Chief Francis O'Neill, CPD
August 28, 1848|
Tralibane, Co. Cork, Ireland
|Died||January 28, 1936
Chicago, Illinois, USA
|Commands held||Chicago Police Department|
O'Neill was born in Tralibane, near Bantry, County Cork. At an early age he heard the music of local musicians, among them Peter Hagarty, Cormac Murphy and Timothy Dowling. At the age of 16, he became a cabin boy on an English merchant vessel. On a voyage to New York, he met Anna Rogers, a young emigrant whom he later married in Bloomington, Illinois. The O'Neills moved to Chicago, and in 1873 O'Neill became a Chicago policeman. He rose through the ranks quickly, eventually serving as the Chief of Police from 1901 to 1905. He had the rare distinction, in a time when political "pull" counted for more than competence, of being re-appointed twice to the position by two different mayors.
During his time as chief, O'Neill recruited many traditional Irish musicians into the police force, including Patrick O'Mahony, James O'Neill, Bernard Delaney, John McFadden and James Early. He also collected tunes from some of the major performers of the time including Patsy Touhey, who regularly sent O'Neill wax cylinders and visited him in Chicago. He also collected tunes from a wide variety of printed sources.
O'Neill retired from the police force in 1905. After that, he devoted much of his energy to publishing the music he had collected. His musical works include:
- O'Neill's Music of Ireland (1903), containing 1,850 pieces of music
- The Dance Music of Ireland (1907), sometimes called, "O'Neill's 1001," because of the number of tunes included
- 400 tunes arranged for piano and violin (1915)
- Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody (1922), 365 pieces
- Irish Folk Music: A Fascinating Hobby (1910). Appendix A contains O'Farrells Treatise and Instructions on the Irish Pipes, published 1797-1800; appendix B is Hints to Amateur Pipers by Patrick J. Touhy.
- Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913), biographies of musicians, including those from whom he collected tunes in Chicago.
In 2008, Northwestern University Press issued Captain O'Neill's Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago, a non-musical memoir edited by Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch (a descendant of O'Neill), with a foreword by Nicholas Carolan of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Carolan himself wrote a musical biography of O'Neill, A Harvest Saved: Francis O'Neill and Irish Music in Chicago, which was published in Ireland by Ossian in 1997.
Chief O'Neill's life is memorialized in the musical play Music Mad: How Chief O'Neill Saved the Soul of Ireland, which premiered in Chicago in 2012. Written by Adam B. Whiteman with the approval and acceptance of Francis O'Neill's great granddaughter, Mary Lesch, the show contains both dramatized content and material from O'Neill's own writings.
- Cremin, Nora, Bantry Historical and Archaeological Society Journal vol. 2
- Francis O'Neill by Ronan Nolan
- Irish Minstrels and Musicians online at billhaneman.ie
- O'Neill's Music of Ireland O'Neill's Music of Ireland
- O'Neill's Dance Music of Ireland O'Neill's Dance Music of Ireland
- O'Neill's Waif's and Strays of Gaelic Melody O'Neill's Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody
- O'Neill's The Music of Ireland O'Neill's The Music of Ireland
- Music Mad official website