She phoned me yesterday, we were to play tonight at a CD launch and she was looking forward to going, play a few tunes and sing a few songs and she wondered if I was up for 'a practice'. She knew we didn't need it but she liked the company and a few tunes to 'shorten the day' as she would say. Unfortunately I had to pick up something in Ennis so we decided to chance it unprepared. We talked for a while and she was in the greatest of form, as she was a few days before, the last time we played. I had given her a few new tunes that she loved and she was raring to go and play them in public.
She had a good run the past few years. Her story is by now wellknown: Kitty grew up listening to her father and their next door neighbour, Willie Clancy's father Gilbert play together in the kitchen. As a teenagers she worked her father's concertina when he wasn't looking, teaching herself the basics. At that time she was out to the house dances a lot, listening to and playing music. At some point hough her concertina broke and around the same time she married fluteplayer Josie Hayes. The night before her wedding, St Patrick's Day 1948, Packie Russell travelled to her father's house and played for a great farewell dance. There was another great dance when she moved into the Hayes' home in Shanaway the next day and I was just told again by a neighbour of her's what a great night it was.
Raising the family and working the farm there was no money or time for a concertina and it was only in the 1990's she got back to it, after a break of nearly 45 years.
I met her on the first night she played out, she was sitting in with fiddlers Junior Crehan and Michael Downes and she sounded like she had been playing forever.
Soon after we started playing together, eight or nine years ago. We got on like a house on fire and ended up playing together almost weekly, quietly at home over a cup of tea.
She had a good run of it the past few years, getting invited to play, a great television documentary in the Se mo Laoch series made by Breandan Begley and Nuala O Connor that told her story and told it well and had us all play with her.
Two years ago we were invited to play the Gala-concert of the Feakle festival. We took the Josephine Marsh Band along, myself sitting in for Josephine who was very pregnant at the time and Mick Kinsella on harmonica and Maurice Coyle playing guitar, we had a great night and were well received. Some of our concert was televised on TG4.
Martin Hayes was there that night and he loved what we did, being already every taken by Kitty's rhythm after hearing her first CD and the duo CD we did and he invited us to play at a festival he is the artistic director of: The Masters of Tradition held annually in Bantry House in Co Cork. Kitty was a bit apprehensive of the long journey but eventually agreed to go. Kitty and myself went with Eoin O Neil on bouzouki and Mick Kinsella on harmonicas and concertina. It was a lovely night in the glorious setting of the big house with a tremendously appreciative audience. Kitty, at 82 years of age taking it all in her stride, engaging in heavy banter with Christy Moore (who promised to write a song about her) in the Green Room before the concert and staying on for the sunday to do a concert with Martin Hayes and Denis Cahill on their special invitation. These concerts were recorded for radio and are due to be broadcast over the coming months by RTE/Lyric FM.
Last November we 'got the band together again' for a special tribute concert in Glor in Ennis, the hall filled with friends, family and neighbours, Kitty joined by Eoin O Neill, Dympna O Sullivan, Josephine March and Mick Kinsella, myself and MC/singer Tim Dennehy. She was playing like wildfire, surpassing herself and it and it was a memorable night.
Winter was quiet, we played mostly in the kitchen, she particularly loved it when I brought my son along, he plays the concertina and she was always trying to get a few tune s off him, especially The Hunt, which her father used to play. During a few visits my son shot a dozen or so of videos that can be seen on youtube.
Earlier this week Noel Hill played in town, I was to take her along but at the last minute she decided she'd save herself for the CD launch tonight. She got up this morning, had her cup of tea and then quietly slipped away.