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| Russell Brothers
Micho, Pakie and Gussie
The Russell brothers came from a family steeped in traditional music and folklore. Their unique style of playing has left an indelible mark on Irish music. Born in Doonagore, Doolin, their parents were Austin Russell and Annie Moloney. Austin and Annie had five children, Micho (Michael) born on March 25th 1915, Gussie (Austin), Pakie (Patrick) born in 1920, Bridget and Mary-Kate.
Doonagore is an exceptionally beautiful area. The Russell homestead looked across towards Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands. However, the land was rugged and difficult to farm. Their father worked mainly as a farmer but also hired out as a carter, often hauling fish to Lisdoonvarna. He was a sean-nůs singer and lilter. Their mother, who was almost ninety when she died, was an accomplished concertina player and a singer.
The concertina was Pakies' instrument, Micho and Gussie played the timber flute and the tin whistle. In their early years music was not yet centred in pubs and the three brothers often walked or cycled miles to play together at house dances. Neighbours gathered together in designated houses telling stories, singing and dancing. The Russell brothers were taken to these gatherings from a very early age and began to absorb the music. Micho and Gussie started playing for "sets" in their twenties.
Micho's father had bought him a Clarkes tin whistle when he was eleven years old. All three brothers learned much of their music from a neighbour, Patrick Flanagan. Patrick was a concertina player. To begin with, he simply taught Micho which fingers to lift to play a scale on the tin whistle. After that Micho was more or less left to his own devices and continued learning by ear. He returned to Patrick Flanagan later on to polish his tunes and add to his store. He also sought out older players in the locality, like flute player John Darcy, to learn all he could from them.
Micho had finished school at the age of fourteen and joined his father in working the land. He also hired out with a side-cart to do hauling and he took on odd jobs like thatching. Pakie was only twelve when his father died. On leaving primary school he joined Gussie in the quarry in Doonagore and started to learn the craft of stone-cutting.
The first concert flute was given to them by their uncle, John Moloney, when he returned from America in 1932. Gussie was twenty years old when he started playing the timber flute. With the decline in the custom of house dancing Pakie initiated the trend locally for playing in O'Connor's pub in Fisherstreet.
The Russell brothers first came to attention outside of their own locality in the late 1930's when Seamus O' Duillearga recorded their music and stories for the Irish folklore Commission. Recordings made by Seamus Ennis, Breandan Breathnach and Ciaran MacMathuna also brought them to a wider audience. In the 1960's things began to change dramatically for Micho. Tony MacMahon, a musician from Clare and a producer with R.T.E., arranged for Micho to appear and record in Slatterys in Dublin. The simplicity of his music greatly impressed the audience. Radio broadcasts and television appearances followed. Micho had an amazing memory and he knew about three hundred tunes and songs, mostly associated with his native county Clare. His repertoire included some unusual and rare pieces and he had an ability to transform any music he touched. As his reputation grew in Ireland invitations began to filter in from abroad. He went to London in 1969 and he made his first of many trips to the continent in 1972. He won the All-Ireland competition for tin whistle at Listowel in 1973. He performed at the Smithsonian Institution's Bicentennial Festival in Washington in 1976, one of five visits he made to the United States.
As fame of the Russell brothers spread people came from around the world to meet them in Doolin. All three rarely played together and while Micho toured with the Furey brothers, Clannad, Frankie Gavin etc., Pakie and Gussie were content to stay close to home. There, they helped to establish Doolin as the traditional music capital of Ireland. When Micho wasn't away on tour he could be found in his customary seat in O'Connors pub, playing a few tunes with other local musicians or just by himself. He taught annually at the Willie Clancy school in Miltown Malbay and was constantly involved in teaching local youngsters and tourist players as well. Despite the considerable celebrity and attention he always remained humble and down-to-earth.
Pakie, renowned concertina player, raconteur and stone-mason, died in 1977.
Micho died following a traffic accident at Kilcolgan, county Galway, on 19th February 1994.
Gussie spent most of his life stone working at the Doonagore quarry. He was a gifted mechanic and tradesman as well as a highly regarded flute and whistle player. He died in May 2004.
Singers and Songs of County Clare