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Josie McDermott


There is a Josie McDermott Memorial Festival held in Boyle, County Roscommon around the end of April.

Musicians of Sligo: (Courtesy The Knotted Chord Archive, 2002).

Josie McDermott (1925-1992) Flute, saxaphone, singer.

Born in Coolmeen (Co. Sligo), just outside the village of Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. His mother sang and had some tunes on the concertina but the biggest early influence was the neighbouring Butler family who’s home was known as a ‘ceili house’. James Flynn a local fiddle player taught Josie most of his music. By the age of five or six Josie was able to plays jew’s harp and tin whistle.

Josie was influenced by all kinds of music and loved to listen and play jazz, classical or country as well as traditional. By 14 he was singing in a so- called ‘modern’ band and played a number of instruments in numerous band combinations over many years.

In 1962 he lost his sight as a result of severe eczema. Undeterred he joined Sonny Flynn’s Ceili Band in 1964 and spent many years with a band called Flynn’s Men from 1967.

All the time Josie continued to play traditional Irish music on whistle, fife and flute and competed at a number of All-Ireland Fleadh’s. He won the Whistle competition in 1964, as well as alto-sax, the lilting in 1967 and the flute All-Ireland in 1974. He was a runner up in several All-Ireland’s in the ballad section.

Robin Morton made a recording of Josie for the Topic label, "Darby’s Farewell: traditional songs, with music on flute and whistle from County Sligo, Ireland", reproduced by Ossian in 2000.

Josie McDermott died on May 30th 1992. (RM)

Biography (Courtesy Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, 2005).

Josie Mc Dermott lived all of his life in the townland of Coolmine outside the town of Ballyfarnan, Co. Roscommon. The townland itself is in Co. Sligo, and only a few miles from Co. Leitrim, an area steeped in folklore and traditions, where famous musicians seemed to come out of the woodwork - Coleman, Morrison, Killoran, John McKenna, Horan, Finn, Duignan etc. The last bard, blind harper Turlough O'Carolan, is buried nearby. Josie used to visit the local house dances and was taught music by James Flynn, a fine local fiddler. Later he travelled with his whistle, fife and flute and played at many a session or dance throughout the countryside.

While Traditional Music was his first love, his interests were much broader. He sang in a modern band for a while as a youngster and later joined various combinations playing saxophone and trumpet. He would equally listen to and praise country and western music, jazz, and ceilí. In 1962 he contracted severe eczema and lost his sight. He never lost heart though. He continued playing both in a ceilí and a modern dance band. In 1964, he won the All-Ireland on the Whistle and Miscellaneous instruments on the saxophone! He also won the flute award, lilting and had success at the ballad singing. He had a great love for traditional ballads and continued to expand his repertoire by composing some himself. Josie a bachelor with no close relatives, died in 1992 and is sadly missed by his wonderful neighbours and legions of musical friends. This great balladeer, composer, musician and singer is commemorated annually at a memorial festival in Ballyfarnan.

His Music: - His musical style is somewhat staccato but haunting to the ear. He had an unusual 'tonguing' technique, so that in later years he could play rolls with the fingers and triplets with the tongue. Besides his interest in O'Carolan's music, he could interpret the slow airs faultlessly because of his own knowledge of the songs. He composed various tunes including 'Darby's Farewell to London' which gave its name to the LP he made. Characters and local events gave him inspiration to write ballads such as "The Boatman of Lough Key" and "Ballad of O'Carolan Country". He also entered the field of play writing, plays of music song and humour; one of his tabloids was presented at the O'Carolan festival in Keadue. His former pupils played the air "Máire Dall", which he had harmonically arranged, at his funeral mass.




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