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The Orchestras and Dance Bands of the 20's to 50's

Currently listing 205 orchestras as of 04/30/2016

Long before the Royal Showband, Dickie Rock, Brendan O'Brien and all the rest, it was the orchestras that provided the bulk of Irish entertainment throughout the whole of the 20th century, right up until the fateful moment the Clipper Carlton decided to kick away their music stands, and beyond.

Names like Tony Chambers, Malachy Doris, Chris Lambe, Maurice Mulcahy Mick Delahunty, Brose Walsh and a host of others featured 10-12 (and as many as 18 or 20) musicians. Once they set up their music stands, they provided some of the most versatile (if not the most exciting) entertainment ever heard in Ireland.

Most of the orchestras were actually part time musicians, many from local brass bands, that worked "civilian" jobs by day and donned their finest tuxedos by night to play residencies, dinner dances, and galas around the country. In fact, many of these bands were actually resident bands in some of the larger ballrooms. During the "off season," they would pack up and tour the country at the weekends, although nothing like the showbands would be doing in the late fifties and beyond.

Although this form of entertainment remained virtually unchanged from the early 1900's right through to the mid 1950's, as the fifties came to a close, a change was in the air. The Clipper Carlton is credited with creating the "show" on which the term showband is based. Their "Saturday Night Jukebox" segment allowed the patrons to take a break from dancing and the band included comedy skits, impersonations, or other acts that stopped the crowd in their tracks and they watched the "show" for up to a half hour or more, after which time dancing would be resumed. Once the Clippers got rid of their music stands, threw away their tuxedos and started to move to the music; the die was cast for the next generation of Irish entertainment--The Showbands.

The transition from orchestras to showbands was not smooth and it did not happen overnight. One music reporter who called himself Dancelot in what was then known as the Irish Pictorial described his recent showband experiences thusly: "I'm not opposed to showbands generally...But lately I've been unlucky. I heard three or four bands in a row and could find nothing good to say about any of them. The bands in question reached an all time low musically, the sounds they made being appalling." He finished up by reporting, "you can get a percussionist who can belt the skins and cymbals hard and loud enough to provide a jive beat, gather together indifferent musicians who fancy themselves as singers who can "busk" on musical instruments, you're in the Showband business!"

In fact, most of the earliest showbands were actually orchestras, including the Clipper Carlton. Savvy band leaders dropped a few brass players, added a guitarist, electric bassist (and the occasional organ player) and changed their name from Orchestra to Band Show, Dance Band or Showband. Dave Glover claims responsibility for being the first to use the term "showband" after seeing the success of the Clipper Carlton. However, this fact remains in dispute as we have uncovered bands using the term Show Band (two words) while Dave was still using the term Orchestra in 1957.

The late fifties were a time of turmoil for musicians in Ireland. As mentioned above, most were part timers, happy to make a few quid at the weekends (and more during the summer) playing the favourites of the day and not traveling very far. Many of the dances took place in local church halls (where the Parish Priest could keep a close eye on the proceedings) and small ballrooms started to spring up around the country.

Legends Brose Walsh and Jack Ruane in 1980

The transition to the new genre of the showbands took a few years with some bands playing under different names, depending on the venue--"orchestra" one night, "showband" the next.

Eventually, guitars took over as the main instrument, and the age of electronics brought guitar amps, P.A. systems, electric organs, lights and a host of accessories that had been unnecessary during the orchestral era. However, it was a painful transition for the bands themselves. 

Once the showband era got into full swing, musicians faced some serious decisions. Many had to give up the "day job" to turn pro. In many cases these jobs were actually professional careers for which the musicians had invested years of college such as law or accountancy. If married, they were forced to leave their spouses and children behind each day to climb into a cold van and drive for up to 6 hours one way, play 3-4 hours and then drive home. They slept while their families lived. Being "on the road" was a severe test of even the strongest marriage and many did not survive the ordeal.

By the early sixties most of the orchestras were gone, except for a handful that carried on the "big band" tradition such as Mulcahy, Chambers and others. Not only did the downfall of the orchestras hinge on their perceived lack of excitement as Ireland's hunger for good entertainment grew, there was also an economic reality as well. As the residencies in the ballrooms disappeared or were taken over by 3-4 piece relief groups, bands were forced to turn pro if they wanted to survive in the new era of the ballrooms. When it came to transporting musicians and equipment, it seemed that 7 or 8 musicians and their instruments was about the most a band could handle logistically (not to mention the problems with transporting a piano-one of the staples of the orchestras - although most ballrooms had pianos on stage, at least in the early days, they too would soon disappear). The predominant form of transport (Ford Transit or Commer vans wouldn't hold any more than that). So that in the end, the orchestras also became financially unviable.  

