Cooley’s reel

Cooley’s reel is a very well-known Irish reel associated with Joe Cooley, the great accordion player from Co. Galway.

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However, the history and attribution for Cooley’s reel are tricky to untangle. It would be natural to assume, given its title, that the reel was written by Joe Cooley himself. However, the most likely account is that this tune was composed by another Galway accordianist, Joe Mills, who played in the Aughrim Slopes Ceili Band with Joe Cooley in the 1930’s-40’s.

However, Joe Cooley was so taken by the reel, that he would play it often, and so it became most associated with his playing.

Cooley's reel, played by accordian player Joe Cooley. Photo: Eric Thompson
Joe Cooley, accordian player. Photo: Eric Thompson

Apparently, Joe Mills original title for this tune was Luttrell’s Pass, which would refer to the Battle of Aughrim, fought in the early 17th century. But this reel also goes by the names The Tulla Reel, and Joe Cooley’s Fancy.

Either way, Cooley’s is a cracking tune and well worth learning. It is not, however, straightforward to play well. The string crossing sections are best played with either circle-bowing or cross-bowing techniques, and many of the phrases are crying out for cuts and joint short rolls. Even without ornamentation, the tune needs some care with the bowing not to end up sounding ‘jerky’ or ‘choppy’.

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