Thanks for the posting, Paul. Stirred up many memories. I remember first
meeting Joe at the National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap. He seemed so jolly
I can't see him as a strict father.
Happy New Year -
----- Original Message -----
From: <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, December 29, 2004 5:47 PM
Subject: Joe Shannon RIP
One of America's finest and most well-known uilleann pipers passed away on
St. Stephen's Day out in Illinois and I pass along the Chicago Tribune
JOSEPH G. SHANNON, 88
Musician a master of Irish pipes
By Hal Dardick
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 29, 2004
Joseph G. Shannon left Ireland when he was 13, but the Emerald Isle's music
never left him.
After he settled in Chicago's immigrant community in the early 1930s, his
folk music talents continued to grow--so much so that years later Irish
visiting the U.S. visited Mr. Shannon's Northwest Side home to hear him play
the uilleann pipes, a form of bagpipe.
"Any visiting musician and piper tries to stop by and see Joe," said Jim
McGuire, a former music student of Mr. Shannon's who became a close friend.
Mr. Shannon, 88, a retired Chicago firefighter who won U.S. and Irish honors
for playing the pipes, died Sunday, Dec. 26, of skin cancer at his
home in Batavia.
Born in a small rural village in County Mayo, Ireland, Mr. Shannon was one
six brothers who shared a passion for music.
"It really was the brothers who were the musicians, and the village,
Treenabontry, was filled with music," said his son, Jim Shannon.
In Chicago, Mr. Shannon learned to play the bagpipe. While still a teenager,
he was persuaded to take up the uilleann pipes, an Irish version of the
bagpipe on which the piper uses his elbow to work the bellows and sits,
stands, while playing.
Playing old recordings of legendary Irish musicians, he mastered the complex
instrument. "My father, to his last day, could not read a note of music,"
son said. "He taught himself to play by ear."
As a teenager in 1934, Mr. Shannon was the piper at the Irish Village at the
World's Fair in Chicago.
In the early 1940s, he met Mary Cunningham at a dance on the West Side. The
couple married and had 13 children, raising them on the West and Northwest
After working in the stockyards and in freight tunnels, Mr. Shannon landed a
job in 1951 with the Chicago Fire Department. He worked for the department
11 years as an ambulance driver until his retirement in 1979.
While with the department in the 1960s, a piper gave Mr. Shannon a set of
highly valued 75-year-old uilleann pipes that re-energized Mr. Shannon's
dedication to playing. In 1968, he played in England and Ireland to great
In 1983 he received the National Heritage Fellowship Award for master folk
and traditional artists from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in
received Illinois' Heritage Award.
Mr. Shannon played at numerous festivals. He always played with fiddler
Johnny McGreevy, a lifelong friend, until McGreevy's death in 1990. In the
1970s, the Irish folk duo were recorded on "The Noonday Feast" album.
Mr. Shannon also played with the Chieftains, a Grammy-winning Irish folk
music group, on many occasions in Chicago and Milwaukee from the late 1970s
through early 1990s.
On Jan. 1, Na Piobairi Uilleann, or the Uilleann Pipers club, of Dublin,
Mr. Shannon a patron, akin to a lifetime-achievement award.
Irish folk musicians from all over the world visited Mr. Shannon in Chicago.
"They would make it a point to look up Joe Shannon, and they didn't even
him," his son said. "And he just opened up the house, serving them music,
tea, sandwiches and conversation."
"He used to play in his kitchen, which had the best sound of all time," said
Liz Carroll, an acclaimed Irish folk fiddler raised on Chicago's South Side.
"I loved playing with him in his kitchen."
Mr. Shannon played in public as recently as 2001, when he played with
at Chicago's Celtic Fest. About 18 months ago, he broke a hip and moved in
with his daughter in Batavia.
With his children, Mr. Shannon was very strict. "He was an authoritarian
of guy," his son said. "When it came to the family, he was unwavering."
But he also "reveled [in] the successes his children had," his son said.
"When he really shone was when he was with his immediate and extended
In addition to his son Jim, Mr. Shannon is survived by daughters Mary
Noreen Ryder, Kathleen Krywar, Ellen Ford, Barbara Dolan, Nancy Bouloukos
Patty Finegan; sons Terry, Michael and Brian; 21 grandchildren; and two
Visitation will be held from 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Gibbons Funeral Home,
5917 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago. A funeral mass will be said at 10 a.m.
Thursday at St. Juliana Church, 7200 N. Osceola Ave., Chicago.
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune
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