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The Music of Corktown
The Music of Corktown
The Ed Reavy Collection of Irish/American
Traditional Tunes
Volume I
Complied by Joseph M. Reavy

Barn Dances

Crossroads Ceili

Dances at Kinvara

If There Weren't Any-
Women in the World

Merry Priest


Neil of the Glenties

Rocks of Clare

Sarah Casey

Up to Moville


Boys of Bluebill

Brigid of Knock


Friendly Visit

Leitrim Fancy

Murphy's Fancy

Reavy's Grand Hornpipe

Rights of Man

Stack of Barley

Tommy Hills


Apples in Winter

Banks of Erne

Banks of Lough Gowna


Donnybrook Fair

Girls of Banbridge

Hill House

Hill Wife

Hinchy's Delight

Humors of Bandon
Idle Road

Irish Washerwoman


Orange Rogue

Priest's Leap

Rover's Return

Saddle the Pony

Smash the Windows

Sonny Brogan's

Swallow's Nest

Swans Among the Rushes

Tatter Jack Walsh

Long Dances

Ace and Deuce of Pipering

Job of Journeywork

Three Captains


All the Way to Galway

Clap Dance

Lakes of Sligo

69th Street


Around the World for Sport

Bag of Potatoes


Cow with the Crooked Horn

Down the Broom 

Flowers of Edinburgh

George White's Fancy

Girl Who Broke My Heart

Kildoney Lasses


Limestone Rock

Longford Collector

Love at the Endings

Mountain Road

Mountain Top

Moving Bog



North of Bundoran

Paddy Murphy's Wife

Paddy Ryan's Dream

Phelim's Frolic

Pigeon on the Gate

Pretty Girls of Mayo

Rakish Paddy

Redhaired Boy

Reidy Johnston's

Rocky Shore

Road to Galway



Silver Spire

Sligo Maid

Snow on the Hills

Tailor's Thimble



Tom Ward's Downfall


Wedding Fiddler

Wheels of the World

Yellow Tinker

Youngest Daughter

Set Pieces

King of the Fairies

Jockey at the Fair

Sweets of May

Slip Jigs


Kid on the Mountain

Visions from Ed's Environment 

THE REAVY COLLECTION really began back in the early part of this century in Barnagrove, where my father, Ed Reavy, was born. That part of County Cavan, Ireland, was a rich source of traditional music and folklore, and Ed Reavy at an early age was imbued with it. The first tunes he learned were the standards like Saddle the Pony, Rakish Paddy, and Off She Goes. His repertoire soon grew larger however when he travelled to nearby towns to hear the touring musicians. Although he played the fife in those days, he later took to the fiddle after hearing the enchanting music of the caravan tinkers and the tramp fiddlers, who regularly visited Cootehil and the nearby towns in Cavan and Monaghan.

When he came to Philadelphia in 1912, he was fortunate to settle in a predominantly Irish neighborhood in West Philadelphia, which later became known as Corktown because of the concentration of Irish families who lived there.

Our house was blessed through the years with visiting musicians who came to hear Dad play and to exchange tunes with him. Louis Quinn and Lad O'Beirne, from New York, came often; they were Dad's closest friends in the music world at that time. Pat Roche, the great dancer from Chicago, would drop in with Frank Thornton whenever they were in town. Michael Coleman, the legendary Sligo fiddler, also visited on occasion. And of course there were our own Philadelphia musicians like Neil Dougherty (and his son John), Frank Hearne, Charlie McDevitt, Mike McIntyre, Tommy Caulfield, John Vesey, and others who came to hear Dad's music in Corktown.

Ed also composed some of his own tunes in those days, but was unable to put them in manuscript form. His amazing musical memory however proved to be a reliable repository later, when I decided to write out the settings of all the tunes he had learned through the years. My own interest in fiddle playing also provided a stimulus for this long term collaboration with Ed. I began to feel proud to be an Irish-American, and it was a very genuine feeling.

After several years of intensive work on his own music, we were able to produce a collection of Ed Reavy's selected tunes in 1971, entitled Where the Shannon Rises. Lou Quinn, Dad's closest friend and fellow musician, was largely responsible for getting this limited edition of Reavy's tunes published in New York. Sean and Brian Quinn, Lou's sons, were also valuable consultants in this project. Deserving recognition finally came to the old immigrant from Corktown, whose tunes warmed the Irish who settled there.

From 1971, Ed and I continued to work together, gathering new tunes and refining some of the old ones. In all, I now have over 1000 tunes recorded in my notebooks. Practically all the standard Irish tunes in the tradition are there, in addition to several of Reavy's own tunes that were not included in the '71 publication. A secret source of Irish-American life was ours contained in these quaint original folk melodies.

