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Vincent Campbell - 1938-2018

Vincent Campbell, a hero of Donegal fiddle playing, passed away on 2 December 2018. He was born on 22nd August 1938, close to Glenties in the Donegal Gaeltacht, in an area known locally as The Croaghs. This area was part of a rural society which had traditional music, dancing and the Irish language at the centre of its culture, and this always remained a huge part of Vincent’s life.

Vincent was one of six brothers (Charlie, Jimmy, Vincent, Josie, Columba and Eugene). He first played the fiddle at the age of nine years when he and his brother Jimmy tried to play their father’s fiddle when he was out of the house working, even though they had been warned not to touch it! Thus began a wonderful life of music in ideal surroundings. There was often music and dancing in the Campbell home and Vincent learned tunes and technique from many of the local fiddlers, particularly from John and Mickey Doherty who were regular visitors to their house and who had a great influence on Vincent’s musical development.

In 1956, Vincent left home and travelled to the UK to work – first in Glasgow, then in the Scottish Highlands and later in London. On trips home to Ireland he used to meet up with banjo player Barney McKenna who told him that he was involved with getting a group together and asked Vincent if he would be interested in joining as their fiddle player. Vincent thought that the building trade was more like steady work and passed up on the offer; the group got going a while later and adopted the name, The Dubliners!

Vincent spent some time working in Dublin before marrying Margaret (Peggy) Gantly in 1965. They lived in Co Meath for 13 years where Vincent was at the centre of the local music scene. Vincent and Peggy had eight children and in 1978 the family moved back to Glenties.

After his return to Donegal, Vincent was both a stabilising influence in keeping traditional music alive and thriving in his locality, and a driving force in passing on the culture of traditional music and the Irish language to a younger generation. He placed great value, not just on the tunes and the technique for playing them, but also on the stories, the dances and the lore that give the music its connection to people and the community.

For many years Vincent, his brother Jimmy, and Jimmy’s son Peter performed together at events all over Ireland and abroad. They made many friends wherever they went with their infectious love of all things Donegal (the tunes, stories and even a wee drop of Jameson whiskey here and there!). Together, the three also played for many a night in the Glen Tavern, near Glenties, where visitors came from far and wide to hear The Campbells on their home turf.

A major collection of Vincent’s playing was published on CD by Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí in 2009, entitled The Purple Heather. Vincent’s importance in traditional music has long been recognised and appreciated, and many a musician credits him as a huge influence. His contribution to Donegal's music places him among the musicians who he, himself praised for their roles in its musical history. He will be hugely missed.

With thanks to Rab Cherry for help with background information, much of which is taken from the sleevenotes to The Purple Heather - available from donegalfiddlemusic.ie.