Missed an earlier news item? Visit the news archive.

Vincent Harrison RIP

Fiddler with Coleman connection and a lasting legacy of Leitrim Music passes on.

Vincent Harrison, who has died aged 82, was a master Leitrim fiddle-player whose expertise and extensive musical connections linked him with a golden era in Irish fiddle music. He was an associate of James ‘Lad’ O Beirne (1911-1980) the renowned Sligo fiddle-player who lived in the Bronx, New York and who in turn was a contemporary of the fellow county fiddle-player Michael Coleman (1892-1945).  Coleman’s music had reached legendary status by the time of his death in 1945.   The recordings in the USA of Coleman and fellow Sligo men James Morrisson (1893-1947) and Paddy Killoran (1904-1965) were unparalleled and represent the pinnacle of Irish fiddle-playing and recording.  Indeed it was O Beirne’s father Philip’s fiddle playing that influenced Killoran and Coleman before they both emmigrated to the USA.  Another great Sligo composer and  fiddle player, Martin Wynne (1916-98) would also become a musical friend of Harrisons during his time in New York.

Vincent Harrison was born in 1927 into a farming family in Tullycooley, Dromahair, County Leitrim. His mother Mary played the fiddle and her son Vincent took to the task of carrying on her legacy with an application and devotion that remained with him throughout his life.  Mary’s brother was the well-known fiddle player Hughie Travers, whom Irish musicians will  recognise by the tunes that bear his name. Vincent was the third eldest of a family of four brothers and two sisters and attended the local national school in Killavoggy. He was not formally taught music by his mother but started on fiddle from an early age and ‘picked it up as he went along’.  Besides his mother, he linked up with the great fiddler Joe ‘Lacky’ Gallagher from Drumkeeran and supplemented that by listening to 78 rpm recordings from the USA of Coleman.  He began entering and winning local feiseanna and playing regularly at dances and various events in Leitrim and further afield.

By the age of 27 he had decided to leave farming life and emigrate to New York.  There he had an older brother Joe, an avid music lover, who told him of a great Sligo fiddle-player named James ‘Lad’ O Beirne who was to become a close friend and abiding influence on the young Harrison.  Indeed, subsequent recordings can still be heard of the two playing many tunes together on an innovative O’Beirne home-made recorder. O’Beirne was Michael Coleman’s greatest musical companion up until his death in 1945. Both Lad O’Beirne and Michael Coleman are regarded as two of the most influential fiddle players of the 20th century. Vincent absorbed an enormous amount of lore, history and most importantly music from O’Beirne, Tom Connolly, Andy McGann and Martin Wynne, who all had direct contact with Coleman.

After settling in to New York life Harrison secured work at the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and he gradually worked his way up through the ranks by dedication to this work and by night study.  He worked on repairs and installation of telephone systems. This work brought him in to the homes of many famous people including classical musicians like the violinists Izthak Perlman  and Isaac Stern.  He developed a keen interest in the study of violins and regaled many stories of violins that he had bought during his time in America.  He went on the play with fiddlers Andy McGann and Paddy Reynolds, piper Andy Conroy and many more well-known Irish musicians in a city rich in Irish musical tradition.

In 1988 he retired and returned to Ireland to live near his sister Moira and her family on the seafront in Clontarf, Dublin.  He immediately immersed himself in the musical scene and played at many events and festivals at home and abroad. He also made radio broadcasts and some commercial recordings.  His house was to prove a Mecca for many calling musicians, in particular, younger generations of musical families like the Mulligans, O Broins and O Connors, for the remainder of his life.  He was always generous and kind with his time and music, for young and old, and carried his unique musical legacy with pride and honesty.  His style of playing and his link with the golden era of Irish fiddle music made Vincent Harrison one of the last true exponents of the celebrated Coleman style.

Vincent is survived by his two sisters Moira and Philomena and his many nephews and nieces. Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam uasal ceolmhar.

John Vincent Harrison; born 2nd December 1927, died 4th June 2009

Neilidh Mulligan

Permalink - Posted: June 30, 2009 at 9:12 am