Back to Providence Reel
PROVIDENCE REEL. AKA – “The Providence.” AKA and see "Rossport Reel (The)," "Cooney's Reel." Irish, Reel. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB (Cranitch, Mallinson, Miller & Perron): AA'BB' (Alewine). A distinctive tune in D major that begins, however, with an emphatic E (suggesting an A major chord). The “Providence Reel” title honors Providence, Rhode Island. The alternative title, "The Rossport Reel," is a nod to Rossport, Co. Mayo, home place of button accordionist, fiddler and music teacher John McGrath (1900–1955). According to McGrath's nephew Vincent (a fine button accordionist and composer in his own right), it was composed by his uncle and was also among the tunes the elder McGrath submitted to Boston-based button accordionist Jerry O'Brien for the 1950 book "Irish Folk Dance Music." The book, however, explicitly credits McGrath as the composer of only one: John McGrath's Composition." McGrath, who spent most of his life in New York, played both fiddle and button accordion, despite an accident that cost him some fingers on his right hand. His many students included New Yorkers Luke O'Malley (button accordion) and fiddlers Dan and Kathleen Collins.
The "Providence" name was applied after Michael Coleman played the tune for Lad O'Beirne and Louis Quinn when the three fiddlers were en route to a wedding for a family named Lyons in Rhode Island "about 1938 or '39" (according to Quinn's oral history interview with Mick Moloney, available in New York University's Irish archive). Lad's son James has written that the tune was jointly composed by his father and Coleman. Quinn, however, made no claim of authorship for himeself or Coleman. As he told Moloney: "So Lad was pushing him to find out what the name of the tune was, and Coleman didn't know what to call it. So we decided that the most appropriate name for it was the Providence Reel."
According to discographer Philippe Varlet, the tune was played in the 1970s by fiddlers Sean Ryan and Aggie Whyte but the first commercial recording was by New York fiddler Paddy Reynolds (under the "Providence" title) on the 1971 Rego Irish Records LP "Sweet and Traditional Music of Ireland." Paddy's setting was subsequently transcribed for Perron and Miller's 1977 "Irish Traditional Fiddle Music." But the first publication as "The Providence Reel" was in vol. 2 of Bulmer and Sharpleys "Music from Ireland" books.
Source for notated version: Paddy Reynolds (1920–2005, Staten Island, New York) [Miller & Perron, Mulvihill]; .
Printed sources: Alewine (Maid that Cut Off the Chicken's Lips), 1987; p. 29. Bulmer & Sharpley (Music from Ireland, vol. 2), 1976; No. 19. Cranitch (The Irish Fiddle Book), 1996; No. 51, p. 145. Mallinson (100 Essential), 1995; No. 45, p. 20. Miller & Perron (Irish Traditional Fiddle Music), 1977; vol. 1, no. 6. Miller & Perron (Irish Traditional Fiddle Music), 2nd Edition, 2006; p. 99 (two versions). Mulvihill (1st Collection), 1986; No. 90, p. 24. Treoir, vol. 38, No. 3 & 4, 2006; p. 34.
Recorded sources: Cló Iar-Chonnachta Records, CICD 148, Mick Conneely – “Selkie” (2001). Coleman Music Center CHC 009, fiddler Fred Finn – “The Coleman Archive, vol. 2: The Home Place” (2005. Various artists). Green Linnet Records SIF 1058, Matt Molloy & Sean Keane - "Contentment is Wealth" (1985). Kells Music, Paddy Reynolds – “Atlantic Wave.” Ossian OSS 5, Matt Cranitch – “Take a Bow.” Ossian OSS CD 130, Sliabh Notes – “Along Blackwater’s Banks” (2002). Rego, Paddy Reynolds - “Sweet and Traditional.” Tara CD 4011, Frankie Gavin – “Fierce Traditional.” Varrick VR-038, Yankee Ingenuity - "Heatin' up the Hall" (1989). Marcas O'Murchu – “O Bheal go Beal.” Glenside and Kilfenora Ceili Bands – “Songs, Jigs and Reels.”