Julia Clifford was born on June 19, 1914, into a musical family at Lisheen, Gneevgullia in the Sliabh Luachra area north of Killarney, Co Kerry. The travelling fiddle teacher Padraig O’Keeffe tutored both Julia and her brother, the renowned fiddler Denis Murphy . At age 14 she won ten shillings for her playing at a travelling show in Knocknagree.
In the late Thirties she emigrated to Scotland and then London where she worked as a hotel maid before marrying John Clifford in 1941. He was an accordion player, also from Kerry, and they had two sons, John and Billy. In the Forties they played the Irish dance halls in London. In the 1950s they returned to Ireland for a time, living in Newcastlewest in Co Limerick. They performed in the Star of Munster Ceili Band with which they made radio recordings.
Back in London Julia enjoyed greater popularity with the onset of the Sixties folk boom. In 1963 she won the All-Ireland fiddle championship at Mullingar. In 1968 Claddagh recorded herself and brother Denis Murphy on an album of Kerry music, The Star Above the Garter.
Rediscovered by the British folk club scene of the Seventies, Topic in 1977 issued an earlier recording of herself with brother Denis and Padraig O’Keeffe, Kerry Fiddles (Music from Sliabh Luachra). This was followed by two LPs featuring a range of music from various periods played by Julia, her husband and her son Billy, a flute player.
The wider appreciation of the music of Sliabh Luachra – particularly its Kerry slides and polkas – came late in life for Julia Clifford. They lived in a small council flat in Hackney before being rehoused in Thetford in the late Seventies.
In the Eighties and Nineties her reputation grew, being invited to perform at folk clubs and festivals. She performed on trips back to Ireland and was introduced to TV audiences. She also visited America. Many young players who sought her out to learn tunes and styles from her Kerry repertoire found her generous and encouraging. Caoimhin O Raghallaigh said The Star Above the Garter influenced him and many other musicians. Her husband John died in 1981. Julie Clifford died on June 18, 1997, and is buried in Norfolk.
The Star Above the Garter, Julia Clifford and Denis Murphy, Claddagh
The Humours of Lisheen, Julia and John Clifford, Topic (LP)
Kerry Fiddles, Julia Clifford, Denis Murphy, Padraig O’Keeffe, Topic (LP)