Francis ONeill from Tralibane
Francis O'Neill, christened Daniel and familiarly known
as Frank, was born in Tralibane on August 28, 1848, the
youngest of seven children.
Music, song and dance were an integral part of the rural
society in which ONeill grew up and his fathers
house was the venue for the venue for the neighbourhood
Pipers, fiddle players and flute players were frequently
heard at crossroad dances at Tralibane Bridge and Colomane
Cross in summer and at farm houses in the winter.
Inheriting his mothers gift of a keen ear, retentive
memory and an intensive love of the haunting melodies of
the race, the Young ONeill began learning to play
the flute from a neighbouring farmer called Timothy Downing.
After beginning his formal education in Dromore School,
he moved on to the larger national school in Bantry where
he excelled at Latin, Greek and mathematic sand was nicknamed
the Philosopher. He became monitor in the school
at the age of fourteen and then a teacher there.
Francis ONeill left West Cork in 1865 at the age of
sixteen. He served on a ship, the Minnehaha, which was wrecked
in the Pacific on Bakers Island and provisions were
severely rationed. A member of the crew was able to play
simple melodies on the flute. When ONeill played some
tunes on the flute, he found his meagre rations mysteriously
supplemented by some tinned salmon. The crew were rescued
and when they arrived in Honolulu, the capital of the Hawaiian
Islands, after a voyage of 34 days, all but three of the
crew were sent to the Marine Hospital. Francis was one of
the three robust ones, thanks to his musical friend, and
was therefore sent straight on to San Francisco.
By 1870, Francis ONeill had become a school teacher
at Edina, Knox County, Missouri. He boarded with the school
director, a Mr. Broderick, a native of Galway and a fine
He joined the Metropolitan Police Force in 1873 and was
stationed in Harrison Street Station. during his first month
in the Chicago Police Force, in August 1873, he was shot
in an encounter with John Bridges, a notorious burglar and
there after carried a bullet encysted near his spine. For
his bravery he received instant advancement to Patrolman.
From Patrolman Patrick OMahony, commonly known as
Big Pat from west Clare, he learned rare tunes,
double jigs, Out on the Ocean, The Fishermens Widow,
etc. and Bantry Bay, one of the most beautiful traditional
hornpipes in existence. In his police life, ONeill
achieved first place in the captaincy examination in 1894
and eventually rose to the rank of Chief Superintendent
in April 1901.
An amazing number of musicians joined the police force in
Chicago, pipers, fiddlers and flute players from every county
in Ireland were regular visitors to the chiefs home
in Poplar Avenue - James Moore from Limerick, John Connors
from Dublin, Jimmy OBrien a piper from Mayo, Patrick
OMahony Clare, John Hicks from Kildare and many others.
Highland piper, Joseph Cant, a Perthshire man, brought news
of a fine fiddler who worked with the Brideport Iron mills.
This was James ONeill, who was born near Banbridge,
Co. Down,who was found to have a vast store of Ulster music.
When it was discovered that James ONeill could write
down, with ease, any tunes whether hummed, whistled, lilted
or played, the idea of a manuscript collection of tunes
was born. James ONeill became a member of the police
force and later, as a Sergeant, he had more leisure time
to undertake the collection of tunes with Francis ONeill.
IN 1903 ONeills music of Ireland edited by Captain
Francis ONeill and arranged by James ONeill,
was published in 1903 and contains 1,850 melodies, made
up of thus: Airs 625; OCarolan, 75; Double jigs, 415;
Slip jigs. 60; Reels, 380; Hornpipes, 25; Long dances, 20;
Marches, etc., 50.
ONeill's Dance Music of Ireland, edited by Capt. Francis
ONeill and arranged by James ONeill and containing
1,001 tunes, was published 1907 and still the collecting
went on. James ONeill searched one half of Chicago,
Edward Cronin the other half, while Francis ONeill
searched old publications. In this way 200 tunes were collected.
Other music publications, all arranged by Selena ONeill
are ONeill's Irish Music for Piano or violin, 400
tunes published before 1915; Popular Selections from Dance
Music of Ireland by Selena ONeill, 52 numbered, Waifs
and Strays of Gaelic Melody, arranged by Selena ONeill,
365 tunes, published in 1922, gives the sources of tunes
with comments and historical notes on many tunes. Selena
ONeill was a violin student at Chicago Music College,
whose father was a native of Macroom. She was not related
to Francis ONeill.
Irish Folk Music, by Capt. Francis ONeill was published
in 1910 in Chicago.
Irish Minstrels and Musicians, including numerous dissertations
on related subjects by Captain ONeill, was published
in Chicago in 1913. Dedicated to the venerated memory
of my parents......, this book is an attempt to rescue
from oblivion the names of our musicians, harpers, pipers,
flute players and fiddlers. A list of almost one hundred
authorities, and there are almost as many photographs and
musical illustrations, while some use is made of unpublished
Even though Francis ONeill was very successful in
the police work and in collecting and publishing thousands
of Irish tunes, his private life was subjected to appaling
The ONeills had 10 children, five daughters
and five sons, one daughter and all the sons died young.
Three of the boys died in childhood on the same day of diphtheria
and the last and oldest, Rogers, a promising college student
and violinist, died at the age of eighteen of spinal meningitis
ONeill is one of the most outstanding figures of the
Irish diaspora. His achievement in rising to the position
of Chief of Police in Chicago, the second largest city in
the USA, is quite astonishing in itself.
ONeill returned to Ireland on holiday in 1906. He
was recording music up to two years before his death in
1936. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see
the fruits of his work fully appreciated, but now the Captain
ONeill Memorial Company has plans to develop the two
acre site which they have acquired from Victor and Ursula
Kingston in Tralibane. A plaque was erected on Tralibane
Bridge in 1998 on the 150th anniversary of the birth of
ONeill. Then the monument was put in place on the
site near ONeills home in March 2000.
The Committee is now planning the next phase of the project,
a building is to be erected on the site to include a dance
area, a kitchen, toilets and facilities for open air dancing.
The plans are being drawn up and the members of the Memorial
Company are very excited about this project which will provide
a venue and a focus for all traditional musicians, dancers
The Francis ONeill Summer school is also planned for
the future and a scholarship for a student to study ONeills
music is also on the agenda. In August 2001, a film crew
from Chicago who were filming a documentary on ONeill,
both in Chicago and Bantry, arrived in Bantry and filmed
ONeills homestead, Tralibane Bridge and the
monument, in addition to interviewing members of the Memorial
Company. This documentary was shown in Chicago on January,
The open air pattern has been revived in Tralibane, This
takes place in September each year and is attended by crowds
of musicians, singers and dancers.
At last Francis ONeill of Tralibane, after whom a
hotel. The Chief ONeill, in Smithfield in Dublin and
pubs and restaurants in Chicago are named, and whose music
is being played a truly deserved and fitting tribute in
his native place.
Courtesy of the Southern Star