The acclaimed Clare concertina master, Chris Droney died at the age of 95 during the night of Wednesday September 9. Following a short illness, Chris died peacefully surrounded by family at the University Hospital in Galway.
Born in Bellharbour in 1924 into a musical family, Chris first took up the concertina at the age of eight, learning two tunes, The Wearing of the Green and Clare’s Dragoons, along with a waltz, The Bellharbour Hills, from his father, James, who also played concertina, as did his grandfather, Michael. The younger Droney made his first public appearance as a musician at Johnson’s Hall in Kinvara – at the invitation of John Linnane – earning the considerable sum of half a crown.
While he lived for all of his life along the North Clare coast, Chris Droney achieved national, and ultimately international, repute as a musician. After finishing third in the 1955 Fleadh Cheoil in Loughrea, Chris won the senior concertina competition a year later In Ennis. In total, he secured ten senior All-Ireland championships: nine for solo concertina and one in a duet with fiddler, Gus Tierney. As an ensemble player, Droney performed with the Bell Harbour Céilí Band, the Kilfenora Céilí Band, the Ballinakill Céilí Band, the Augrim Slopes and the Kincora Céilí Band. He also released three solo albums, The Flowing Tide (1962), The Fertile Rock (1995) and Down From Bell Harbour (2005).
Both his son, Francis, and daughter, Ann, continued the family tradition of winning All-Ireland titles on the concertina. Many of his grandchildren have maintained this legacy on the concertina and others on the fiddle. The Droney family played to a packed glór auditorium as part of the Consairtín an Chláir lunchtime series during the 2017 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.
Over the course of a lifetime in music, Chris was showered with honours including the TG4 Grádam Saoil (lifetime achievement); a Bardic Award from Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann, a Teastas award, the Clare Person of the Year Award in 2012 and most recently, the MÓRglór award in 2018.
Among many paying tribute to Chris Droney, was former All-Ireland concertina champion, Caitlín Nic Gabhainn, who said: “We’re sad today to hear of the passing of one of the greats of Irish music and concertina playing, Chris Droney. He was a gent, great craic, a life-long friend to my parents and a master musician from whom I learned a lot. He was always so encouraging to me and I always enjoyed being in his company. He was a shining light! We visited him a few weeks ago, 95 years young and not acting a day over 60! He will be missed and our thoughts are with Margaret and all the family in Co. Clare.”
The glor centre in Ennis recalled that “Chris was the 2018 MÓRglór award recipient and played to a packed house, joined on stage by three generations of the Droney family in a night that will not be forgotten in Clare. We remember Chris not only for his musicianship but for his generosity of spirit in sharing his passion and knowledge to many generations of Clare musicians.”
Describing Chris Droney as “Clare concertina legend, gentleman and a great friend to our orchestra,” Dave Flynn of the Irish Memory Orchestra said: “we’ll never forget the first time he played with us in 2013. Magical moment. Our deep condolences to his family and friends.”
He is survived by his wife Margaret, his children, Jimmy, Ann, Clare, Francis, Declan, Joseph and Caroline, twenty grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and brothers, Frank and John. He will be mourned by many more who admired the man and his music. His funeral cortège will arrive at St. Patrick’s Church New Quay, on Saturday, September 12 for a private family requiem mass at 12 noon with burial afterwards in Corcomroe.