My intention now is to publish a series of volumes that will in time include all of the tunes Dad and I have collected. The evidence is clear now that Irish traditional music is gaining more recognition throughout the world. And young Irish-American musicians learning to read music are eager to play the "good settings" of Irish tunes, but unfortunately have no current publication to turn to. The Reavy Collection, I feel, will offer them a printed source of Irish traditional tunes comparable in quality to the good settings played by the best Irish traditional and dance musicians of this century. The best musicians came to Corktown, and I have recorded the enchantment of those visits.

Volume I offers 100 selected reels, jigs, hornpipes, highlands, polkas, barndances, longdances, slip jigs, and set pieces. Later volumes will also include miscellaneous tunes, waltzes, and perhaps some of the traditional ballads we have stored in our extensive family collection. Tune, verse, song, and story; they are all here in some form or another-much as we collected them.

I dedicate this first volume to Dad's musician friends through the years who have helped indirectly to make this publication possible. I am particularly grateful to Louis Quinn, and his son Sean, for encouraging me to pursue this goal. And to Ed Reavy, my father, I am totally indebted for the many hours he spent with me readying these tunes for publication. This volume is really his volume. I am merely the fortunate person privileged to publish it for him.

CorktownCorktown is gone now. Most of the homes and storefronts we would have once recognized have now changed hands. Only the street signs and a few distinctive landmarks remain of the place ~` once knew and loved. The old neighborhood as we remember it is now gone forever.

In its day, the place was more than a home to us. We Irish Americans who grew up there felt that it was more than just a neighborhood. It was where we got our first and most lasting impressions of what it was like to be Irish and to love the things that were distinctively Irish.

Our people began coming to Corktown from the Old Country about the turn of the century, at least that was Dad's recollection of it. Donegal, Mayo and Sligo people came 'n droves." A few came from Cavan (Dad's home) and some from Ireland's other lesser-known regions. In time, most of Ireland's counties found their way there. Corktown was Ireland's home-away-from-home for Philadelphia bound Irish and those who settled there found a place they could call home. To the lonely immigrant this was a secure feeling he would eagerly cross a continent to discover.

Think of the old boundaries of Saint Agatha's parish (38th and Spring Garden Streets) and you'll have some idea of where this neighborhood was in old West Philadelphia. It was this same parish hall that featured some of the best Irish talent on St. Paddy's Day. Those of us old enough to remember it recall Jimmy Mullen's great comic song routines and the Reverend Monsignor (Mullen) himself singing Mother Machree.

The Irish country dances now enjoying a revival in Philadelphia were normal fare for a typical parish celebration. Some of the best musicians emigrating from Ireland came to the parish hall on Paddy's night to play for the dancing and recall memories of life in the Old Country.

But the music was not just a once-a-year thing. It was a living part of the tradition that made Corktown a thriving Irish settlement. The neighborhood taverns featured live music on weekends, sometimes even on weeknights as I recall. Pete Burke's place on Lancaster Avenue was typical of the old gathering places. Just around the corner on Hamilton Street was the Forresters Hall, where the Knights of the Red Branch met each month to promote Irish culture. The Forresters also held regular dances. The hall was a popular place too for wedding receptions and informal music sessions. Passers-by in the old days would feel cheated if they heard no strains of an old tune coming out of the Forresters' or Pete's place. And in those days they were seldom disappointed.

There is no written account of the old places, that I know of. Gone from there too are the Mullens, the Clarks, the Doughertys, and the Gallaghers the solid families of that parish. And with them has gone much of what made Corktown what it was: a place of the heart, where young Irish Americans found that what they came from was both genuine and enduring. We never forgot what we learned there, and it was good to know that to be Irish was an "altogether grand feeling."

Much of the history of the place, perhaps, is lost, but the music fortunately is not. Ed Reavy made his home in Corktown since the early part of the century, and he heard most of what was played and sung there by his fellow Irish. His natural talent for remembering tunes saved the best of this music for the generations that followed.

The music of Corktown was his music, and he guarded it carefully. He stored it away securely in his extraordinary musical memory: hundreds of tunes from every county, and some of his own tunes as well. It was his music and the music of his people. That part of Corktown's culture would never be lost because Ed would not let it.

