Biography:Packie Dolan

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Packie Dolan

 Given name:     Patrick
 Middle name:     James
 Family name:     Dolan
 Place of birth:     Ballinamuck, Co. Longford
 Place of death:     New York, N.Y.
 Year of birth:     1904
 Year of death:     1932
 Profile:     Musician
 Source of information:     

Biographical notes

Musicians of Longford (The Knotted Chord Archive, 2002).

Packie Dolan (1904-1932) Fiddle, singer, dancer.

Patrick James or Packie Dolan was born in Ballinamuck, Co.Longford, the eldest of 9 children. His father John, a small farmer, played fiddle and taught Packie.

The area in which he was reared was well known for it's music. Fiddles and flutes were most common but uilleann pipes, tin whistle, accordion and concertina were popular also as well as singing. Frank Quinn and John Clarke before Packie and Paddy Reynolds after were famous New York based fiddlers and all came from this area. With the depressed years during and after the first world war John and his wife Catherine decided to send their eldest children to the U.S.(Seven of the 9 would eventually emigrate to the U.S.). Packie, then aged 15 and his 13 year old sister Veronica Rose sailed from Liverpool to New York in December 1919, stayed with an Aunt and completed their education. 1920's New York was a very exciting place to be with opportunities aplenty. Packie married Briggetta Gaffney, also from Longford, in 1925 but tragically she died the following year of pneumonia. Packie was a plumber by trade and had steady employment and played music by night. His popularity with audiences, his jovial personality, good looks, and most of all musical ability on the fiddle made him a target of the many recording companies signing Irish artists at that time. He began recording in 1927, a duet with Michael Coleman initially, with Brunswick. His first solo was released by Colombia, followed by another duet with Coleman, also with Colombia.

In 1928 he got a job as a chauffeur and started his own band, "Packie Dolan and the Melody Boys" for the Ballroom circuit. The Victor label recorded them in May 1928. Hughie Gillespie, the fiddler from Donegal, was among the members. Their style and instrument combination of fiddle, whistle, and bones/bodhran, was unique and later formed the backbone of Sean O'Riada's Ceoltoiri Chualann and in turn the Chieftains.

In all, Packie recorded 24 sides in 6 sessions over 22 months which is the total output remaining. He was heavily influenced by the Sligo fiddle style, especially Coleman, but also James Morrison. He also recorded some vaudeville style songs but not in the stage Irish form then popular. On "Mother Malone" he sings, dances, mentions himself in the lyric and plays fiddle. In 1929 he made a visit home to Ireland for two months, a most unusual event in those days, which came about through a booking for his group as ships entertainment on a special excursion. The Wall Street crash in October 1929 meant the collapse of record sales but Packie was able to go back to plumbing. He became an American citizen in 1930 and married, in 1931, Marguerite Finneran from Roscommon. They were due to return permanently to Ireland in late 1932, awaiting the birth of their daughter Marjorie, when tragedy struck once more. A ferryboat was taking workmen to a building site on Rikers Island when on the third run that morning the boiler exploded and the ship went down with 125 men on board. Sixty eight men died including Packie Dolan, age just 28, an inestimable loss to future generations. His music was released by Harry Bradshaw on his VivaVoce label in 1994, titled "the forgotten fiddle player of the 1920's"(HB).