|Dan Collins (left) fiddling with Frankie Gavin.|
The New York area lost another one of its giants whose legacy will be forever entwined with the preservation and promulgation promotion of Irish traditional music beyond the Big Apple.
Daniel Michael Collins, a native of Manhattan, lost his long battle to lung cancer last Wednesday at his Jersey City home at the age of 75. Born to Irish parents (William from Meelin, Co. Cork, Bridget from Mountcollins, Co. Limerick) he and his brothers David and William and younger sister Kathleen were weaned on traditional Irish music and dance.
John McGrath taught them music and Professor James McKenna taught dance.
While Kathleen went on to become the first American-born fiddler to win the All-Ireland Senior Championship, Dan was also an accomplished fiddler and enamored of all the great Irish fiddlers who emigrated here and produced the early seminal recordings like Michael Coleman, James Morrison and Paddy Killoran.
One of his first major achievements was the reprinting in 1961 of Captain Francis O’Neill’s 1903 tune collection entitled Music of Ireland: Eighteen Hundred and Fifty Melodies after an adventurous search to find a copy to reproduce, according to an account his wife Mary Foley Collins shared on Facebook.
Originally it cost $8 to own a paperback copy (including mailing) of the one of the important books available for learning Irish music tunes, and Dan estimated many years later that over 70,000 copies were sold eventually.
In 1973, he and Richard Nevins, who shared Dan’s enthusiasm for Irish traditional music but not his expertise, started Shanachie Records to document the Irish music history already recorded but out of print, and with a vision to launch new material from musicians of the day like Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, Kathleen Collins and the early days of De Dannan fronted by the super-hot fiddler Frankie Gavin.
Having followed the Irish music scene Collins was very familiar with the history of Irish music in America and Ireland, and was determined to see it passed on by all means possible as he encouraged many young Irish musicians on both sides of the Atlantic in their endeavors. Both he and Nevins recognized a vacuum in recording this music and set about to change that.
From humble beginnings out of Dan’s house on Crosby Avenue in the Bronx, Shanachie Records rode the nascent folk music/Irish trad music revival into a bustling business that allowed both Nevins and Collins to quit their day jobs and concentrate on the juggernaut of Irish music that flourished in the last quarter of the 20th century.
The company evolved into Shanachie Entertainment as it expanded into roots music and mainstream Irish entertainment like Phil Coulter who also brought them the Planxty back catalog recordings.
Perhaps its most important work in the Irish music scene had been done by then, but not before they helped launch still prominent artists like Seamus Egan and Solas, Cathie Ryan, Karan Casey, John Doyle and Liz Carroll and Danu onto more successful careers.
In remembering his long-time partner, Nevins told me, “Dan had a passionate commitment to Irish culture and he brought a massive amount of great knowledge and insight of Irish music into the industry and he knew all the musicians and the scene so well that it never would have happened with him.”
Condolences to his wife Mary Collins and their children, Margaret, Bridget, Noreen and William and to his sister Kathleen and brother Dave.