Twenty-five years ago I began the curious task of writing out the quaint little tunes he dictated to me. And almost immediately we felt an extraordinary thing happening to us-as if those early years in Corktown were once more right there before us. We somehow felt caught up again in the merriment of the old highlands and the barn dances, neighbours popping in for a cup of tea or for "an odd tune or two on the fiddle." Even old Tom Clark, from Dad's home place, would come calling again for "a fine rattlin' reel." (Tom as a great lover of the music and spent many a night in the Reavy home on Haverford Avenue.)

house partyOnce we tapped the source, Dad's tunes poured out in almost endless supply. One tune reminded him of others. Experiences were recalled that had been long-forgotten. The tunes somehow identified them, almost as if they were paired together in Ed's memory to be conjured up later when some special occasion would call them forth. Scenes and anecdotes, people and tunes-they all came out much as Ed remembered them. And the whole experience of delving into that memorable time has been a gratifying one for both of us.

And that grand delving process has continued to this day. We never really stopped doing what we started over two decades ago, digging for old tunes and occasionally finding a priceless bit of a tune just by chance. And a piece of the tune was all that Dad might need when "on the hunt of something big. If you can touch the tune deeply enough (he would say), you'll find the whole of it sooner or later. This was his way of saying that the recalling of a few notes would enable him to reconstruct the entire tune in due time. And if he had trouble piecing the tune together, his own original variant would do just as well. Many of the tunes I have are Ed's own versions of older tunes. Only the druids know which is the better version of the tune.

The Ed. Reavy Collection (Volume I) is the first public document that tells of our long venture into Ed's past. The most memorable years in Corktown are re-created in this volume for the first time. If you lived in Corktown or perchance now wonder what it was like to live there, then don't hesitate getting quickly to the music we have rediscovered for you.

Sit expectantly now in your chair. Pick up a fiddle or flute, or run your fingers cheerfully along the keys of your piano. Find out what it is like to relive those better days. Catch the enchantment of an experience that may have the makings of a lifetime's interest for you. Don't venture forth if you are not a wagering man, for there are those of us who are betting you'll surely be touched by what we have in store for you.

And we old Irish seldom err in such things of the heart. Come back now. Come back with us to those better days and discover what thing it was that made you love the place we call Corktown.

The Irish of Corktown were great lovers of music and song. And despite having to emigrate from their homeland, they managed to take along with them most of their native country dances and a great variety of their traditional songs and ballads.

If you came to a house party in the old days, you were sure to hear some talented "greenhorn" singing a quaint original ballad of what life was like back in the Old Country. They loved the nostalgic touch, particularly when it told a tale of their own native region:

Yes, that's my dream,
my lovely dream of homeland,
and though I thought a rover I could be;
It's soon I found I left my heart behind me,
Within that lovely cottage by the Lee.

And the folk memory was always in evidence. Irish singers, as I recall, seldom sang a song of just a few verses. We were amazed to hear the singer go on in almost endless fashion exploring some heartwarming tale of brave deeds or mother's love (two favourites of theirs). Twenty to twenty-five verses might be sung if the night "had something in it" and the hour "was right for versing." The better singers would often save their best stock of verses 'til the peak of evening was near at hand. So that when they took the floor, all would know that something special was about to happen. Louis Quinn, Lad O'Beirne and Ed Reavy - the keepers of the tradition



The Irish that emigrated were not your so-called educated class. Many completed (as they would describe it) "only the third or fourth book" back in the Old Country. But you would hardly know it from their talk. Whatever they had learned in Ireland was certainly well earned. They were obviously very keen, sensitive people who had an ear for fine language and a charming tongue to match. Even to this day we native Americans still marvel at their feeling for words, and we acknowledge their special flair for making language come alive:

Of Sorrow and death I sing-
The canker come on the corn,
The fisher lost in the mountain loch

The cry at the mouth of the morn.
No other life 1 sing,
For I am sprung of the stock
That broke the hilly land for bread,
And built the nest in the rock.

I was in my teens when I first heard those lines of The Mountainy Singer recited at a house party. He was a young Irishman employed as a gardener on Philadelphia's Main Line. And the tone of his voice, the profound dedication in his eyes have never left me to this day. His "reading" at that house party convinced me that I had 'sprung" of something too. And I vowed never to lose it.

Many spoke the Gaelic tongue fluently. And it was always a special occasion to hear some old original Gaelic tale told "in the Irish," Many of their songs too were interspersed with Irish expressions. At a young age we got to know Irish words like amadan and slainthe (and several others that were never to be mentioned in respectable company).

The immigrants were not supposed to be "well educated" and yet they really were. Traditional values were rooted deeply in them, and their minds were nurtured by a strong communal interest in native expression. When a Cavan man spoke of "my home place," you knew he was not speaking idly. His face took on a certain expression; his voice assumed a heightened tone; and those privileged to listen were deeply moved by his words.

