Michael J. Dunn

Michael J. Dunn (1856 - 1935)


"A well-to-do farmer of Affaly, near Clonaslee, in the same county, was no less proficient as a performer on the Union pipes. His instrument, a small but neat set made by Maurice Coyne of Dublin, is now in the possession of his son, Capt. Michael Dunn, of the Milwaukee Fire Department who has inherited his father's musical taste and talent. In addition, Captain Dunn is an expert and ingenious mechanic in all that pertains to the fittings of the most modern Irish chanter.”

Francis O’Neill Irish Minstrels and Musicians, Chicago, The Regan Printing House, 1913 page 231.

MicMichael J. Dunn playing fiddlehael J. Dunn (Captain Dunn in the above) was born in County Laois, Ireland on September 7, 1856. One of seven children, he arrived in America at the Port of Philadelphia in 1880 and shortly thereafter made his way to Milwaukee.

Dunn briefly worked as a common laborer before joining the Milwaukee Fire Department in the 1880s. Michael worked on the marine division patrolling the waterways. He became Captain of the Fire Department’s first boat, the Cataract. James Foley, also with the Milwaukee Fire Department, was his sponsor to become a U.S. citizen. Foley, along with several other firefighters died tragically in the line of duty; the fire department named their second boat after him and Michael became its captain. Michael performed heroically at the Davidson Theater fire, a fire that killed nine firemen. In 1903, he retired due to the numerous injuries received during his many years as a firefighter.

O'Neill himself notes that Dunn, like his father before him, was a talented uilleann piper. Dunn also played fiddle and repaired uilleann pipes and other instruments. His talent for servicing pipes undoubtedly led to his association and friendship with James Early of Chicago, whom O'Neill described as the mechanical wizard and "unfailing friend in distress" of uilleann pipers throughout North America.

After Early's death in 1914, Dunn helped fulfill much of his friend's repair work and remained in contact with Early's widow. Sometime between 1914 and 1922 it is believed that Dunn inherited Early's repair materials and musical collection--including items given to Early by Francis O'Neill after 1904--and brought them to Milwaukee.

Michael J. Dunn in his fire department uniform

Michael married Julia Culligan in 1897. They had two children: Mary Elizabeth & Michael Jr. The family attended St. Mathews until they built their home at 1516 South 26th St., when the family transferred to St. Lawrence Parish. Michael Dunn died on December 20, 1935 at age 79 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery, Milwaukee.

Julia & Mary Elizabeth remained in the family home on S. 26th St. until their deaths; Julia died in 1956, Mary Elizabeth in 1990. The Dunn family members rented out the home for a while after Mary Elizabeth’s death and sold the property in 2002. While exploring the attic, Dr. David Dunn found many items belonging to his grandfather including the 32 cylinders and a Victrola. It’s hard to believe these wax recordings survived so many years in an attic, but O’Neill made a sturdy suitcase specifically to store his music.

Dunn Family Photos

Michael J. Dunn Photos

Michael J. Dunn Photos

Browse through photos of Michael J. Dunn.

Michael J. Dunn, Jr.

Michael J. Dunn, Jr. Photos

Photos of Michael J. Dunn, Jr.

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