tunebook 195 tunes.

Mairtin O Ruadhain aka Martin Ruane, living (trying to survive) in Saskatoon, Canada, hometown Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Listened to the fiddle to age 18 for approx. 18x365x4 hours. Still my favourite sound. Starved for ITM on the Prairies, co-founded a branch of Comhaltas in 1984 which is still very strong. Retired educator, teacher, principal, consultant, department of education official. Taught in Ireland, Australia, and Canada. Fluent Irish speaker, school principal on beautiful Achill Island, perennial Irish Officer for CCE branch. Great passion for ITM but a very poor instrumentalist (weak tin whistler but I taught it with great success in the schools, just starting on the fiddle … 50 years too late, a few chords on guitar), I sing in Irish and English and I can lilt most tunes (weak on names, but if you hum a few bars . . .) Very impressed with this site, members are very helpful and well-informed and the humour and wit is outstanding. I don’t deserve this much space here, but I would like to post a few bits about my father who was truly one of a kind and would be appreciated by those of you who are serious musicians.

The following is a short bio of my father Martin Ruane, 1894 to 1986, a fine fiddler and composer of reels. For more info and soundclips of his fiddling, visit

Born in Aughaward, outside Straide, family moved into the village of Straide (best known as the birthplace of Michael Davitt, founder of the Land League). One of my best early memories was travelling before dawn in the ass and cart to Straide (10 miles from Castlebar) for the 100th anniversary of Davitt’s birth: fantastic celebrations including a reenactment of the eviction by the bailiffs and the burning of the cottage. More recently, the family of TG Smyth (a few years ahead of me in the secondary school) has hit the ITM headlines, Sean of Lunasa, Breda and Cora (don’t know the others).

My old man was a bit of a phenom, musicwise. At 3 at a country house party, when the box player left the box down, he figured out how to play a tune although he couldn’t lift the instrument. The amused box player helped him out. He says that by 6, he could play on the melodeon most of the tunes in vogue then in that area. Later, his sister got a two row and soon he was the main box player in the area. At 16, he got a fiddle from a brother who worked in the mines in St. Helens. He had only had a fiddle in his hands once before (very scarce at that time) and some assembly was required. All he remembered was the sound of the A and E strings, but he assembled it and by bedtime was able to play a reel, a jig, and a polka. He was the best player in the area and started to enter competitions. In the 20s, he won Mayo and Connaught Championships on the fiddle. Some of his neighbours who had emigrated to America wanted him to cross the Atlantic too as they felt he was as good as Coleman, Morrison, etc. He didn’t (some health problems at that time) and he sometimes regretted it later. After marriage in the 1920s, he did not compete any more. He farmed (although we never owned land) and raised a family of 10. In the 30s and 40s there was no shortage of sessions, house parties, country dances, American wakes, etc. I was born in 1940, dad was 46, so maybe his best playing was behind him, but he practised constantly so I would say he was still great and continued to be my favourite until I left Ireland in 1966, when he was 72.

In Castlebar, in my time there, other than dad, there were no trad players. There were in the surrounding countryside and he continued to play for country dances (in houses), sessions in our house and in other towns.

After supper/tea, every night he took down the fiddle and played for a solid 4 hours. I never knew him to miss a night unless he was sick in bed. I remember one time he had pneumonia when some ITM came on the radio RE (rare enough in those days), he had to come downstairs and play along. A relapse followed. He had no grown-up sense when it came to music. Another time Sean Ryan came on the radio playing his newly-composed jig, dad grabbed the fiddle from the wall where it hung and the third time through he played with him note-perfect, then a few more times when it finished.

He had taught himself to read music (at a competition when he was a young man, the accompanist had asked him, “What key?” and he was embarrassed because he didn’t know anything about keys).
In the 60s, he started to compose reels. He would get a tune in his head, sometimes in the middle of the night, and hop out of bed and go downstairs to play and write it down before he forgot it. (I was home one time when this happened and he scared the hell out of me waking me at 3 am). These reels were written on sweet/candy bags, scraps of paper, whatever was handy. I was living in Dublin then and I would ask him how the reels were coming. At the last check in 1966, he reckoned he had about 200. (Unfortunately, due to a kind of nomadic life in his later years, most of his reels are lost.) I bought him a book for transcribing the reels, but he found it tedious. He would make mistakes, then rip out pages. Finally, he started entering them in pencil, going over them later in pen. When he died in 1986, I went home and found this notebook, with 18 of the reels, the last few in pencil, and the last one unnamed. From about age 50 to 70, his main occupation was buying calves on Achill Island and selling them at the market, just outside our door, in Castlebar and at fairs throughout the County. He loved Achill and he named most of his reels for beauty spots, etc. on the island.

All through the 70s he made use of the free transportation (he had given up driving) to go to Clare and Galway. He had earlier been going to Lisdoonvarna for an annual holiday to play with the likes of Paddy Canny, Aggie White and others. In the 70s, he took up residence for a long time in Galway and is still better known there than in his hometown. He met a young box player there that he took under his wing, Seamus Walshe. Seamus’s teacher on the box was Tommy Coen and Seamus won the Senior All Ireland, in 1980 I believe, playing Tommy’s reel aka Christmas Eve.

In an article on ITM for a magazine in Galway, Seamus named the two as the greatest influences on his playing. This was Seamus’s opinion of dad:

Martin Ruane . . . was a very accomplished violin player with an extremely advanced fingering and toning technique. I was particularly amazed at the great volume of music which he had. He knew in the region of 2000 tunes . . . and he had composed over 100 reels. As a composer, I would rate him on a par with the great Ed Reevey, the Cavan born violinist . . . regarded by many as the best composer of ITM in this century, and on par with Paddy Fahy, the great East Galway composer.

In the article, Seamus went on to say that ITM had undergone a revival in recent years (written in 1988) and the contributions of most pioneers had been recognised:

Others have not, and they have kept traditional music alive by playing it, and composing, when it was not fashionable to do so, and by so doing, encouraged young musicians. One such person was Martin Ruane.

Seamus recorded 3 of dad’s reels on Memories of Galway in 1987 (Side 1, Track 1: Paddy Fahy’s and Martin Ruane’s No. 1 and
Side 1, Track 5: Martin Ruane’s (2 reels).
These reels had names but SW didn’t have them. As far as I know, no one else has recorded any of his reels. As SW says in his article, his son (me) is to publish these (ouch, ok very soon).

PS I could put the SW recording of these tracks on this site, but I don’t know if that is legal or how to do it. Also, I have an old reel to reel of dad’s playing, a home tape, that I found in his possessions when he died in 1986. Unfortunately, he was about 80 when he recorded these. I am waiting for an archived tape from UCC/Cork (a music student did a paper on him), but he was 85 then. The only other tape I have music/conversation was made by an RTE collector but he was in his late 80s to 90 then. If there was any interest I would put a sample of his playing on here. I welcome any comments you have.
UPDATE JUNE 2006: Still trying to learn the fiddle. I have done little with the site, but two of Dad’s reels can be heard there as well as a few other pieces.