Elizabeth (Lizzie) Crotty (1885-1960)
Associated by many with the revived fortunes of the concertina,
Elizabeth Markham was born on December 6, 1885 in Gower, Cooraclare, in
south west Clare. Better known to traditional musicians as "Mrs
Crotty," she grew up on a small farm in a home that was full of music.
Her mother learned to play the fiddle from a travelling blind fiddler
named the Schooner Breen from Kilmacduane. Her sister Maggie played the
fiddle and concertina. They played together for local house dances,
weddings, christenings and American wakes at a time when few women
publicly played Irish music.
In 1914 she married Michael (Miko) Crotty. He was from the next
townland and they had gone to school together. He had spent some years
in America and on returning home he bought a house in the Square in
Kilrush which they ran as a public house. After her marriage she
endured huge personal grief with the loss of her first three children.
She also lost a son in a drowning tragedy in 1946.
Mrs Crotty was relatively unknown until the early 1950s. She could
neither read nor write music in any of the conventional systems, but
she could commit a tune to paper by giving each key a number, and using
a symbol to denote a press or draw. Her style of playing was relatively
unadorned, but it was very rhythmic, due to the fact that her music was
played for dancers. Her two most popular tunes were The Wind
that Shakes the Barley and The Reel with the Beryl.
These tunes brought out the very best in her style of playing, on her
30-key Lachenal concertina.
The two most common music instruments in West Clare during Mrs Crotty's
lifetime were the fiddle and the concertina And it was through the
concertina that she became well-known in the 1950s. Her fame spread as
a result of some recording sessions which Ciaran Mac Mathuna and Radio
Eireann held in her house in the Square. He played her music frequently
on his radio programmes. In those years, Crotty's of the Square in
Kilrush was visited regularly by musicians. One could be sure of a
welcome, and a few tunes at almost any time of the day or night.
Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann was formed in Mullingar in 1951 and three
years later a branch was formed in Co. Clare. Mrs Crotty was elected
president of the county board, a position she held until her death.
During her time the All-Ireland Fleadh was held in Ennis in 1956 and
the first Co. Clare Fleadh was held in Miltown Malbay in 1957. During
this period Mrs Crotty suffered from severe angina but she tried very
hard not to let it interfere with her musical activities.
On her travels around the country she met and played with many
musicians. In Dublin she met Mrs Harrington who played the fiddle, and
they became close friends. They were both members of the Pipers Club in
Thomas Street and they travelled to fleadhanna together. Mrs Crotty
didn't take part in competitions but she enjoyed listening to the
various musicians. In the 1960s the Mrs Crotty Club was named after her
by a group of Clare musicians and set dancers in Dublin.
Even though she made no commercial recordings, she did make two private
ones, a solo, and a duet with Mrs Harrington. Consequently there is
very little of her music on record. However, when R.T.E. produced an LP
to commemorate 50 years of Irish radio, they included one of Mrs
Crotty's items from the archives. The tune chosen was Geary's
Reel, which Ciaran Mac Mathuna had recorded from her.
Mrs Crotty died at home on December 27, 1960, as a result of an anginal
attack. She is buried in Shanakyle cemetery, about a mile west of
Kilrush. Her husband Miko died in 1965.