I am Fr. Darragh Connolly, a Catholic priest of the Kilmore diocese in Ireland and full time chaplain to the organisation Direction for Our Times and the Lay Apostolate of Jesus Christ the Returning King.
How did I get interested in Reed Organs?
It was the most earthy and grounded sound I had ever heard. It was a male voice choir accompanied by what I then thought to be a harmonium. The choir was 'Cór Cúil Aodh' established by renowned Irish musician and composer Sean O'Riada. I knew I loved the sound and was drawn into it like no other. I was in my late teens then and at the age of 18 started my studies for the priesthood in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland. During my time there I grew in appreciation of Church music and became more acquainted with the music of Sean O'Riada and 'Cór Cúil Aodh' and the sound of what I then learned was a reed organ.
I always wanted to own one. But where does one acquire one in usable condition?
After ordination as I began my first parish placement I began the search for an instrument. My director of sacred music from seminary, John O'Keeffe, gave me information about an enthusiast he knew and he advised me as to the best maker to look out for. One of these was Estey.
The first instrument I found was a chapel Estey reed organ in a small parish church, an identical example of which I believe remains in the Estey Reed Organ museum in Brattleboro. It had not been used for years and exhauster valves missing meant no sound was forthcoming. I snatched it up. Next problem? Who is going to restore it for me?
The man who advised me on selection said he would take a look for me some time. But when? He was busy and lived far away. Discussing this with John O'Keeffe, who had inspired me to many musical endeavors while I was in seminary, he asked me, 'why don't you do it yourself?
And so it began. I decided I was going to restore it myself. I researched online, using only the dial up connection I had and came across a book by Horton Presley. I found it to be a wonderful book which described clearly all that was entailed in the work. I read it twice and then began. Of course I now know that many of the methods and techniques described are less than ideal. Yes, my first reed organ has a bellows covered with upholstery leatherette affixed with impact adhesive but it remains extremely staunch to this day and will one day have this disastrous situation rectified with proper cloth and hide glue.
Then the Restoration that nearly finished off my Reed Organ restoring hobby
The satisfaction of having restored Estey 1 to working condition was immense. Could I stop at doing one? No! Of course not! But I can't collect dozens of these rather large items. So I offered to restore another for a friend who had it looking beautiful on the outside but the inners were in need of full restoration.
The inners were in much worse condition than my own and needed many jobs completed that I had not done on my first. I can only say that during the few years it took me to finish it, my heart was nearly broken. I left it at times for months before trying again. I learned so much from having done and re-done the work, however, that it would have been a shame not to do another. That being said I was very close to solemnly swearing never to look at one again.
Eventually I finished it. There are some techniques and materials I would change in that job but as I said, I learned a lot from it.
And so began my continuing journey into the wonderful hobby of Reed Organ restoration.