At the end of the concert, Mike played his whistle and told how he got started in the music. The son of a schoolmaster in Tulsk, County Roscommon, he was given a toy whistle at age six. He rode his bicycle many miles to hear the great musicians of his day playing in sessions. But he wasn't allowed to join in, even though he had learned many of the tunes. The whistle wasn't considered a worthy instrument at the time.
After listening to a session, Mike would ride home along dark streets on rainy nights, trying to keep the tunes in his head. Sometimes an elusive melody would pop into his head in the middle of the night, and he'd go downstairs into the kitchen in the dark, take out the whistle and play the tune when the rest of the house was asleep. That's when his mother knew he would be a musician. "Now I know all musicians are mad," she said.
His big breakthrough came when he was sitting in the shadows behind the older players. One day they couldn't remember how a certain tune sounded. He reached in his pocket, pulled out the whistle, and played it out from memory. That was his ticket into the royal circle. Someone gave him a flute and he was on his way at age 11. He went on to win the All-Ireland competition on the whistle, which is now an honored instrument in the Irish tradition, and Mike one of its greatest masters.
The little portrait (about 6x8 inches) was painted in gouache (opaque watercolors), with a few touches of watercolor pencils, in a watercolor journal, using large flat watercolor brushes.