar with showbands in his native Westmeath, where he replaced Joe Dolan in a band called the Carolinas when the famous Mullingar singer moved on to another group.
Seemingly, there were five showbands in that region at the time, all managed by a well-known senator in the present day Seanad. It was said the same man used to buy shoes "a size too small" for band members, so as they couldn't wear them outside of stage hours. Things were tight in those days, too.
Séamus will be missed very much by his family and friends, but the legacy of his music will survive, as well as all the fond memories and the numerous funny stories he gave us. Beannacht Dé leis.
Seán Ó Loingsigh