Francis O'Neill

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Francis O'Neill
Francis O'Neil, Chicago PD.gif
Chief Francis O'Neill, CPD
General Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department
In office
April 30, 1901 (April 30, 1901) – July 24, 1905 (July 24, 1905)[1]
MayorCarter Harrison Jr.
Edward F. Dunne
Preceded byJohn E. Ptacek interim[1]
Succeeded byHerman F. Schuettler interim[1]
Personal details
Born(1848-08-28)August 28, 1848
Tralibane, County Cork, Ireland
DiedJanuary 26, 1936(1936-01-26) (aged 87)
Chicago, Illinois, United States

Francis O'Neill (August 28, 1848 – January 26, 1936) was an Irish-born American police officer and collector of Irish traditional music. His biographer Nicholas Carolan referred to him as "the greatest individual influence on the evolution of Irish traditional dance music in the twentieth century".[2]


O'Neill was born in Tralibane (also Trawlebane), near Bantry, County Cork. At an early age he heard the music of local musicians, among them Peter Hagarty, Cormac Murphy and Timothy Dowling. At the age of 16, he became a cabin boy on an English merchant vessel and remained a seaman until 1869.[3] On a voyage to New York, he met Anna Rogers, a young emigrant whom he later married in Bloomington, Illinois. The O'Neills moved to Chicago, and in 1873 O'Neill became a Chicago policeman. He rose through the ranks quickly, eventually succeeding Joseph Kipley as the Chief of Police from 1901 to 1905.[4] He had the rare distinction, in a time when political "pull" counted for more than competence, of being re-appointed three times to the position by two different mayors.

He was a flautist, fiddler and piper and was part of the vibrant Irish community in Chicago at the time. During his time as chief, O'Neill recruited many traditional Irish musicians into the police force, including Patrick O'Mahony, James O'Neill, Bernard Delaney, John McFadden and James Early. He also collected tunes from some of the major performers of the time including Patsy Touhey, who regularly sent O'Neill wax cylinders and visited him in Chicago. He also collected tunes from a wide variety of printed sources.[2]

O'Neill retired from the police force in 1905. After that, he devoted much of his energy to publishing the music he had collected. His musical works include:

  • O'Neill's Music of Ireland (1903), containing 1,850 pieces of music
  • The Dance Music of Ireland (1907), sometimes called, "O'Neill's 1001," because of the number of tunes included
  • 400 tunes arranged for piano and violin (1915)
  • Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody (1922), 365 pieces
  • Irish Folk Music: A Fascinating Hobby (1910). Appendix A contains O'Farrells Treatise and Instructions on the Irish Pipes, published 1797-1800; appendix B is Hints to Amateur Pipers by Patrick J. Touhy.
  • Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913), biographies of musicians, including those from whom he collected tunes in Chicago.


In 2008, Northwestern University Press issued Chief O'Neill's Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago, a non-musical memoir edited by Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch (a descendant of O'Neill), with a foreword by Nicholas Carolan of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Carolan himself wrote a musical biography of O'Neill, A Harvest Saved: Francis O'Neill and Irish Music in Chicago, which was published in Ireland by Ossian in 1997. An historical biography of O'Neill, The Beat Cop: Chicago's Chief O'Neill and the Creation of Irish Music, by Michael O'Malley, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2022.


In 2000, a life-size monument of Francis O’Neill playing a flute was unveiled next to the O'Neill family homestead in Tralibane, Co. Cork. The monument, made by sculptor Jeanne Rynhart, and a commemorative wall were erected through the efforts of the Captain Francis O'Neill Memorial Company.[5]

Chief O'Neill's life is memorialized in the musical play Music Mad: How Chief O'Neill Saved the Soul of Ireland, which premiered in Chicago in 2012. Written by Adam B. Whiteman with the approval and acceptance of Francis O'Neill's great-granddaughter, Mary Lesch, the show contains both dramatized content and material from O'Neill's own writings.[6]

Peter Hagarty and Francis O'Neill are memorialized in the song, Píobaire Bán, written by Tim O'Riordan. It was recorded by Patrick O'Sullivan on the CD One More Time' 'and on O'Riordan's own CD. "Taibhse".[7]

In August 2013, the inaugural Chief O'Neill Traditional Music Festival took place in Bantry, County Cork, just a few miles from Tralibane. The 2013 event marked the centenary of the publication of O'Neill's Irish Minstrels and Musicians. The event has taken place annually since.[8]

"Chief O'Neill's Pub and Restaurant" in the Avondale neighborhood bears his name and displays related memorabilia.[9]


  1. ^ a b c "HEADS OF THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT". Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b Carolan, Nicholas (1997). A Harvest Saved: Francis O'Neill and Irish Music in Chicago. Ossian Publications. ISBN 1-900428-11-3.
  3. ^ "Preserving Irish traditional music in Chicago: Francis O'Neill". Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  4. ^ To Serve and Collect, Richard Lindberg, [1], accessed 2 November 2018
  5. ^ " - Captain Francis O'Neill memorial website Tralibane, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland". Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  6. ^ Williams, Tom (3 September 2013). "Music Mad: How Chief O'Neill Saved the Soul of Ireland (Revised Edition)". Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  7. ^ "The PÍobaire Bán". Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  8. ^ "Chief O'Neill Traditional Music Festival". Archived from the original on 21 June 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  9. ^ "Chief O'Neill's Pub". Retrieved 22 November 2022.


  • Carolan, Nicholas, A Harvest Saved: Francis O'Neill and Irish Music in Chicago (Dublin 1997)
  • Cremin, Nora, Bantry Historical and Archaeological Society Journal; vol. 2
  • O'Malley, Michael, The Beat Cop: Chicago's Chief O'Neill and the Creation of Irish Music (University of Chicago Press, 2022)

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