Magic and grand: Gerry O’Neill inducted into CHOF
The Glengarry Celtic Music Hall of Fame holds its induction ceremony Friday, May 25, at the Bonnie Glen Pavilion in Alexandria. This is the second of a series of inductee biographies submitted by the Hall of Fame.
No greater compliment can someone pay to Glengarry County than to choose it as his or her new home. Such is the case with acclaimed fiddler Gerry O’Neill. Drawn to the area by the music and the people, Gerry has shared his Irish musical heritage with the county for over 40 years and is a worthy nominee for the Glengarry Celtic Music Hall of Fame.
Gerry immigrated to Canada, from Derry, Ireland in the early ‘ 70s, settling in the Montreal area. His finesse on the fiddle made him a popular choice for appearances throughout Quebec, the Maritimes, and Ontario. In 1976 he performed as part of the Olympic ceremonies.
It was through these appearances that Gerry met the Glengarry musicians with whom he formed friendships that forever made him a valued part of the musical fabric of the county. The Atlantic, The Grand (Johnnie Mac’s), Bob’s, The King Edward and The King George Hotels all sought Gerry out for appearances knowing that a full- house was sure to follow. Fiddler’s Choice, Fiddler’s Elbow, and McMartin Fiddle are but a few of the local groups with whom Gerry performed.
As a full- time musician, Gerry is a master at engaging his audience and, in no time flat, encourages requests and calls out, to the joy of those assembled, “Where’s the dancers? Where’s the pipers?”
It was at one memorable “Glengarry Concert” at the National Arts Centre that Gerry, along with his band mate Brian Davis, took the crowd through a “tour” of Scottish melodies; with ever changing tempos and keys. He had the entire audience singing to a haunting version of “Loch Lomond” one moment and with “drone of the pipes” on his fiddle, they were clapping and stomping to “Scotland The Brave” the next.
Gerry has played at every function imaginable in Glengarry: concerts, dances, pubs, weddings, funerals and more. He has donated his time and his talent to many charities, fundraisers, benefits and organizations that needed his presence. He has performed in concerts for the Friends of the Ruins, recorded tracks to aid the Glengarry Pipe Band, and helped The Glengarry Highland Games with their fundraising efforts. It was on the Glengarry Highland Games CD, “Building on Tradition,” that his one- take rendition of “Hector The Hero” cemented the recording into being a Glengarry treasure forever. Gerry has also been an avid promoter of Glengarry talent, encouraging young performers and musicians, as well as the veterans in their musical pursuits. It was often due to Gerry’s recommendation that most local talent found themselves on stages in Montreal and Ottawa. Gerry had great confidence in Glengarry talent and thanks to his “nod,” for many young musicians, new doors were opened.
With his genuine love of “the music” and his Irish charm, Gerry is a “Glengarrian” for sure, despite his “wee” teasing of Glengarry fiddlers when he quizzes if they knew the “Irish Roots” of that “Scottish Tune” they just played and the original key that it was played in?
Two of Gerry’s favourite words in describing a special occasion or performance are: “magic!” and “grand!” It is more than fitting that the “magic” of Gerry’s musical contribution and his friendship to Glengarry be honoured in The Glengarry Celtic Music Hall of Fame.
Now, wouldn’t that be “grand?”