Gallowglass Ceili Band (1950-present)
Photo Gallery -
Band Lineups -
- Audio samples -
Where Are They Now?
The history of the Gallowglass started back in 1950 when
Pat McGarr formed the Gallowglass Ceili Band in Naas, Co. Kildare in
1950 along with his younger brother Jimmy on bass fiddle, elder
married sister Margaret Keogh also on fiddle. Margaret's teenage
son, Sean played piano. They were joined by Chris Connelly on
accordion, Bobby Dunne on drums and Michael Dempsey on sax.
The band played
locally in the early years, however, it was in 1953 that they first
came to wider recognition when they won the Hohner Challenge Shield
for the best Ceili band in Ireland. This success was repeated in
1954 and 1955. It was also in 1956 that the band played in Dublin's
historic Mansion House alongside the celebrated Jim Cameron's
Scottish Dance Band.
Although considered the "relief"
band, the gig went so well, within a short time, they were getting
calls from ballrooms across Ireland looking for their services.
Previously, they had been a basic £5 a night
Ceili band (the going rate back then), but soon their value was
increasing. Said Pat in a 1967 Spotlight interview, "We were
able to send our prices up and up and up, until we were on, more or
less, the same level as the showbands of the day. We could hardly
believe it, we were were making enough money to live on."
As all bands did at
one point or another, that was when the Gallowglass had to make the
BIG decision, stay with the day jobs or turn pro. Pat takes up the
story, "It's not an easy decision to take, to chuck a safe office or
factory job and launch out into the uncertain world of show business,
especially when you know very little about the entertainment world.
But we decided to have a go, and I don't believe one of us has ever
regretted the change."
In 1957, the band made their first
recordings for EMI Columbia. This was to be the started of many
recording sessions through the next four decades. In 1960, Pat
discovered Teresa Duffy who was working as a waitress at fifty
schillings a week.
For the next
decade, the band became arguably, Ireland's top Ceili band. They
were constantly touring not only the ballrooms, but England and
Scotland as well. By the sixties they had spread their wings to the
United States and by 1967, they were undertaking their fifth tour of
As the world of Ceili bands
continued to dwindle in the late 1960's they were forced to change
their approach and their programme. In order to please dancers, they
had to play more modern country and even pop music. To that end, in
mid 1971 the band added a new dimension, a female singer. Elizabeth
Farrelly, aka Mandy, was a 16 year old from Oldcastle in Co. Meath.
Almost immediately she brought out her first single, Together
Alone on the Ruby label.
In July 1972. Pat McGarr took out
a full page advert in Spotlight announcing a new sensation "The
Symbols" (ex-Gallowglass) which was a new name for the band. In the
lineup was Mandy as female vocalist along with Bernie Boyle (aka
Bill Ryan - who would soon front Buckshot). We understand from
Elizabeth Farrelly (Mandy) that Bill recorded Mrs. Jones as the
band's first single, but before it could be released, he had been
drafted to front a new band formed by defecting members of the
Cotton Mill Boys called Buckshot.
In January, 1973, Tony O'Leary,
former lead singer with the Capitol and the Smokey Mountain Ramblers (after the
departure of Pat Ely) joined the band, promising a new look
Gallowglass. It appears that in early 1973, the band changed their
name to the Country Cousins and a subsequent article in Spotlight in August,
1973 announced that Tony was
considering re-launching the band as the Gallowglass in late 1973.
Tony had bought the name from Pat McGarr although we have been told
that this incarnation of the band did not last long. Eventually
Pat got the name back and the band returned to being a Ceili Band.
More to come.....
click on thumbnails for full image