The above is a recording of Dr Aileen Dillane discussing Francis O’Neill at the Irish-American Heritage Center in Chicago. The title of the talk is “Sounding out Chicago in the Time of Captain Francis O’Neill”.
It is an excellent presentation, covering a great deal about O’Neill, his time and his legacy. Dr. Dillane, who is also a musician, has some really insightful points on the topic. For example, she notes that O’Neill was really an ethnographer, before anybody knew the word. Dr. Dillane points out (as O’Neill also did) that he could not have undertaken his “Fascinating Hobby” back in Ireland— the circumstances at the time being so dire. Whereas, in Chicago, he had a cross-section of Irish society at his door. He was enabled in his task of preserving a traditional culture by the modern city of Chicago. Plus he had a team of trained men (musicians he had hired as policemen) to help him search and catalog the music. She describes O’Neill’s 1001 tunes as being organized like a skyscraper of the time, a towering construction the like of which had never been seen before.
My descriptions do not do proper justice to Dr. Dillane’s thesis and I highly recommend you watch the video through, if you are interested in the topic of this blog. An added bonus is the discussion at the end with none other than virtuoso fiddler Liz Carroll about whether O’Neill actually was the genesis of a Chicago style of Irish music and what that might mean.