Realizing that few of the many tunes remembered from boyhood days . . . were known to the galaxy of Irish musicians domiciled in Chicago, the writer decided to have them preserved in musical notation. This was the initial step in a congenial work which has filled in the interludes of a busy and eventful life.
Police Chief Francis O’Neil, IRISH FOLK MUSIC: A FASCINATING HOBBY, WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF RELATED SUBJECTS (Chicago, 1910)
Here in Chicago it’s almost dawn
and quiet in the cell in Deering Street stationhouse
apart from the first birds at the window and the milkwagon
and the soft slap of the club in Chief O’Neil’s palm.
“Think it over,” he says, “but don’t take all day.”
Nolan’s hands are brown with a Chinaman’s blood.
But if he agrees to play three jigs
slowly, so O’Neil can take them down,
he can walk home, change clothes,
and disappear past the stockyards and across the tracks.
Indiana is waiting. O’Neil lowers his eyes,
knowing the Chinaman’s face will heal, the Great Lakes
roll in their cold grey sheets and wake,
picket lines will be charged, girls raped
in the sweatshops, the clapboard tenements burn.
And he knows that Nolan will be gone by then,
the coppery stains wiped from the keys of the
Five thousand miles away Connaught sleeps.
The coast lights dwindle out along the west.
But there’s music here in this lamplit cell,
and O’Neil scratching in his manuscript like a monk
at his illuminations, and Nolan’s sweet tone breaking
as he tries to phrase a jig the same way twice:
“The Limerick Rake” or “Tell Her I Am” or “My Darling
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