To be the subject of TG4’s documentary series Sé Mo Laoch is to be endorsed as a living legend of Irish traditional music.
In Jackie Daly’s case, the title of laoch, or hero, is added to that of Gradam Ceoil winner, All-Ireland senior accordion champion — the only Corkman to win either award — and doyen of Sliabh Luachra box-playing.
In a career spanning six decades, the Kanturk native’s list of musical collaborators is a who’s who of trad, while such is his intricate understanding of the accordion that his innovations have been incorporated by manufacturers Saltarelle.
But if the man who put the lucrative into Sliabh Luachra hadn’t made his name as a hero of the C#/D button accordion, he might have enjoyed an alternative career as a raconteur. His anecdotes are as much a tradition of his performances as the tunes, whether lamenting missing notes in the ‘Bank of Ireland’ reel or advising concertina players not to make a mountain out of a Noel Hill.
A laoch of fiddle-accordion collaboration, Jackie’s string partners include the late Seamus Creagh, Frankie Gavin and Matt Cranitch. A member of De Dannan, Patrick Street, and Buttons and Bows, Jackie received no formal musical education, playing his first notes as a child on plastic pan pipes received in a ‘lucky bag’.
Early musical heroes were his father, and Ballydesmond fiddle player Jim Keeffe, who invited a 12-year-old Jackie to play at platform dances at Knocknacolon, near Kanturk. Jim wrote out tunes for him using the distinctive notation of his own teacher, Sliabh Luachra fiddle master Pádraig O’Keeffe.
Stints on stage followed with Mick Williams in Kanturk’s Edel Quinn Hall, with the Seán Lynch and Araglin céilí bands, and playing guitar with Kilworth showband The Cymbals.
His wife’s death just a year after their marriage was to have a profound effect on Jackie both personally and musically.
“It did affect me an awful lot. I had work as a fitter and I built a new house in Little Island. My parents were horrified because I gave up the job, sold the house, and went on the street in Cork busking, which was the best decision I ever made because I was doing what I loved at last.”
Jackie won the 1974 All-Ireland in Listowel, but his relationship with competitions was short.
“The style that I play is an unusual style that suits Sliabh Luachra music. It’s press and draw. Most players play in B/C but I play in C#/D. There’s more push and pull in it and that breaks up the notes more.
"I played that style from the word go, but when I went for the All Ireland it wasn’t acceptable. I had to learn to play the B/C. I won the All Ireland and I packed it up on the spot and went back to my own style again.”
The musical dialect of the Cork-Kerry border is “distinctly different” and “as Jim Keeffe used to say, there’s ‘neaah’ in it, meaning there’s a heart in it and an essence. Polkas seem easy to play but in fact they’re not easy at all. When somebody plays them you know if they’re from Sliabh Luachra. They’ve a different emphasis on the rhythm.”
He tells another anecdote about Galway accordion maestro Joe Burke, who visited Jackie in hospital in Cork after he suffered a brain haemorrhage.
“The doctor was testing me and Joe said ‘Doctor I know what’s wrong with him. His head is full of slides and polkas rather than decent jigs and reels’. I said ‘Joe, thank you for visiting me. I’m going to compose a tune in your honour’. I did, and it’s Joe Burke’s polka. People say to him Joe, play your polka, so I definitely got my own back. He’s never played it.”
Composing, touring with Buttons and Bows, in Canada with Matt Cranitch this week... at age 71. A new CD is also in the pipeline.
Sliabh Luachra heroes? Jackie picks out Paudie O’Connor and Bryan O’Leary “a genius”, but as for himself, “I don’t think about it. The important thing is the love you put in the music and to hell with the rest.”