A Super Heritage Jewel Nestled in the West at Gurteen, Co. Sligo…
Birthplace of World Famous Fiddle Player, Michael Coleman……
Driving leisurely westwards in Sligo countryside on a beautiful summers afternoon, we came upon a four roads crossroads in a small quiet village, that was dominated by the presence of a well appointed local heritage centre. I wondered why such a splendid building had sprung up, and what role the business of heritage had played, to warrant such an attraction.
It was an obligatory stop of my four wheels, and on a quick glance, I began to think, an investigation of what lay inside would need to be done. The location was real country, and my mind was asking, who might the famous person be from the area, that such a splendidly appointed heritage centre was established.
Michael Coleman’s life straddled two centuries. He was born on31st January 1891, just a short distance outside the village of Gurteen, Co.Sligo, and died in far off Manhattan, America, on 4th January 1945, at the relatively young age of fifty four. Michael was the youngest of a family of seven and his dad, James, was a well known flute player of farming stock, but the acreage was very small.
Michael Coleman was the survivor of twins, he had a legacy of ill health and was of light build and small in height and his native district of Killavil, was well known for its reputation of producing notable fiddle players and travelling musicians. In rural Ireland, travelling dance teachers were very prominent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and music sessions in peoples own homes were quite frequent.
A young Michael Coleman would have grown up surrounded by Irish music and dancing. He was reputed to be quick on his feet with his dancing shoes on, but aside from dancing, he became an accomplished violinist in his youth. Local organised concerts were also hugely popular events in times past, and Michael Coleman’s exquisite skills on the violin were much admired.
Names that popped up in my research include, Johnny Gorman, Phil O’Beirne and PJ McDermott, all noted fiddlers and Michael’s elder brother, Jim, was reputed to be influential in Michael’s development, as a musician of note.
The call of emigration came upon Michael Coleman in 1914, aged 23, and building with bricks and mortar, would not have been enticing for the Gurteen native. and instead he devoted a huge amount of time to perfecting his musical skills. It wasn’t too long before the recording companies of his day enticed him into their studios in the 1920’s/30’s decades.
A desire to explore far off America was fulfilled and he left England’s shores in search of greater opportunity and appreciation. The dance halls, bars and clubs of New York, often echoed to the strains of Michael Coleman’s fiddle playing.
He made several recordings in association with famous fiddlers, Patrick Dolan and Tom Gannon and flute players, Tom Morrisson and Michael Walsh. In later years Michael Coleman linked up with legendary fiddlers, Hugie Gillespie and James Morrison and made several recordings.
The gramophone was the juke box of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and many Irish homes were privileged to own this special musical piece of equipment, and the music of the now famous Sligo musician, found its way back to the Emerald Isle. His music was extensively popular and he had, like all like great solo musicians, developed a sound instantly recognisable as Michael Coleman.
The fiddler from Killavil, Gurteen, Co. Sligo, took fiddle playing, perfection and ability to new heights. He could transform an ordinary song, into a tune that everybody knew, could only be achieved by Michael Coleman, Famous Musical Son Of Ireland.
COLEMAN MUSIC CENTRE……
This popular centre at Gurteen, the scene of my discovery, is a community based, state of the art traditional music and cultural centre which draws together the many strands of south Sigo’s rich musical heritage.
The Heritage Centre is dedicated to the memory of the famous Gurteen fiddle player, Michael Coleman, a musician who had a profound influence on traditional Irish music around the globe.
The objective of the centre is the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music and culture, and just like our own Irish Heritage Online project, Famous Sons & Daughters of Ireland, we also are all about preservation and promotion of time past in Sport; Music; Heritage and History.
On my own personal visit to the Michael Coleman Music Centre in 2017, it was a revealing insight to an Irish Heritage Centre, that could only be described as a magic work of art.
The facilities at the centre are illuminating and a joy to behold, and maybe one fine summers day, I may get an opportunity to offer up our very own Irish Heritage night of Famous Sons & Daughters Of Ireland on our BigScreen with music of times past galore.
Editorial & Research by
Derry JF Doody
Irish Home of
All Ireland Hall of Fame Online Gallery