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Here is another immigrant story of a wonderful renowned Irish musician in his son’s words.

When my father Patrick Cloonan read Josephine Colman’s article about her father in law’s travels. She asked me about my father Patrick. At 16 years of age with his brother he left Lettermullan Connemara for England. These young Irish lads were basically rebuilding what the German Luftwaffe destroyed. Post WW2 England was an interesting atmosphere for a young Irish kid who only spoke Gaelic.  Patrick picked up the English language quickly. On the construction sites, Patrick becomes the interpreter for the Irishmen who only spoke Gaelic.

One of Patrick's favorite tunes is McCalpine's Fusiliers. When we are out playing. My father always asks the singer to have a go at the song. As it turns out. Patrick worked for McCalpine’s. It was a  rough construction company to work for. Many an Irishman lost their lives in construction accidents in post WW 2 England. In the third verse of the song Calpine’s Fusiliers, it says" I remember the day that Bear O'Shea fell into the concrete stairs, what Horse face said when he saw him dead well it wasn't what the rich call prayers". The Horse-face was the Foreman and his reaction in the verse gives you an idea of the conditions the Irish lads endured.

Patrick was also an Irish button accordion player and from what my friends in the Irish music world say he's a "Great Irish button accordion player". He played in the dance halls on the weekend’s in London. Camden- town. Cricklewood. It was a great release from the rough working conditions.

Tough times hit Patrick, so he had to pawn the little gray Irish button accordion to pay his rent. My dad always talks about that little gray accordion he had to pawn. His wondering soul soon took him to Northern England where he worked for the English farmers.

My father Patrick came from a military family. His father and his father's 7 brothers served in the British Navy and the American Army during WW1. Four boys serving in the British Navy and Four boys serving in the US Army. Patrick decided England's military wasn't for him. He headed back to Ireland and joined the Irish Army. After time served he headed over to Boston.

In Boston, he was able to purchase another Irish button accordion. It was here where he met the great Irish musicians "The Cooley's" Joe and Shamus. The 3 Irish lads played Irish music every weekend in the dance halls and pubs in Boston.  A decision was made and the lads moved to Chicago. As far as Irish music goes, Chicago is ranked at the very top. Some people might disagree with me, but I think musically we're second to none. While living in Chicago, Patrick was playing music with some of the greats: Doctor Murphy and his sons John and Robert, Frank and Jimmy Thornton, Kevin Keegan, Paddy Welsh, Una Mc Gloo   Johnny McGreevy, Pat Burke, Albert Nary and John Nary, Kevin Henry, Malachy Towey and Phil Durkin. A very young Michael Flatly, Liz Carroll, Patrick Finnegan and Francis Campbell. Patrick and many of the Irish musicians in Chicago performed at various Catholic charity events and benefit dances over the years.

Jimmy Keane and John William. The great box players have mentioned many times that my father was one of their main influences in Irish music and accordion. When the Dennehy dancers went to Ireland in the 70's to compete in the all-Ireland, they took a group of Irish musicians with them, my father Patrick was one of the musicians. A young Michael Flatly specifically asked for my father to play for him when he went on to be the first Irish American to win the all-Ireland. My father has played with so many great musicians, too many to recall. My father has a certain style on the accordion that comes from his upbringing in Connemara.

When I was learning how to play Irish music, he would say you have to play steady and tough. kind of a cool sound if I had to describe his playing. We have a musician friend who stops by to play tunes with us on occasion, his name is Marty Sammon. Marty happens to be Buddy Guy's piano player. Marty’s grandmother was Nora Killeen, an Irish button accordion player from Ennistymon, County Clare. Marty likes to jam with The Cloonan boys because he said it reminds him of his grandmother. Marty has played with Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ronny Woods from the Rolling Stones. It's kind of cool when he stops by to jam with me and dad and my son Jack Cloonan. Jack is a rock and roll, bluegrass and Irish musician in Colorado. He just recorded a CD that features Marty Sammon on some of his tunes.

What a wonderful story. Patrick will be 90 years young in March. His son Jim and grandchildren are very proud of him. Together they are keeping the Irish traditional music alive here in Chicago. I love these stories don’t you? If you have a story to share I would love to hear it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I am still sewing masks and collecting socks for the homeless .Feel free to contact me if you wish to donate. Stay well and safe till next time. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day wherever you may be.

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