BORN in Kilnadeema, south of Loughrea in Co Galway in 1939, Joe Burke
was introduced to music at an early age. His mother played the box in
the old style. He recalls that he was four years of age when he first
started playing. "There was always dancing in the house," he told one
interviewer. His uncle taught him his first tune - Let Erin
Remember. As far back as he can remember there was a
gramophone in the house and he remembers listening to early 1930s
recordings by the Ballinakill Ceili Band and Michael Coleman.
His most significant instructors were the Downey
family of Leitrim Cross, also near Loughrea. "A great music house,
millions of tunes." Two or three nights every week the young Joe Burke
played with Jack Downey and learned his trade.
There were also good players around Ballinakill, between Woodford and
Loughrea: Stephen, Eddie and Ambrose
Moloney and members of the White family,
from whom Burke learned his music.
In the Fifties he bought an accordion in Waltons of Dublin for
£5 which he still has. The one he plays most often was
custom-made by the French maker Bertrand Gaillard and the reeds are
hand-made by an Italian, Binci.
He won the All-Ireland Senior Accordion Championship in Thurles in 1959
and again in 1960 in Boyle. He withdrew from competition after that
believing in a convention that the victor lets others have a chance of
In 1955 he was part of the newly-formed Leitrim Ceile Band, with such
players as Ned Coleman, Oliver Roland, Paddy Downey, Sean
McGlynn, Paddy Doorley, Jack Derven and Mick Darcy.
Later the band was joined by Michael Joe Doorley
and flute player Paddy Carty.
"The first night we played in Galway Rowing Club. We each got
£1 a night at that time," he once said. Later the pay rose to
thirty shillings. The band won two All Ireland titles. He left the
Leitrim Ceili Band around 1962.
He was now playing a lot in England. "In the Galtimore in Cricklewood,
you could have 2,000 people."
In 1961 he visited the United States for the first time with singer Sean
O Siochain, harpist Kathleen Watkins, Eileen Markey and
singer Edmund Browne, touring about 16 cities. Club
owner Bill Fuller brought him back the following
year to play Chicago and New York, accompanied by a drummer. In the
blossoming folk scene of the Sixties, Burke found work in Ireland,
England, Scotland and Germany and the US.
He toured England and Scotland regularly with the great Belfast fiddle
player Sean Maguire and
in the US with Andy McGann.
1989 represented Ireland at the International Accordion Festival in
Montmagny, Quebec, and again in 1992, teaming up with international
names such as Marc Savoy and Art Van Dame
in "Accordions that Shook the World." In 1997 won an AIB Traditional
Musician Award, a Galway honour won also by Mairtin O'Connor
and Frankie Gavin.
Influenced by the Nenagh box player Paddy O'Brien
(1922-91), who helped replace the old push and draw method of box
playing with the B/C style, Burke is noted for his stylish use of
triplets and rolls. He has given workshops and masterclasses at home
and abroad and has influenced a generation of box players.
Married Anne Conroy of Abbey, near Loughrea, in
1990. She played accordion and guitar with the group Oisin
and today they regularly feature as a duet.They have restored the old
family home in Kilnadeema and have begun a music school where they run
classes in the winter.
In late 2002 he released an album The Morning Mist,
named after the only tune he has composed to date. The tune was
previously recorded by the Liverpool Ceili Band among others.
The Morning Mist, with Charlie Lennon, New
Century Music, 2002
The Bucks of Oranmore, with Charlie Lennon,
Green Linnet, 1996
Happy to Meet & Sorry to Part, with
Michael Cooney and Terry Corcoran, 1986
The Tailor's Choice, with Maire Ni
The Funny Reel, with Andy McGann and Felix
Traditional Music of Ireland, with Charlie
Galway's Own Joe Burke, Outlet, 1971
Two Champions, with Sean Maguire, 1971, Outlet
A Tribute to Michael Coleman, with Andy McGann
and Felix Dolan, 1966