Step dancing, much as it is today, was a pursuit of the very young (and mostly girls). Parents loved to "show off" a budding "champion." They naturally took pride in family accomplishment, but a commitment to maintain strong ethnic traditions was just as solidly felt and fostered. My sister, Mary, was the step dancer in our family; and she was a good one. A Reavy house party was never complete without a "Maggie Pickins"- by Mary (with Ed Senior manning the fiddle). Many of the reels, jigs, hornpipes, and other dance tunes that came into our home were brought there by musicians who played for the dancers.

Many too came during the lively sessions afterwards, when the musicians played 'just for the listening." An accordion, fiddle and flute were a great combination for these house sessions. And how they would go on-to the wee hours, tune after tune, with each one more charming than the other. Many of the tunes in my notebooks are exact reproductions of those great old house sessions. Dad kept all the tunes neatly tucked away in his memory for safekeeping. Very few of these were lost in this way. Yes, Corktown still lives on in that music. As we have re-created it all now in this volume.

a fiddleThe ballads too have been saved. We intend to publish them in some future volume. The old Come-All-Ye's are there with them, the very ones you hear occasionally when Irish waltz music is played: songs like Home to Mayo, The Rose of Aranmore, and Lonely Banna Strand Tune and verse, song and story-all are there much as we heard them in Corktown some years ago. The country dances now being revived by Ed Reavy, Jr. and the Ceili dance groups in Philadelphia were also a part of the Irish dance scene in Corktown. House parties featured the Set, 'The Stack of Barley', and a full measure of Barn dances and highlands. Local dance halls attracted young and old, and they usually danced to the music of the Four Provinces, Erin's Pride, or one of the other popular dance bands. At those dance halls we learned the 'Walls of Limerick', the 'Sedge of Ennis', and most of the other popular Ceili dances. We did some jitterbugging, too, in the American dance halls, but when it was "the real stuff" we were after we headed for the Irish dance halls: 69th Street, Connelly's (on North Broad Street), or the Forresters. Once you were touched by the enchantment of the old tunes and dances you were flat out hooked. And being hooked was a grand feeling for the young Irish American who lived in Corktown.

Those of us deeply committed to that tradition are gratified to see clear signs of a revival now of that period. Interest in the country dances has risen sharply here in the Philadelphia area. Ceili groups have sprung up in many different sections of the Delaware Valley. Young and old alike once again are gathering together to enjoy the music and song of their common heritage.

To all of them this first Volume is offered. Hopefully the young musicians among them will learn to play the tunes printed here. Ed and I had hoped that the book would be used in just this way. And we want older musicians to use it too. In this Volume they will not only find the very best settings of the familiar tunes, but some as well that are heard all too infrequently nowadays.

To all of our friends here in the States and those still living in Ireland we offer this first Volume of the Reavy Collection. May you all enjoy the tunes we have prepared here for you. Slainte.

The Reavy 'R'

Dedicated especially to my wife, Mary Jo, for her patience and love - and her belief in my work, So that no tune would be lost''

A word about the Commentary: It would have been cold of me to print the tunes without providing some comments on I them, for so much of our own personal lives became a part of these tunes, and a part, too, of the lives of the many musician friends that visited our family home in Corktown. The book had to tell these tales somewhere.

I also wanted to trace the tunes to earlier printed sources to give them their proper place in the historical development of the tradition that explains our native Irish music and culture. But, most of all, I wanted to tell anyone interested in hearing it that the Corktowns of America have a hidden tradition: an important cultural resource that has not been adequately spoken for in the published music literature of our great nation.

Oh, I must confess too that I wrote the comments for the fun of it, and for those who perhaps can't read a lick of music, but might want the book for the things said sometimes in jest, but mostly in earnest, about themselves and the people they have grown to love.


Ancient Irish Music: P.W. Joyce; Dublin, Ireland; 1992.
Ceol Rince na hEireann II: B Breathnach; Dublin, Ireland; 1972.
Ceol Rince na hEirea#n: B Breathnach; Dublin, Ireland; 1976.
The Dance Music of Ireland (1st Collection):R.M. Levey; London, England; 1858. glee Dance Music of Ireland (2nd Collection): R.M. Levey; London, England; 1873. The Dance Music of Ireland: F. O'Neill; Chicago, Illinois; 1907.
Where the Shannon Rises: J.M. Reavy; Melrose Park, PA; 1971.
White's Excelsior Collection: White-Smith Publishing Company; Boston, New York, Chicago; 1896.

Ed Reavy and his son Joe

Note the first tune in each section has a full piano arrangement for those musicians who wish to chord for sessions. Chord progressions, but no piano parts, are also provided for the remaining tunes. Piano players, after studying the arrangements of the lead tunes, should be able to develop similar piano accompaniments for the remaining tunes in each section. Chordal arrangement are provided in each tune to facilitate piano (and guitar) accompaniment for the melody instruments.

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