Julia Clifford - My Life in Music from Journal of Sliabh Luachra no.4

Bridgie Kelleher & Julia Clifford

Champion fiddle player, Julia Clifford, a member of the famous Murphy family, was one of Sliabh Luachra’s most notable traditional
musicians. She hailed from Lisheen, Gneeveguilla, where there was music in every house in her youth and her late brother, Denis, was amongst the greatest ever. She won the senior fiddle competition at the 1963 All-IrelandFleadh Cheoil and her son, Billy, won the All-Ireland title for concert flute in 1970. With her husband John
Clifford, and others, she made several records including ‘The Star of Munster Trio’ and ‘The Humours of Lisheen’, Here she tells her own story. She was aged 72 at the time.
[pic]Julia Clifford (right) pictured with her sister Bridgie Kelleher

One of the questions that people often ask me is why we are still known as the ‘waivers’, especially since such a description seems to have nothing whatever to do with music. So before I start talking about music, I’d better

My grandfather was a linen-weaver at Lisheen, and my father, Bill Murphy, though he did not really take up the trade, was better known as ‘Bill the Waiver’. In accordance with tradition, we were nicknamed ‘weavers’ (pronounced locally ‘waivers’) and this distinguished us from other Murphys in the locality.

In the last century, flax was grown and harvested around Gneeveguilla, but the custom died out in the late 1800s. I can vaguely remember seeing old looms at home and a sheet woven by my father could be seen
in a neighbour’s house.

My father, a grand man standing at over six feet, should have been more aptly called ‘Bill the Musician’ because he was stone mad for music. He had a Fife and Drum Band and they used to play at Lisheen Cross, marching back and over the road, and at local events like Knocknagree Races. He could play a number of instruments, including flute, fife and fiddle, and was one of the principal musicians in the district. My mother, Mary (Mainie) Corbett, was a beautiful singer.

There was music in the house morning, noon and night. All eight of us: Bridgie, Nell (R.I.P.), Mary (R.1.P.),  Hannie, Dan (R.I.P.), Thady (R.I.P.), Denis (R.I.P.) and I learned the fiddle.

Even when I was very small I was mad to play. My father, Thady, Dan and Mary, used to play together and I’d listen very carefully. They’d have two or three fiddles and would eventually put them aside, nice and tuned, after playing for a few hours. They might go rambling to another house. Then, I’d catch one of the fiddles and my mother would go mad. “Put that away from you and don’t break it,” she’d say.

I used to be craving Thady to teach me and it was he, in fact, who taught me my first tune. It was a jig belonging to Johnny Darby Moynihan, called, I think, ‘The Ducks in the Oats’. Anyway, Thady gave me about half of it
and I managed the rest myself.

The rest of this articles appears in The Journal of Sliabh Luachra No.4