It’s hard to believe that Chris Droney is 81 years old when you hear the energetic and youthful music on his latest recording ‘Down from
Chris’ personality is just like his music- buoyant, jolly, matter of fact. Everything about him is plain as day for all to see, nothing hidden, nothing secret. Whatever Chris has he lets it out for all the world to share. As a result his home has been an open house all his life to visitors of all sorts.
Ciarán MacMathúna recorded in Droney’s Bell Harbour House in the 1950s and returned on several occasions for recordings and to make the television programme ‘My Own Place.” Television crews from
Chris was one in a family of five boys and while two of his brothers took their concertinas to
“You’ll probably laugh at this” he continues, “but when I was seven or eight, we had this wardrobe upstairs and there was a mirror the full height of it and I used to go up and put a chair in front of the mirror and sit down. I’d have the concertina on my knee and I hadn’t a note in my head. I used to sit in front of it dragging it in and out and I used to say to myself ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to play a few tunes?’”
Chris indeed learnt his few tunes, his father would show him a few notes at night when he had finished playing and after that he only intervened to correct him when he would play easier notes than those in the tune. ‘Whatever length it will take you to do it right’ he used to tell him; ‘you’ll have to do it.’
His first public performance came around the age of fourteen. “There was a dancehall in Kinvara, Johnson’s Hall and three or four local lads used to play in it for a half a crown a night. John Linnane was one of these and he said to me, ‘If you ever had nine or ten tunes we’d bring you with us and you’d get a half a crown same as us. I remember I was there every night trying to learn tunes, John had me wound up. As soon as I had the ten or twelve tunes I was off and I never looked back after that.”
Much of Chris’s music career has been with céilí bands although he has won nine solo All Ireland titles. “We started a little band here one time. We called it the Bell Harbour Céilí Band. There were six of us and we went everywhere. We had a minibus bringing us and talk about fun and craic in places. It was great,” he says. That band broke up when some of them emigrated to
Chris’s music is the music of the dance and he loves to dance himself. On nights that he is playing with the band, he leaves the stage for at least one set and maybe to do a bit of sean nós dancing as well.
Chris has made a number of recordings starting with ‘The Flowing Tide’ recorded in
Many of the tunes on the album hadn’t been recorded before. “Some of the reels might have been recorded” says Chris, “but they were with different selections. The waltz ‘Bell Harbour Hills’ was a tune of Chris’ father Jim’s and Chris had totally forgotten it until one night playing at an eightieth birthday party locally it came back to him. “I’d safely say I hadn’t played it in fifty years” says Chris. “I have played it in several places since and I have asked fifty people or more – nobody ever heard it. Strange thing about it, my father had words to it. When he passed away the words passed away as well.”
No stranger to composition, ‘Peaceful Corcomroe’ is a slow air Chris composed himself just a few years ago. He has played it many times particularly in churches at funeral masses since then. The ruin of Corcomroe Abbey is only a short mile and a half from Chris’s house and was the inspiration for the title. Chris played at Corcomroe for the Easter Dawn masses for ten years when they were held there and his last album took its title from the abbey. “Where Corcomroe Abbey is built is called the Valley of the Fertile Rock” says Chris, “and the reason its called that is that the abbey was built in 1197 and the stones that built the abbey were all collected locally. They made fields where they collected the stones and so it’s called the valley of the fertile rock.”
Chris’s life has been one of hard work. “I used to be out threshing corn from eight o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock at night. I often came back at nine o’clock, cleaned myself up, shaved and headed off to play music for a couple of hours” he says. “I never drank, I smoked in the early stages but I quit them too. I keep myself. If you’re healthy, you don’t mind.
Chris has seven children and both Ann and Francis are All Ireland concertina champions too. In turn, Chris’s grandchildren are continuing the tradition playing traditional music as well with some of them diversifying from the concertina to other instruments. Pride of place in Chris’s home is the display case housing his All Ireland medals and next to them the silver spoon bearing the palace emblem, a chrysanthemum sent by the Emperor of Japan following his visit to Ireland as Crown Prince in the 1980s when Chris performed for him. “The Japanese people, when they come here, no way will they touch the spoon because the palace emblem is sacred in
We finish talking with many invitations to visit anytime I’m passing. You could talk forever with Chris Droney and you could listen to his music just as long. We have a lot to learn from musicians like Chris, humility, modesty, the accuracy of his interpretation and his unparalleled dedication to the dance music of