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Elizabeth (Mrs) Crotty

In the 1950s Mrs Crotty was one of the best known and highly respected traditional musicians in Ireland. She was born Elizabeth Markham on 6th December, 1885 in Gower, Cooraclare in West Clare. Her family were small farmers and she grew up in a home that was filled with music. Her mother played the fiddle, having learned the instrument from a travelling blind fiddler named the Schooner Breen. Her sister Maggie played the concertina. They played together for local house dances, weddings, christenings and "American wakes" but in those days only a very small number of women publicly played Irish traditional music.

In 1914 she married Miko Crotty, a neighbour who had spent some years in America. On returning home he bought a house in the Square in Kilrush which they ran as a public house.

Mrs Crotty was relatively unknown until the early 1950s. She could neither read nor write music in any of the conventional systems, but she could commit a tune to paper by giving each key a number, and using a symbol to denote a press or draw. Her style of playing was relatively unadorned, but it was very rhythmic, due to the fact that her music was played for dancers. Her two most popular tunes were "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" and "The Reel with the Beryl". These tunes brought out the very best in her style of playing, on her Lachenal concertina. It was with this concertina that she became well known in the 1950s.

Concertinas were invented in the 1820s and over the next thirty years developed to the instrument we know today. They have a very short history compared to some other musical instruments. By 1900 they were cheap and readily available. The two most common instruments in use in West Clare during Mrs Crotty's lifetime were the fiddle and the concertina.

During the mid 1950s her fame spread as a result of some recording sessions which Ciarán MacMathuna and R.T.E. held in her house in the Square. He played her music frequently on his radio programmes. In those years, Crotty's of the Square in Kilrush was visited regularly by musicians. One could be sure of a welcome, and a few tunes at almost any time of the day or night.

The movement which was to develop as Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann had begun in Mullingar in 1951. Three years later a group of people came together to form a branch in Co. Clare. Mrs Crotty was elected President of the County Board, a position she held until her death. During her years as President The All-Ireland Fleadh was held in Ennis in 1956, the first Co. Clare Fleadh was held in Miltown Malbay in 1957, the second in Tulla in 1958, the third in Lisdoonvarna in 1959 and the fourth in Kilrush in 1960. During this period Mrs Crotty suffered from severe angina but she tried very hard not to let her medical condition interfere with her musical acivities.

During her travels around the country she met and played with many musicians. In Dublin she met Mrs Harrington who played the fiddle, and they became close friends. They were both members of the Pipers Club in Thomas Street in Dublin and they travelled to many of the Fleadhs together. Mrs Crotty didn’t take part in competitions but she enjoyed listening to the various musicians.

Even though she made no commercial recordings, she did make two private ones, a solo, and a duet with Mrs Harrington. Consequently there is very little of her music on record. However, when R.T.E. produced an LP to commemorate fifty years of Irish radio they included one of Mrs Crotty's items from the archives. The tune chosen was "Geary's Reel", which Ciarán MacMathuna had recorded from her.

On 27th December 1960 Mrs Crotty died at home as a result of an anginal attack. She was survived by her husband, her son Paddy and her daughter Peggy. She is buried in Shanakyle cemetery, about a mile west of Kilrush.

Music of Clare Project:
Music featuring Elizabeth Crotty

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Elizabeth Crotty