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Click on any blue highlighted Orchestra name to see their photos

Ray Allen Orchestra** [Dublin]
Ambassadors Dance Orchestra^ [Belfast]
Arcadian Aces [Roscommon] (on the road in 1959)
Astoria Comets Show Band [Unknown]
Ken Austin's Broadcasting Band [Derry] (resident in the Embassy Ballroom Derry)
Jim Bacon Orchestra** [Dublin] (resident in the Pavillion Ballroom, Skerries, featured Irene Bradley)
Jimmy Banks Showband [Dublin]
Toby Bannon Orchestra** [Dublin]
Jack Barrett and his Dance Orchestra [Kells]
Syd Bates Orchestra*** [Belfast] (Syd went to New Zealand in 1985, returned to Ireland in 2007 but passed away Mar 08)
Alan Beal and his Orchestra [Unknown]
Jack Beahan and his Orchestra [Unknown]
Blue Clavons** [Dublin] (late 50's band gave Butch Moore and Jimmy Hogan of the Capitol their starts in Dublin)
Benny Birkett Orchestra* [Dublin] (featured Des Furlong)
Black Diamond Orchestra [Unknown]

Blue Notes Orchestra [Derry]

Blue Rockets Dance Orchestra [Boyle]
Pete Browne and his Orchestra (Band of Renown) [Kiltimagh]
Ritchie Burbridge Orchestra^ [Dublin]

Johnny Butler Orchestra [Dublin] (started in 1930's played Chrystal and Ballerina ballrooms- did US tour in 1956)

Chris Byrne Showband** [Dublin]
Jay Byrne Showband/P2* [Wicklow]
Tommy Cahill and his Orchestra [Unknown] (on the road in the late 1950's)
Billy Campbell Band Show [Derry] (Advertised as Show Band in Feb 1958)
Pat Canny and his Orchestra [Derry]
Mark Canavan and His Band [Unknown]
Capitol Dance Band [Galway]
Capitol Dance Orchestra (Band) [Longford]
Carlton Dance Orchestra [Drogheda] (late 40's band led by Pat Kierans)
Billy Carter and his Orchestra [Dublin]
Stan Cauley and his BBC Orchestra [Derry] (resident in the Marine Ballroom Enniscrone in 1957)
Tony Chambers Orchestra [Castlebar]
Eber Clarke and his International Orchestra [Newry] (billed as "the world's leading coloured vocalist" in 1958)
Classic Dance Band [Donegal] (band formed by the late John Kerr)
Clefonaires Orchestra [Tubbercurry]
Donie Collins and his Band or Orchestra [Limerick]
Jimmy Compton and his All-Stars [Belfast]
Earl Connolly's Band Show [Limerick]
Joe Coughlan Orchestra*** [Dublin]
Johnny Cox and his Orchestra [Galway]
May Coyne Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
Dennis Cronin's 12 Piece Orchstra [Tralee]
Jack Cuddihy and the Embassy Band [Unknown]
Mick Cummins Orchestra [Dublin] (Resident in the Macushla Ballroom-our thanks to Peter Brady)
Paddy Cummins and his Orchestra [Unknown]
Peter Cusack's and his Orchestra [Dublin] (resident in Red Island Holiday Camp)
Sean Davitt's Dance Band [Unknown]
Debonnaires Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
Mick Delahunty Orchestra [Clonmel] (started around 1935 by Mick)
Del Rio Dance Orchestra [Dublin]
Derrylin Starlight Dance Band [Unknown]
Dave Dixon Orchestra*** [Clones]
Kevin Doherty and His Dublin Orchestra [Dublin] (resident-Red Island's Elite Ballroom and Great Southern Killarney)
Mick Donnelan Orchestra [Galway]
Malachy Doris Showband** [Unknown]
George Duffy Orchestra/P2 [Dundalk]

Jim(my) Dunny and his Dance Band (Orchestra) [Kildare]

