Tune of the Day: Cooley's Reel
Although this popular session tune is now associated with the renowned button accordion player Joe Cooley (1924–1973), There are several stories circulating regarding its origins. According to David Taylor, the reel was the composition of fiddler John McGrath. Philippe Varlet maintains it was the invention of accordion player Joe Mills of the Aughrim Slopes Céilí Band, who originally entitled it “Lutrell Pass”. According to Joe Mills, who does claim to be the composer, the story goes that Joe Cooley was a young lad of 18 or so when he first heard Joe Mills playing the tune. They were both members of the Aughrim Slopes Band, and Cooley was reported to be mad for the tune: “He quickly learned it, and played it sometimes 2 and 3 times per night.” Joe Mills feels that this is why so many people came to associate this tune with Cooley.
Charlie Piggott, writing in his book co-authored with Fintan Vallely, Blooming Meadows, has yet another version, related to him by Joe's brother Séamus. Its origins date to the 1940s, when the two brothers attended a house session in the neighboring county of Clare. There they listened to an old man with a battered concertina playing in front of an open fire (Séamus remembers some of the buttons had been replaced by cigarette ends!), and one tune in particular caught their attention. On returning home the brothers tried their best to remember what the old man had played, staying up through the night working and worrying the remembered fragments until finally the reel took shape.