Sliabh Luachra lost its finest fiddle player with the recent death of Paddy Cronin at the age of 88. A native of Reaboy, Gneeveguilla, near the Kerry/Cork border, he was the last living pupil of Patrick O'Keeffe, the renowned fiddle player and teacher who was the greatest exponent of the Sliabh Luachra regional music style.
Born into a family of nine children, Paddy emigrated to Boston in 1949. Already an accomplished fiddle player, he quickly fell under the spell of the Sligo fiddle style, and in particular, with the playing of Michael Coleman and James Morrison.
In his response to the Sligo style, Paddy made it his own, embracing its faster, highly ornamented features with an adeptness that reflected his innate virtuoso abilities. He loved the jigs and reels of Sligo, favouring them over the polkas and slides of his native Sliabh Luachra.
In fact, some would say that such were the virtuoso qualities of his playing that Cronin was the only fiddle player to equal or surpass the playing of Michael Coleman himself.
He returned to live in Killarney with his wife, Connie, in 1991, settled effortlessly into local sessions and was in demand at music festivals the length and breadth of the country.
Upon his return, he realised that everyone wanted to hear his Sliabh Luachra music and not that of his adopted Sligo style, so he set about a second metamorphosis, returning to the fiddle tunes he had learned decades earlier from Patrick O’Keeffe.
His playing was characterised by a unique quality: it was fresh, lively and delicately ornamented, while at the same time beautifully sad and timeless. His musicianship was recognised in 2007, when he was awarded the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Lifetime Achievement Award.
Paddy saw the role of the musician as interpreter as key. In 2007, in an Irish Times interview he said: "As long as you stay in line, I don't see why you can't play with the tune. If you want decent music, you've got to find somebody good to listen to. With a teacher like Pádraig O'Keeffe, we made out alright. He shortened the road for me no end."
Paddy was known as a man who spoke his mind. When asked by a commercially successful musician if he would teach him a few of his tunes, Paddy replied: “Stick to the sh*t you’re playing, because there’s no money in the real thing”!
In more recent years, he enjoyed a fruitful musical partnership with the guitarist Gearóid Ó Duinín, and the pair were due to participate in Ballyferriter’s Scoil Ceoil An Earraigh in February.
A short illness prevented this, and he died on March 15th. His passing is the greatest loss to Sliabh Luachra music since the death of Patrick O’Keeffe in 1963.
Paddy Cronin was born on July 6th 1925, and died on March 15th, 2014.
He was predeceased by his wife, Connie. He is survived by his children, Michael, Patrick, Eileen, Vincent, Margot and Danny; by his sister, Kathy O’Donoghue, and his brother, Fr Dan.