Crotty, Elizabeth (‘Lizzie’) (née Markham ) (1885–1960), concertina player, was born 8 January 1886 at Gower, Cooraclare, Co. Clare, the youngest in the large family of Michael Markham, farmer, and Margaret Markham (née Keane). She attended national school in Cooraclare (1893–9). Although she did not speak or understand Irish, her father and probably her mother did, and the rosary was recited in Irish at home. She and a sister were the only siblings not to emigrate. Her mother played the fiddle, while her older sister Margaret (Maggie) played the concertina and probably influenced her to do likewise. Lizzie had no single teacher and acquired tunes and her style of playing from neighbours and family friends. She began to play a two-row German-type concertina at house dances throughout west Clare and became very much in demand.
In 1914 she married Michael (Miko) Crotty from Gowerhass, the townland next to Gower. The family lived in the Square in Kilrush, where Miko had bought a house. He ran a pub following his return from America, and bottled his own whiskey. The pub was an important venue for traditional music, especially for those who wished to hear Mrs Crotty play. She remained relatively unknown outside of Clare until the early 1950s, and there are a relatively small number of recordings of her playing the concertina. The broadcaster Ciarán Mac Mathúna conducted recording sessions in her house in 1955 and she was to be heard on ‘A job of journeywork’, his programme on Radio Éireann. She possessed a number of concertinas, but the Lachenal (no. 134,999) that she bought in the 1950s was her favourite and the one with which she is most closely identified (Pat Joe Sullivan of Kilmaley carried out any necessary repairs). In 1954 Crotty was a founder member and the first president of the Clare branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. During her time as president, the All-Ireland Fleadh was held in Ennis in 1956.
Crotty often sang the traditional song ‘An draighneán donn’, which was one of her favourites. Among tunes she enjoyed playing were the ‘Ewe reel’, the ‘Dublin reel’, and ‘The maid of Mount Cisco’, along with ‘The wind that shakes the barley’. Her straight style of playing for dancing and dancers increased her popularity. Seán Ó Riada (qv) regarded her as one of the finest concertina players he ever heard. Although she did not read or write staff notation, she created a written code for herself by giving the concertina keys a number and by using a symbol for the press or draw movement on the concertina keys.
Crotty suffered from severe angina which necessitated visits for medical treatment to Dublin, where she became friends with the fiddle player Mrs Kathleen Harrington (née Gardiner). They attended the Pipers’ Club in Thomas Street, played together on Radio Éireann, and travelled together to fleadhanna. Crotty died 27 December 1960 of an anginal attack when at home. She lost her first three children and a son drowned in the River Shannon in 1945. Another son, Thomas, became a priest. A festival, ‘Éigse Mrs Crotty’, is held in her memory each summer in Kilrush. Her son Paddy gave three perpetual trophies for presentation at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil. Her music can be heard on Elizabeth Crotty: concertina music from west Clare (on RTÉ 225CD, 1999).