Leading figure in traditional music and dance Dan O’Connell dies

THE death occurred yesterday of Dan O’Connell, a leading figure in traditional music and dance for decades.

Aged 88, he had been in failing health for some time.

Mr O’Connell, whose public house in Knocknagree, Co Cork, was a mecca for Irish music lovers from many parts of the world, has been credited with making a significant contribution to the revival of polka set dancing.

Before he entered the licensed trade, he was a talented athlete and cyclist, winning Cork and Munster championships.

After a spell in farming, he purchased a small pub in Knocknagree in 1957, which he later extended.

He began regular set dancing sessions in the premises, on St Stephen’s Night 1965, with legendary musicians Johnny O’Leary and the Denis “the Weaver” Murphy providing the music.

For the next 40 years, the pub, which came to be known simply as “Connell’s”, was a popular Friday and Sunday night rendezvous for dancers, some from as far away as Japan.

Brought up in the Sliabh Luachra tradition, Mr O’Connell himself enthusiastically led the dancing and taught many people their first steps.

He always tried to get as many people as possible on the floor, working on the basis that enjoyment should never be sacrificed for perfection.

He never intended turning his pub into a tourist attraction, insisting it was firstly a place for Sliabh Luachra people to enjoy themselves and their culture.

“As I see it, the people, the music and the dancing are the culture and all three are crucial,” he once said.

The pub, which is no longer in business, was the scene of many radio and television recordings, book and CD launches and numerous other events over the years.

In 2005, Mr O’Connell was presented with the Friends of the Culture and Traditions of Sliabh Luachra Award at the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival, in Castleisland.

He is survived by his widow, Hannah Mai, and children, Mairéad, Lucy, Siobhán, Raymond, Aileen, Seamus and Noel.

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