The Russell family lived in Doonagore, near Doolin. Micho spoke of his grandfather, Austin ‘Rua’ Russell, who was born in 1838, and who married Kate Flanagan.
They had five children. Micho’s father, Austin Russell, who was born in 1892, was the youngest of the family. A brother, Michael, became a teacher and taught in Liscannor National School, while another brother, Thomas, died in action in the First World War. Austin remained on the family home and married Annie Maloney from the neighbouring townland of Ballykillane. Their five children were Micho, Packie, Brigid (Bridie), Mary Kate & Gussie.
Micho Russell was one of Ireland’s best-known traditional musicians in the latter half of the 20th century. He was born in Doonagore, Doolin, Co. Clare where he lived all his life.
He came from a musical family. His mother played the concertina and both his brothers, Packie, and Gussie played for house dances and later in the village pubs of Doolin.
In 1973 Micho won the All-Ireland Tin Whistle competition. His style of playing was unmistakable for the variety and inventiveness in its ‘rhythmical ornamentation’ and surprising stops. In the naturalness of his performance and stage presence he created an atmosphere of rare rapport with his audience. It added an iconic Irish dimension to his act that had no precedent or equal on the concert stage.
He enjoyed popularity and was much in demand from the 1970s onwards to perform at concerts and he toured all over Europe and the States. He was a patient and conscientious music teacher and he was a favourite at the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay.
In later years, his life-long interest in recording background to tunes and folklore came to fruition in several publications. Micho died as a result of a car accident on February 19, 1994 .
Micho Russell (1915-1994)
Packie Russell (1920-1977)
Packie (Patrick) Russell was the youngest of the three Russell brothers. A stone mason by trade he worked locally quarrying Doonagore flagstone. Musically he was gifted. He learned the concertina from his mother and his neighbour, Patrick Flanagan, and he played it with aplomb and passion.
As equal as his brother Micho was to take to the world stage, so too was Packie equal to the stage that brought the world to him in Gus O’Connor’s Bar in Fisherstreet, Doolin. Many on first seeing him were struck by his physical resemblance to the actor Ray McNally. His sharp wit was almost as legend as his musical talent and woe betide the budding bodhranist.
When Topic Records made the famous recording of the Russell Family in Gus O’Connor’s Bar in 1974, it was a rare live recording of the three brothers together. It is also, fortunately, one of the few remaining recordings of Packie. Even though he rarely left his native Doolin such was Packie’s stature as a musical figure when he died on September 4, 1977 it made national TV news.
Of the three Russell brothers, it can be said of Gussie that his was the life that was least changed by the music, though he lived and breathed it as much as Micho and Packie. He continued to farm the small family holding.
He also worked in the quarrying of the flagstone in Doonagore. He fished off the rocks near the Cliffs of Moher, and he travelled out on his Honda 50 motorcycle. His musical instruments were the tin whistle and flute, which he played with great accomplishment.
His repertoire of tunes was as extensive and varied as his brothers, though his natural shyness and self-effacement meant he was often the “forgotten” brother. Yet his talent was much admired.
Where and when he felt comfortable and at ease he played but otherwise people did not intrude in his privacy.
As often he preferred to simply sit in on the music sessions and listen; his upper body swaying to the music, his eyes transfixed in some concentration of the tune as if he was playing. Gussie Russell died May 18, 2004.
Gussie Russell (1917-2004)