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James C. McAuliffe was not a piper of the calibre of Patsy Touhey but he had the honour of being the first uilleann piper to appear on a commercial recording, an Edison cylinder cut in 1899. The Irish music collector and Chicago police chief Francis O’Neill was a great admirer of Touhey’s playing but dismissive of McAuliffe: “Patsy Touhey could not get enough for his time from the record people. His theatrical business is more profitable. They found a cheaper man McAuliffe and cheaper work of course.” Most of McAuliffe’s sixteen Edison and three Columbia cylinders can be heard online, so readers can make their own judgment. McAuliffe was born around 1860 in the parish of Athlacca in east Limerick. He learned the pipes from the traveling piper “Pappy” Tracey. With other family members, he emigrated to Hoosick Falls, a logging and manufacturing town in upstate New York. At some point, McAuliffe found his way to New York City, where he is said to have played at Kerrigan’s Pleasant Hour. In the early years of the new century, he was an active performer and a partner in a saloon in the coal country around Scranton, Pennsylvania. Nick Whitmer’s research for the Lives of the Pipers website reveals that McAuliffe likely  had one wife and family in Hoosick Falls and another in New York City, where he died in 1910.

James McAuliffe / Unidentified photographer