CCÉ Northeast Regional Hall of Fame Inductee Jack Conroy
Jack Conroy – (button accordion)
Inducted to its The Hall of Fame by
The Northeast Region of the North American Province – November 3,
Jack Conroy (button accordion) was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932 to parents who had come from Connemara, Galway, at a time when Irish was not taught in the schools. Other family members, including his mother’s relatives from Carna—fluent Irish speakers— likewise settled in Boston, and the Conroy home provided a great welcome to family and friends.
Influence of family
Traditional music, singing and dancing—including sean nos songs and step dances—and Irish language were simply ways people enjoyed their time together and conversed. Jack’s mother bought 78s of Irish music, including recordings of the dance hall bands, to play on the mechanical phonograph. Jack’s father played the melodeon at home.
Many people at the time could play a few tunes or play for a set, young people often going out to the Irish dance halls and social clubs concentrated in Roxbury. The oldest of seven children, Jack showed an interest in the music. His father brought him to well known button accordion player Jerry O’Brien for lessons when Jack was a teenager. Jack’s teacher Jerry O’Brien played with O’Leary’s Irish Minstrels and Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band. He also worked for the O’Byrne-DeWitt firm, travel agent and distributor of records, phonographs and tin whistles. And he taught private students, among them Joe Derrane, a couple of years ahead of Jack. Jack credits Jerry O’Brien’s disciplined approach with his own early progress.
Played with the best
As a senior in high school, just before beginning his studies at Boston College, Jack was sent by his teacher to play with Tommy Shields’ Band at the Old Opera House in Roxbury and their bandleader was Joe Derrane. In the 50s, Jack played with several dance bands: first Tommy Shields’; then Martin Flaherty’s Band led by Billy Caples at Winslow Hall in Roxbury; and later he played for several years with Johnny Powell’s Band at the Hibernian and Intercolonial Halls in Roxbury. Others who helped him along the way were Jack Diamond, John and Pat Martin, and Paul Groff. The dance halls gradually closed as the Irish population changed their tastes, and moved away.
After college and the service, Jack traveled to Ireland in 1960. From 1960 to 1990, he worked with the Department of Defense in France and Germany as a secondary school teacher. In Paris, Jack found an Irish community and fellow musicians, and even played for French television broadcasts. During his years in Germany, he played only when he came home to visit at Christmastime and in the summer.
Returning to live in Boston in the 1990s, Jack resumed playing accordion in sessions with Larry Reynolds, whom he had met first in the 50s, and with other Boston musicians. For about the last ten summers, Jack has traveled to the Willy Clancy Week-for flute lessons originally, and later for sessions. And he has enjoyed the Boston Gaelic Roots festivals. His flute teachers have been Shannon Heaton, Jimmy Noonan and Catherine McEvoy.
Of the seven children in his family, Jack’s sisters step danced and his brothers played instruments, and he and his younger brother (flute) both still play avidly. They would not have developed an interest in the music, Jack says, without their parents’ help and support.
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This page was revised by Larry Tormey 9/2/2008.