This is how it was told to me--Kathy DeAngelo
Ed McDermott was born on April 2, 1896 in Corrawallen, County Leitrim, Ireland. This is just outside the larger town, Ballinamore. His father was the local constable and also a fiddler, from whom Ed learned the instrument and attributed his style. He played at the local parish dances, just like many of the other lads. The period of his youth, however, was marred by the political turmoil erupting in Ireland prior to the Easter Rebellion of 1916.
He unwillingly left the country, as he said, "on the run" in 1915. As Mac told it, he and his cousin were sitting in a pub in Ballinamore when a group of Black and Tans came in. They came up to the pair and said, "which one of you is John McDermott?" The respondent was immediately strong-armed outside and summarily shot. Mac made his way out the back door. The local parish priest at the Drumleigh church got Mac a second class ticket on a steamer to America. Mac claimed that he escaped the attention of the authorities because they only checked steerage.
He landed in New York, which had a vibrant Irish community. There he took up playing in ceili bands, and played for the dances which he said were extremely popular up until the 1940s.
Sometime following the death of wife, Mac went to live with his son in Monmouth County, New Jersey. He had given up playing the fiddle. Pick-up this part of the story with this remembrance of Ed McDermott from Dr. Richard Levine, the one who "discovered" Mac and got him back into playing.
Kathy DeAngelo first met the 75 year old Ed McDermott at a "sing" at Dr. Richard Levine's house in Middletown, NJ, in 1971. Dick, who ran the Middletown Folk Festival in central New Jersey, had "discovered" Ed McDermott a few years before at a local concert. To her surprise, the kindly elderly gentleman she met that night lived only a few blocks from her home in Keyport, NJ. She was interested in learning Irish music and visited him regularly that summer.
"I was not a very good guitar player at the time," Kathy says "but he told me I was good so I kept coming around. He was no fool!" Even though Kathy's mom sang a few Irish ditties, this was really her first introduction to traditional Irish music. She's been playing it ever since.
The coffeehouse is now located at Neilson & Bayard Streets in downtown New Brunswick and is open Saturday nights from September through June.
Ed McDermott and Kathy DeAngelo perform at the 1976 New Jersey Folk Festival at Douglass College, New Brunswick, NJ. This was Ed's last NJFF performance.
Kathy was soon off to Douglass College. In 1973 she enlisted the aid of a few friends and rekindled folk music at the Mine Street Coffeehouse, on the Rutgers side of New Brunswick. The performer she asked to play at the grand opening was Ed McDermott. The 77-year old fiddler absolutely enchanted the college student audience and Mine Street was off to a strong start. Ed McDermott performed there many times.
Ed McDermott and Jack Davis share a few tunes on the back porch of Eagleton Institute at the '75 NJ Folk Festival at Douglass College.
Ed McDermott's appearances at the coffeehouse were always followed by jam sessions. Aspiring young fiddlers and musicians were inspired by this elderly man, who always seemed to have so much energy and displayed endless patience in playing with novices. If the truth be told, Mac got as much energy from their enthusiasm to learn the music as he gave back to them.
When Kathy graduated in 1975, she was able to devote more time to performing with Ed McDermott. They traveled around quite a bit, performing at colleges, coffeehouses, churches and folk festivals. In the summer of 1976 they even packed up the '67 VW bug and hauled up to Camden, Maine to stay with friends and perform at a local festival and for kids at some summer camps. They had a glorious time.
Kathy made her first trip to Ireland in November 1976 with a map in hand that Ed drew to get her to his boyhood home. Though 60 years had passed, little had changed and the map of the Leitrim countryside was perfect. Kathy went to Mac's house and visited with the "new" family there for the entire afternoon. Mr. Conefrey was the local schoolteacher and taught in the same one-room schoolhouse that Mac had attended. Pictures galore were taken for Mac, who never had gone back to Ireland. Several of them ended up on the "Come Take the Byroads" album cover.
Mac contracted pneumonia over the Christmas holiday and by New Year's Eve, 1976, he was in the hospital. This was our last visit with him. He died on New Year's Day, 1977 at the age of 81. He was gone but certainly not forgotten. In 1977, Kathy's friends at the New Jersey Folk Festival asked her to put together a tribute to Mac for the '77 festival. She agreed and got together a tribute band which consisted of Kathy (guitar), Barry Midderhoff (mandolin), Dick Levine (concertina), Joe Donovan (tinwhistle), and John Berger and Jack Davis (fiddles). The band called themselves McDermott's Handy, a set of tunes Gordon Bok had dedicated to Ed McDermott on one of his early albums.
Further history on Ed McDermott and his music can be found on file at the Library of Congress Folk Music Archives. Not only do they have tapes of Ed's fiddle playing, but also a small talk by him in Irish. These recordings were made in 1971.
There is also a collection of Ed McDermott's music at the Rutgers University Library in New Brunswick, NJ. The tape and accompanying history were collected by Bennet Zurofsky in 1973.
Other articles on Ed McDermott can be found in the morgues of the following newspapers (to name just a few):