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Ireland and the Irish in America: A Living Musical Tradition: Ed Reavy

Companion to a display in the Rohrbach Library featuring library resources related to Ireland, Irish immigration to the United States, and Irish traditional music

Local Connection -- Composer Ed Reavy

     Ed Reavy (1897-1988) was born in Barnagrove, County Cavan, in Ireland. He immigrated to the United States and lived in Philadelphia. He wrote more than 500 traditional-style tunes. Indeed, some his tunes have become so much a part of the repertoire of Irish traditional music, many do not know that they are of recent origin. 

     On the day of Ed Reavy's funeral, the weather was bitterly cold. A piper had been engaged to play at the cemetery but the pipes would not play in the freezing weather. A teenage boy named Seamus Egan took a tin whistle out of his pocket and played some of Reavy's tunes. Today, Seamus Egan is one of the most recognized artists in Irish traditional music. He currently performs with the group Solas. A local priest, Father Michael Doyle, memorialized the moment at the graveside in a poem, "How Could Reavy Die?" The poem appears below.

To hear Mick Moloney read a version of the poem "How Could Reavy Die?" followed by a selection of Ed Reavy's tunes in which Seamus Egan plays the tin whistle, click the player below.  [Recording used by permission of Mick Moloney]


How Could Reavy Die? -- A Poem by Father Michael Doyle


The plumber of the hornpipes is dead.

The old diviner with the hazel bow,

That found the Shannon's source

And made its magic waters flow across the world.

"NO" she said "he's not dead,

How could Reavy die!"

And who are you to say!

"I am the Wind: The Wind

That drove the clouds in herds

Above the Cavan hills and Drexel too

And whispered to the oats in Barnagrove.

I am the breeze that kissed O'Carolan's face

With moisture on my lips

'Til notes danced within his mind

Like flames behind a blind.

I am the breadth in Reavy's body

I used to whistle in his mouth

Merely oxygen upon arrival

But virgin music coming out.

He would hold me in the evenings

And we'd play within his soul

He tamed me with his reverence

But I always had to go . . .

So I bore him sounds of sweetness

Some were sad and some were glad

And he composed half a thousand tunes

About the happy time we had."

Hush! I whispered. Did you see his fiddle

On the altar - silent as a stone

And his body on the grave in Drexel Hill?

Clamped on the hole in a final salute

Like an old finger frozen on a flute.

Did you see the people in a circle

Standing sadly in the snow,

When the pipes refused to play in the cold?

"I was there" she said

I am the Breath of the earth.

Every mouth is a wisp of my prayer

Breathing blessings of incense on the bites of the air

Because life has the edge on the ice.

Listen my friend, to the lad with the whistle

With his finger tips timid and cold.

See the life that he brings to the old man's tune

And the leaks that he brings to the eyes.

See Reavy arise from the holes in the tin . .

And announce on his grave "I'm alive!"

Ed Reavy Links

For additional information on Ed Reavy check this link: