(c. 1840 - June 11, 1914)
A close friend of Francis O’Neill, James Early was considered one of the best pipers in Chicago. Born near Carrigallen, County Leitrim, he learned to play flute and fiddle at a young age, but his musical practice was neglected for several years after immigrating to the United States as a boy. He lived in the mining territories of California and the Northwest for a time.
After moving to Chicago, Early joined the police force in 1874 and eventually attained the rank of sergeant. It was here that Early became reacquainted with a relative, James Quinn, who was a well-known uilleann piper. Quinn taught Early the pipes, and Frances O’Neill noted that Early kept a book in which he wrote out the first few measures of Quinn’s tunes.
During the 1893 World’s Fair, Early’s home at 2130 West Congress served as a headquarters for visiting and local Irish musicians. The well-known Donegal piper Turlogh McSweeney lived at Early’s residence during the weekends while performing at the “Irish Village” at the Fair.
It was also in Chicago that Early formed a close musical partnership with fiddler John McFadden. The duo performed all around Chicago, as well as other cities and nearby states. O’Neill notes that their last engagement was for the dancing competitions at the Chicago Feis on August 3, 1913.
After an illness of two weeks, James Early died at his home on June 11, 1914. His funeral was held on Sunday, June 14 and was buried at Mount Carmel cemetery in Chicago.
Sources: Irish Minstrels and Musicians, 310; James Early obituary from the Dunn Family Collection.