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date: 11 December 2019

O’Neill, Francis [Captain Francis O’Neill ]locked

  • Sally K. Sommers Smith Wells


[Captain Francis O’Neill ]

(b Tralibane, Co. Cork, Ireland, Aug 28, 1848; d Chicago, IL, Jan 28, 1936). Collector and publisher of Irish birth, naturalized American. O’Neill, who immigrated to the United States from Ireland and lived most of his adult life in Chicago, was the greatest collector and publisher of Irish traditional dance music. He left home at the age of 16 and served as a cabin boy on merchant vessels, sailing around the world and surviving shipwreck in the South Pacific. After settling briefly in Missouri, he moved to Chicago and joined the city’s police force in 1873. He rose through the ranks to become Chicago’s Chief of Police in 1901. He was renowned for his integrity, as well as for his supposed practice of finding employment on the police force for fellow Irish musicians. If police work was the public face of O’Neill, his private life revolved around his family and the traditional dance music that was his lifelong passion. He learned to play dance music on the simple-system flute from a neighbor in Bantry, and became an accomplished performer. As Irish dance music is an aurally transmitted form, O’Neill never learned to write or read music; his transcriptions were accomplished by collaborators, chief among them James O’Neill (from Co. Down). Francis O’Neill’s great project of collection and transcription began in the 1880s as a memory aid for his own extensive repertoire, but was quickly expanded to include tunes contributed by many other musicians in the Chicago area. O’Neill’s first musical publication was ...

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