by Joe Daly
The Fifties were depressing years financially and economically. The country was finding the going very tough, but the people were resilient and always filled with hope. They hoped that things would improve and life would become a lot easier.
Despite those dark days there were rays of brightness that helped to ease the burden of struggling to exist. The people had the pictures and the dances. They could always join a society that could help to fill in the long nights of winter.
The dances, especially, were a source of pleasure and joy. And it is to some of the instrumentalists and singers of those days that I want to refer to in this article.
This is not meant to be a roll call or a register of all those very talented people who played and sang in different bands during that period. It is, rather, a series of references to those artistes I can remember and those who made an impression on me. If I omit any names please let me know. I will only too glad to make things right.
And so, back to the musical talent of those days. The Whelan family of Nenagh had become known as the Swing College showband, for very good sound business reasons.
The band had been joined by performers of the calibre of the late Eddie Sheridan a trumpet player of renown. He was the Harry James of Nenagh and there is no doubt he was the equal of any trumpet player in the land. He could sing too, and his rendering of Lannans Farwell to Nenagh, accompanied by Murty Whelan on the guitar, could not easily be forgotten. It is great to know that Eddies great love of music has been handed down to his son, Terence, a wonderful organist who for some time was organist and choirmaster in Saint Marys of the Rosary before going to Dublin.
Johnny Shoer, who is also gone to his Maker, was another who joined the Swing College. He was a singer. It was said of him that he could charm the birds off the trees and he was also a great raconteur.
Tony Maher was a boy wonder playing the piano accordion. I remember a chair had to be obtained for Tony to sit on. He could hardly carry the instrument and could scarcely be seen behind it. But could he play? Afterwards, Tony became well known nationally, playing with The Conquerors Showband.
Billy OBrien was another graduate of the Old Nenagh Legion of Mary Band. He played the trombone. Billy spent several years in England, but it is good to see that he has come back to Nenagh. I will have more to say of him later on.
Eamonn O Toole
Eamonn OToole, God rest his Soul, was a drummer in the Army. He was also in the Legion of Mary Band. He founded his own dance band where he continued to play the drums. Eamonn was a very affable man and he was an expert at writing parodies.
He could take a popular song and put new words to it within a few minutes. He was especially good at writing parodies concerning Nenagh or Nenagh people.
Tom McSherry was the pianist with the Eamonn OToole Band. Happily, Tom is still with us. He belonged to a very musical family and his brother Timmy in Borrisoleigh is well known in traditional circles for his fiddle playing. Toms daughter, Deirdre, is a very accomplished concert flute player who can be seen and heard on tv in traditional music programmes.
Many of the musicians would change bands regularly, and therefore I am unable to say exactly in what bands some of them played.
There was the late Danny Walsh, a quiet man of the dance bands. Danny was always on call, always on time, always ready to lend a hand. I often think of Danny who now lies in Lisboney Graveyard, not far from where my late wife, Tess, is buried.
One of the better known musicians of the time was Brendan Treacy, who, as a photographer and collector of old photographs, supplies the pictures for these articles. Brendan is a saxophone player of great repute. Not only that: he is also an expert on the keyboard and has entertained gatherings as a solo artist. He has handed that love of music on to his son, David, who is also an organist with a great reputation. David is at present teaching in Belfast, in a school situated on a road where I went to school as a boy.
There was also the Cortina showband, and one of the most notable members of that band was Paddy Shivnen, who later became a priest. He is currently ministering in England.
In the late Sixties and early Seventies came Tony Geaney and The Melody Makers. I have spoken about Tony in previous articles and I hope to refer to the band in a later article.
In the very late Fifties and early Sixties a new era began to dawn in Ireland. It was an era that was to be the answer to the hopes and prayers of the Irish people. Things began to improve and signs of prosperity came to this fair land. I think much of the credit for the improvement for our finances must go to Sean Lemass one of the great architects of the modern Ireland.
This improvement could be seen in the hotels of Nenagh the new OMearas owned by the Cadell family, and the Ormond owned by the Gilmartins. Both hotels had spacious ballrooms, and now began another new era in the history of entertainment in Nenagh the dinner dance craze had arrived in the town.
Suddenly it seemed that every club and organisation in the district had to have a dinner dance. Parishes, hurling clubs and vintners groups all fell to the new craze.
Indeed, the dinner dances brought great activity to various businesses in the town. Ladies hairdressing saloons mushroomed, new evening dresses had to be bought and chemists shops were kept busy with the sale of all kinds of make-up.
The story was told of the little girl watching Mammy putting on make-up: Mammy, what are you putting on your face? Make-up darling, replies the mother. What is it for? asks the little girl. Oh it is to make Mammy beautiful, says mother. Why then doesnt it? asked the girl.
The men going to the dinner dances had their dress suits, and shirts that were perfect advertisements for washing powders such as Ariel and Surf and Persil. As they arrived at the hotel the man was a king and the lady a queen, as the late Noel Purcell would sing in his song.
Coats were handed in to a cloakroom for safe keeping by the late John Darmody. Then it was into the bar for a few drinks to stir up the appetite and to meet a few friends. The bell would ring and it was into the dinner.
Then there were the after dinner speeches. If someone was being long-winded you prayed the floor would open up and swallow him. After the speeches, the tables were removed and the floor was brushed. The crystals were spread and everyone was ready for the night of their lives.
At this same time the showbands arrived on the scene there was The Royal, The Cadets, The Dixies, the Clipper
Carlton and many more.
Tess and myself were at one particular dance where the band played a rather modern version of The Bard of Armagh. It was terrible, and, so, I complained to the leader: As an Armaghman I resent what you did to the Bard of Armagh, said I. Well, said he, if you wait for a little while you will hear what we are going to do to Brian Boru Were going to kill him!
With Brians death I leave you.
Edited By Peter Gleeson.