Hugh Dunphy's Orchestra [Waterford]
Freddie Dykes and his Orchestra [Unknown]
Emerald Valley Dance Orchestra [Enniskillen]
Jimmy Fahey and his Orchestra [Unknown]
John Farrell Orchestra^ [Dublin]
Earl Fitzgerald Orchestra [Dublin] (featured May Deegan and Tony Vaughn)
John Fitzgerald Orchestra*** [Dublin]
Jack Flahive Orchestra^ [Dublin]
Larry Flatley's Orchestra [Unknown]
The Flying Carlton Orchestra [Drogheda] (formed in 1945, the first Irish band to fly to a gig)
Flying Aces [Drogheda]
Bert Flynn and his Band [Unknown]
J.J. Flynn and his Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
Sonny Flynn and his Band [Unknown]
Des Fretwell and his Broadcasting Orchestra** [Galway]
Michael Galbraith's Borderland BBC Orchestra [Unknown]
Columba Gallagher and his All-Star Show Band [Strabane] (used Show Band in 1957)
Stephen Garvey and his International (Broadcasting) Orchestra [Castlebar] (featured Val Doonican (RIP) in the 1950's)
Peter Gavin and his Ashford Castle Orchestra [Mayo]
Declan Gibson and his 12 piece Orchestra [Dundalk]
Earl Gill Orcehstra [Dublin] (Included Jim Farley and Sean Dunphy)
Phyllis Glancy's Dance Band [Carrick-On-Shannon]
Dave Glover and his Orchestra [Unknown]
Gold and Silver Dance Band [Ballynacargy, Westmeath]
Grafton Dance Orchestra [Gowna, Cavan]
Danny Haverty & His Orchestra* [Unknown]
Mick Haverty & His Orchestra* [Unknown]
Andy Hennessy and his Music [Unknown]
High Hats Orchestra [Drogheda]
Jimmy Honeyman and his Orchestra [Dublin] (resident in Olympic Ballroom, featured Bobby Baldwin & Fran O'Reilly)
Billy Hughes Dance Orchestra [Longford]
Shaun Hutton and his Music [Derry]
Des Jenkins Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
Trevor Jenkins Orchestra [Belfast]
Earl Jordan* [Dublin] (Earl was with both the Caroline and Derek Joys Showbands)
Chris Kearney Orchestra [Unknown]
Billy Kendrick Orchestra [Clonmel]
Cecil Kettyles and his (BBC Skyrockets) Orchestra [Enniskillen] (billed in 1959 as only Irish band to play Albert Hall)
Sean Kieran and his Astoria Orchestra [Drogheda]
Tom Kinsella's Band [Glenealey]
Lakewood Swingtette* [Derry]
Chris Lambe Orchestra* [Dublin]
Don Lane Orchestra^ [Dublin]
Cy Laurie and his Band [Dublin]

Alan Lawless and his Orchestra [Dublin] (were resident in the Garda Social Club, Kevin Street in late 1950's)

Dolly Limerick and her Dublin Band [Dublin]
Joe Lowney & his Orchestra [Unknown]
Maurice Lynch Orchestra (featuring Big Johnny) [Castleblaney]
Manhattan Dance Band [Kells] (featured 12 year old girl trumpeter, Ann)
Marylanders 7 Piece Orchestra [Limerick]
Jimmy Masson and his Orchestra [Dublin]
Pat McBrearty and his Band [Unknown] (Advertised as Show Band in April, 1958)
Paddy McCafferty and his Band [Stranorlar, Donegal]
Bobby McCaffrey and his Orchestra [Ballina]
Chris McCarthy's Orchestra [Castleblaney]
Mick McCarthy and his Orchestra [Unknown]
Eamon McCole's Sextet (became Orchestra) [Sligo]
Barney McCormack and his Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
Dessie McDermott's Orchestra [Dublin] (Dessie was formerly with Pat Moran and Rory McGuinness orchestras)
Josie McDermott's Orchestra [Ballyfarnon]
Liam McDonagh's Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
Rory McGuiness and his Broadcasting Band [Dublin] (advertised as Orchestra and Show Band in April 1958)
Gay McIntyre and his BBC Orchestra/P2 [Derry]
Josie McIntyre and his New Corinthian Ballroom Orchestra [Derry]
Johnny McMahon Orchestra [Limerick] (resident in the Hydro Hotel in Kilkee in the late 1950's)
P. McMahon's Orchestra [Clones]

Melody Aces [Unknown]

Melody Boys Orchestra [Omagh?]

Melody Group Orchestra [Drogheda]
Melody Makers Orchestra [Derry]
Melotone Dance Orchestra [Dublin]
Melotones (Orchestra) [Belfast]
Melotones [Castleblaney]
Merry Macs [Donegal]
Merry Macs [Omagh]
Metropolitan Orchestra [Unknown]
Mick Milligan's Orchestra [Unknown]
Edwin Mitchell and his Girls Orchestra [Unknown]
Ray Morgan Orchestra [Newry]
Moy Rhythm Orchestra [Unknown]
Maurice Mulcahy Orchestra [Mitchelstown] (Started in 1953, he passed away in 1963 and his brother Joe took over) 
Mick Mulligan's Orchestra [Unknown]
Mighty Rhythm Boys [Buncrana]
Modernaires [Strabane]
Stan Morgan and his Orchestra [Derry]
Martin Murphy and his Comets [Drogheda]
Paddy Murphy and his Sorrento Dance Orchestra [Athy]
P.J. Murtagh and his Orchestra [Unknown]
Pat Naven's Orchestra [Cork]
New Era Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
New Savoy Orchestra^ [Belfast]
Charlie Nutty's Orchestra [Dublin] (resident in the Kingsway Ballroom, featured Chris Byrne)
Tommy O'Brien Orchestra*** [Dublin]
Michael O'Callaghan Showband/P2/P3 [Buttevant]

