Chief Francis O'Neill, CPD
August 28, 1848|
Tralibane, Co. Cork, Ireland
|Died||January 28, 1936
Chicago, Illinois, USA
|Commands held||Chicago Police Department|
Francis O'Neill (August 28, 1848–January 28, 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".
O'Neill was born in Tralibane, 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. 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 serving as the Chief of Police from 1901 to 1905. He had the rare distinction, in a time when political "pull" counted for more than competence, of being re-appointed twice 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.
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 Captain 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.
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, and a commemorative wall were erected through the efforts of the Captain Francis O'Neill Memorial Company.
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.
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 is planned to take place annually.
- Cremin, Nora, Bantry Historical and Archaeological Society Journal; vol. 2
- Irish Minstrels and Musicians online at billhaneman.ie
- O'Neill's Music of Ireland O'Neill's Music of Ireland
- O'Neill's Dance Music of Ireland O'Neill's Dance Music of Ireland
- O'Neill's Waif's and Strays of Gaelic Melody O'Neill's Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody
- O'Neill's The Music of Ireland O'Neill's The Music of Ireland
- Captain Francis O'Neill Memorial Website
- Music Mad official website
- "Francis O'Neill". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2015-07-21.