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P.J. Hayes (1921 – 2001)

It has been said of him that P.J. Hayes was “as comfortable in Carnegie Hall as in the mart at Scariff”. P.J. Hayes was born in 1921 in Maghera, Tulla, Co. Clare and lived there all his life. He came from a farming background and spent all his life in the Maghera area.

His mother, Margaret Hogan, played the concertina and he began learning the fiddle at the age of 11, taught by Pat Canny of Glendree, a near neighbour and father of the fiddler Paddy Canny. He recalls his family receiving a gramophone from America and playing ’78 records’ of Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran and Hughie Gillespie. Both Paddy Canny and P.J. learned tunes from the gramophone and they were to play house dances together in the following years around Killanena, Feakle and Tulla. The two were also founding members of the Tulla Céilí Band in 1946.

When Sean Reid stepped down as leader of the band in the 1950s, P.J. took over and held the role for five decades. As band leader his approach was gentle and even handed and P.J.’s son Martin describes the unity of the Tulla Band saying it “was the first example of participatory democracy that I had ever encountered. Nothing was done and no choices made that went against the wishes of any individual musician. Everything…required collective agreement.”

The Tulla Ceili Band achieved All-Ireland honours at two Fleadh Cheoil in 1957 and 1960 and recorded six albums, toured America seven time and Britain fourteen times, endearing them to countless Irish exiles.

In 1960, P.J. and Paddy Canny recorded an album in Dublin called All Ireland Champions – Violin: Paddy Canny and P. Joe Hayes, and this album is regarded as many as a benchmark LP of traditional Irish music. It featured Peadar O’Loughlin and Bridie Lafferty on piano and was re-released by Shanachie as a CD in 2001.

P.J.’s son Martin illustrates the relationship his father had with music.

However difficult it is to imagine my own life without music it is impossible for me to even know my father without his music. Music is part of his life in the same way that the land is part of him or in the way that we are Irish. It is inevitable and unalterable, we can never identify ourselves apart from our past as he could never identify himself apart from his music. His music fits comfortably into his life, there has always been balance, he never saw music as being anything other than normal and ordinary, a part of life that fits comfortably with his family, farm, religion and politics. He has a strong passion for music that has been tempered and maintained by equal and loyal devotion to the other interests in his life.

Martin’s earliest memories are of his father getting dressed up and being picked up to go and play somewhere, and in his child’s imagination it was always somewhere far away, exciting and important. On other nights the band practiced in the kitchen and when he had to go to bed he would leave the bedroom door open, a little bit, and listen to them play until he fell asleep.

Broadcaster and writer, P.J. Curtis describes P.J. Hayes as “a gentleman and a gentle man, but was also a force in music, though he didn’t push his music on anyone. He played his music from the heart, and his son Martin has taken that on.” P.J. was honoured as Clare Person of the Year in 1996 and during the presentation; Colm Tobín noted P.J.’s influence on the longevity of the Tulla Ceili Band “it was his persistence and dedication over the years that helped to keep the band together for so long.”

P.J. married Peggy McMahon from Crusheen and they had four children, Martin, Pat, Anne Marie and Helen. The P.J. Hayes Memorial Weekend is a traditional music festival set up in honour of P.J. and takes place every year in Feakle, Co. Clare.

The Shores of Lough Graney (1993, with PJ Hayes, Martin Hayes and Mark Gregory)
All Ireland Champions – Violin: Paddy Canny and P. Joe Hayes (1959)
Echoes of Erin, (1958, Tulla Ceili Band, Dublin Records).

The Tulla Céili Band 1946 – 1997: A History and Tribute.” Chris Keane. McNamara Printers, Shannon, Co. Clare. 1998.
P Joe Hayes biography. Jul 20. 2009.

Music of Clare Project:
Music featuring P.J. Hayes

YouTube Videos:

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P.J. Hayes