On Wednesday’s the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed new-found likely distant cousin, Maria Leahy of the Leahy music group, to the newsmakers line.
During the third hour, Maria Leahy discussed her roots growing up in a musical family of 11 children and how her parent’s love was immediate. She reflected upon how her father was instantly drawn to her mother’s “stride left hand” whimsical style of piano playing and how their passion for music was a huge influence on their children who make up the Leahy group.
Leahy: We welcome now to our microphones, I’m going to call her my likely distant cousin, Maria Leahy. Welcome to The Tennessee Star Report Maria!
Maria Leahy: Thank you so much, and it’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.
Leahy: Well, you know, we Leahys have to stick together. And this week everybody in our listening audience here in Nashville is now a member of the extended Leahy family. They are all looking forward to seeing the performance of Leahy here in Franklin, Tennessee at 8 p.m. this Saturday.
I will be there with my family. My daughters are dying to meet you guys and a lot of our listeners will be as well. Tell us Maria, how you got involved in this group. You play the banjo, the guitar, and you’re a step dancer as well.
Maria: Yes, that’s true. Well, it all started when we were very young, and we grew up in a very musical household so it was quite normal for us to have music playing and to have instruments all over the house.
It really started there. Very casually at home our parents were very musical and passionate about music and passionate about the culture of music. So we were fortunate enough to be able to benefit from that. So here we are today, many years later still playing.
Leahy: A couple of things that I noticed. If you look at your website, it says the first professional performance as a group happened in 1973 at the Ontario Open Fiddle and Step Dance contest in Bobcaygeon, Ontario.
This is when your dad Francis Lawrence Leahy, Frank Leahy and his wife Julia who I guess is from Cape Breton. We’ll talk about that in a bit. Along with their four eldest daughters and son took the stage. So that is when the Leahy musical group got started.
Maria: Yes. I am so impressed with your history. I am just wowed. So yes, Michael, our parents apparently as the story goes were asked to perform at a local fiddle and step dancing contest here.
And at the time their four oldest children were taking step dancing lessons, so they had the idea of why don’t we bring the kids along, and they can perform with us.
So that’s exactly what they did. From there people I guess continued to ask the family to play music and perform at different functions. That’s where it began I guess.
Leahy: And you grew up on a beef cattle farm. Your mom and dad had 11 children? Is that right? Eight girls and three boys?
Maria: That’s correct. Seven girls and four boys.
Leahy: Seven girls and four boys. OK. Still, 11 that’s quite a bit. And now, coming to your performance here in Franklin there will be five of the daughters, one of the sons and one of the son’s son will be performing. Is that the mixture?
Maria: Yes. That is correct.
Leahy: So do you still live on a farm? Or do you all live together on a farm in Lake Ontario?
Maria: The five of us live in the area of Lakefield. And then six of us live outside of Lake Hills in Ontario. But then Erin, she lives in the Province of Quebec.
Leahy: I didn’t know that.
Maria: Oh yes! She lives in Montreal.
Leahy: She lives in Montreal. Of course, this is the connection. You were from Cork, but originally Christine, your sister told me before Cork your oral history is that you came from Tipperary which is where my Leahys came from. Get this.
My great-great-grandfather immigrated to Hemmingford Quebec which is 60 miles south of Montreal. Bought a farm in the 1840s, and my dad, wait for it…Raymond Francis Leahy was born on that farm in 1929. And your dad Francis Lawrence Leahy was born in 1930 right?
Maria: Yes. That is true. That is fantastic. That is quite exciting Mike. I have to say the number of stories from Irish friends who came over on the ship, and they landed in Montreal. And so there are very strong connections with the Provence and Quebec. But it’s very nice to hear about your connection.
Leahy: So your dad Francis Lawrence Leahy born in 1930 passed away in 2015. My dad by the way, passed away last year. They had similar life spans.
Leahy: And your mom is still with us. She’s from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, is that right?
Maria: Yes that’s right.
Leahy: That’s an interesting connection. Cape Breton is an island across the straight of the mainland of Nova Scotia. Way up there. And it was populated and the Scottish from the highlands and the Irish as well?
Maria: Yes. Yes. Both.
Leahy: And there is a distinctive Cape Breton musical tradition as well.
Maria: Oh, very strong. Very strong to this day. Dad and Mom had a very strong musical connection. And our mother moved to Ontario. She had an uncle here in Ontario and so when she was about 19 I think, she moved up here. And she brought her music with her.
And so she met a number of musical people up here. The same community that our father met her in…and once they met, well that was it. And so she stayed of course. And so ever since one of the musical characteristics that mom brought with her was a style of piano playing with a stride left hand.
And our father just absolutely fell in love with it. Along with many other things. (Leahy Laughs) And to this day, that is a distinctive aspect of the music we play. It was a style of piano playing that our mother brought Cape Breton.
Leahy: It’s got a fun whimsical element to it, I think. That’s what strikes me. It’s got that eery chord, kind of Scots-Irish element to it that resonates in American country music. But you’ve got some fun in your music. That I really like.
Maria: (Chuckles) Well we had a lot of influences to draw upon and draw from with so many forms of the family. We all had different musical interests. And what we realized after many years of playing music was that you can hear elements from a variety of genres.
It’s just what each person has brought to the mix. And to this day. When we write music, when we create it and arrange it, you will hear all the different kinds of styles in it. Which makes it very difficult to categorize and classify. But that’s OK.
Leahy: Well I classify it as fantastic. I love listening to it partly because it’s Leahy. But it speaks to me in the Celtic-Canadian heritage. We are giving free tickets away. There will be a meet and greet afterward. We’ll get to meet you in person.
I look forward to seeing you Maria Leahy this Saturday when the Leahy musical group performs at the Franklin Theatre this Saturday at 8 p.m. Thanks for joining us, Maria.
Maria: We are looking forward to meeting you and the whole area.
To get tickets to see the Leahy music group this Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Franklin Theatre click here.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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