Florida Folklife Program

Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: Edward J. Keeney


Edward J. Keeney, . Courtesy of Florida Folklife Program/Florida Department of State. Photo by  Ray Stanyard..
Edward J. KeeneyCourtesy of Florida Folklife Program/Florida Department of State. Photo by Ray Stanyard.

Edward J. Keeney (1922 - 2009) - 1999 Florida Folk Heritage Award

Irish traditional fiddling is a beautiful, complex art form with a long history. Although Ireland is a small country, there are a great many variations in fiddling styles, repertoire, and techniques from county to county. In contrast to other well- known styles, the Donegal fiddle tradition has received little attention. Only recently has it emerged from obscurity to be considered one of the most vibrant styles in the country.

Edward J. Keeney (Hobe Sound) was born in 1922 in Glendoan, outside Ardara in County Donegal, Ireland. Members of his family were respected tweed weavers, and he practiced that trade as a young man. Keeney learned to play the fiddle from his father, older brother, and other local players. When he was quite young, his brother bought him a small tin fiddle to practice on. Later he traded it for a wooden one and started playing in local dance bands.

In 1948, Keeney moved to New York City. While family responsibilities necessitated a regular day job as a city bus driver, Keeney played fiddle extensively for a wide variety of community events. As in Ireland, his playing was widely respected in New York's Irish community. Although his repertoire expanded to include many of the tunes of the last several decades, he continued to play the old Irish house dance tunes he learned in his youth.

After retiring to Florida in 1990, Keeney found more time to devote to music. He continued to play with exceptional melodic imagination, performed repeatedly at the Florida Folk Festival, and was a mentor for numerous musicians. He served as a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program from 1997-1998 and 2006-2007 and was awarded a 1999 Florida Folk Heritage Award.