Traditional musicians around Donegal and beyond were saddened to hear of the passing of Ardara fiddle legend John ‘The Tae’ Gallagher last week. At his burial on Wednesday, musicians had travelled from near and far to be in attendance. Wonderful music was performed at the event which marked the event of the passing of a master musician.
John ‘The Tae’ Gallagher was born in West End, Ardara in 1923. He began playing the fiddle at the tender age of four and one year later he take his first bow at a local concert. He later progressed to playing at dance halls and finally solo playing at special functions. He often performed complex duets with another local fiddler called James Josie ‘The Post’ McHugh.
John ‘The Tae’ Gallagher won Oireachtas Senior Fiddle competition in 1956 and in 1959 won the All Ireland Senior Competition at the Fleadh in Thurles.
Local spokesperson, Stephen McCahill said that the ‘Cup of Tae’ festival was named after the musician and that he was the reason that the festival, now in its eleventh year, is the great success that it has since become.
He said: “He was the cause and very much the reason for ‘The Cup of Tae’ festival. I recall meeting with a number of people when we were hoping to begin a festival that would revive traditional Irish music. It was suggested that we use the name the festival after a tune that was often played by John called ‘The Sweet Cup of Tae’, he said.
The style of John ‘The Tae” Gallagher’s fiddle playing has had a strong influence on Donegal fiddle music. Many unique local tunes would have been lost to the current generation if they hadn’t been preserved and played by the Ardara man.
John’s wife Annie sadly passed away last year. They married in 1957. Stephen recalls that she and her husband were very much attached to eachother. “They were part and parcel of Ardara. They lived in the centre of the town. They had hens and chickens which became a tourist attraction as children ran to their home to watch the hens at the back of the house,” he said.
On many occasions, the couple would often bestow people with a gift of free range eggs. In the initial years of the festival, unassuming John would take centre stage at the final concert. He and his wife were very proud of the festival and of what it represented. Stephen recollects John giving lessons to other local fiddle players over the years. “He was the master of great fiddle players that came to the fore in later years,” he said.
At the funeral, Seamus Gallagher, a great friend and neighbour spoke movingly of John in his eulogy. He offered those present a lovely insight into the nature and character of the musician.
Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhíl.