Nicky McAuliffe

My Life and Music

By Nicholas McAuliffe

 Nicholas (Nickie) Mcauliffe was born in Lyre, Cordal, Castleisland, on 11th March 1945. He attended Loughfouder National School and later the Technical School in Castleisland. He learned his first music from his parents, Kathleen and Florence, who both played melodeon. Therefore, his first instrument was melodeon and later tin whistle.

He later took up the fiddle, which he had seen played by his neighbour and friend, John Ben Lane. He listened avidly to a series of radio programmes, which were broadcast every week, namely “A job of Journeywork”, presented by Ciarán MacMathúna. Nickie also purchased the 78rpm records which were in vogue at the time, mostly recorded in America and featured fiddle players such as Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran and Paddy Cronin.

In 1964, he started to travel around to Fleadhanna Cheoil with his friends Denis McMahon from Castleisland, Jack Regan, Knocknagoshel and other musicians. He joined the Desmond Céilí Band, which was led by Michael O’Callaghan (R.I.P.), Castleisland and travelled all over Kerry and beyond playing for céilithe. His first performance with the band also happened to be his first visit to Geneeveguilla to play in Paddy Moynihan’s Hall, on St. Patrick’s Night, 1964. Some weeks later they also played in O’Connor’s Hall, better known as “Thady Willie’s Hall”, Gneeveguilla.

In 1967, he joined the Brosna Céilí Band, which was led by Donal O’Connor, Brosna. By now he was playing concert flute. The Brosna Céilí Band actually won the All-Ireland Céilí Band competition at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Listowel in 1972. Nickie won the Senior All-Ireland tin whistle competition in 1971.

Nickie was also a member of Siamsa Tíre Folk Theatre for many years.

In 1975, he married a fellow-musician Anne Sheehy, from Lixnaw, who was also a member of all the above groups. Together, they travelled extensively abroad, to places like U.S.A., Britain, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Australia.

In 1970, Nickie began teaching music for Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann in co-operation with Co. Kerry V.E.C. His first class was held on Monday 15th March, 1970, in (you’ve guessed it!) Thady Willie’s Hall, in Gneeveguilla! One of the pupils enrolled in that class was Ellen O’Leary, daughter of Johnny (R.I.P.). Over 40 years later, he still teaches at many venues around Kerry. Many of his pupils have achieved high honours in music and some are now music teachers also. He lectured on the history of Irish music to students who are taking the degree course in Folk Studies under the IT Tralee in co-operation with Siamsa Tíre. He and Anne are regular teachers at the Willie Clancy Summer in Milltown Malbay and Scoil Éigse. They have both taught at the Gaelic Roots festival in Boston College. They also toured Australia and the U.S.A. as members of “Na Ridiri”, under the direction of Diarmuid Ó Catháin.

Nickie has written many articles on traditional music and is a regular contributor to the souvenir programme for Fleadh Cheoil Chairraí and Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. He is much in demand as a source for names of tunes and background information, having studied the music in-depth in all its aspects. He has a particular gift of retaining what he hears and reads and is known for his phenomenal memory!

Besides traditional Irish music, Nickie is also interested in Gaelic Football and Hurling. His reading covers a wide spectrum from philosophy to history. He is also a keen photographer.


Starting back teaching for his 43rd year on 1st October 2012, once again Gneeveguilla is his first port of call! Hopes for the future are bright, as can be seen from the many talented children who are at present learning the music in the area, he says. Sliabh Luachra is rich in Gaelic culture and therefore more fortunate than other areas. The birthplace of Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin and Aodhagán Ó Rathaille will not easily lose its tradition, he adds.


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2018 Fleadh Cheoil Chiarraí
2018 Fleadh Cheoil Chiarraí