Odeon Orchestra [Unknown] (featured electric accordion and Novel Cabaret)

Offaly Silver Star Orchestra [Offaly]

Pat O'Hara's Ballroom Orchestra [Sligo]
Joe O'Neill and his Orchestra [Athy]
Bob Ormsby and his Orchestra* [Dublin]
Orpheus Dance Band [Unknown]  (featured Jimmy Sturrock)
Parkway Orchestra** [Limerick] (resident band in the Parkway Hotel)
Frank Parkes Orchestra** [Dublin]
Pennsylvanians [Meath]
Pioneers Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
William Ponsonby Family Orchestra [Letterkenny]
Johnny Quigley and his All Star Orchestra/P2/P3 [Derry] (aka Johnny Quigley and his Casino Stars)
Jimmy Rabbitt's Orchestra [Clara, Offaly]
Red Sunbeam Orchestra [Unknown] (later known as the Red Sunbeam Showband)
Regal Dance Orchestra [Bantry] (became the Regal Showband)
Regal Orchestra [Castleblaney]
Regent Orchestra [Unknown]
Jimmy Rohan and his 10 piece Orchestra** [Tralee]
Bobby Roger's Dance Band [Newbridge]
Tunney Rossi and his Orchestra [Sligo]
Pete Roxburgh Orchestra [Salthill] (we think they were resident in the Seapoint Ballroom)
Eddie Roy's Dance Band [Unknown]
Jack Ruane Dance Orchestra [Ballina]
Rhythm Boys Dance Orchestra [Buncrana]
Saturn Orchestra [Unknown]
Savoy Dance Band [Claremorris]
Seamus Scott's Dance Orchestra [Elphin]
Shadows Dance Band [Dundalk]
Jimmy Shields Orchestra [Dundalk]
Silver Seven Dance Orchestra [Drogheda]
Silver Lining Dance Orchestra [Unknown]
Silver Six Dance Orchestra [Mullingar]
Chick Smith Orchestra [Dublin] (resident for several years in Bundoran's Astoria Ballroom)
Starduster's Dance Orchestra [Armagh]
Starliners Orchestra (Modern Dance Band) [Dublin]
Jimmy Sturrock's Band [Strabane]
Pete Stuart Orchestra [Dublin] (our thanks to Peter Brady - resident band at Dublin's Palm Court Ballroom)
Sunbeam Dance Band [Unknown] (featured vocalist Eamonn Canning)
Gret Sweeney's Orchestra [Unknown] (on the road in 1935 we know)
Swing Earls Orchestra [Omagh]
Swingtime Dance Band [Cavan]
Sylvians Dance Band [Limerick]
Ralph Sylvester Orchestra^ [Dublin] (Ralph played sax)
P.J. Tierney Orchestra [Carlow] (photo courtesy Michael Brennan)
Hugh Toorish and his Clipper Carlton Orchestra [Strabane] (became Orchestra and then the Clipper Carlton in 1959)
Top Liners [Strabane] (on the road in 1959)
Tower Dance Orchestra [Youghal]
Hughie Trainor's Dance Orchestra [Armagh]
Brose Walsh and his International Orchestra [Mayo]
Walsh Brothers and their Arcadia Ballroom Orrchestra [Mayo]
Paddy Ward and his Orchestra [Unknown]
Billy Watson and the Ballroom Orchestra [Dublin] (resident in Clery's Ballroom)
Dave Webster and his Orchestra [Armagh]
Jimmy Wiley Orchestra [Mitchelstown, Cork]

Wimsey's Dance Band [Unknown]

Phil Woodnutt and his Dublin Orchestra (and Rhythm Aces) [Dublin]
Woodchoppers Dance Orchestra [Derry]
Kevin Woods and his Royal Dance Band (Orchestra) [Drumshanbo]

* All entries with a single asterisk were suggested by one of the following people: David Dwane of the Western People, Billy Swann, formerly of The Cossacks Showband, Joe Dodd, Liam O'Reilly of the Columbia Showband, Michael Nesbitt, Glen Brown, Jan Lynch, Anne Lynch, John Baird, Karl Compton, Lorraine Clarke, Paddy Brennan, and Teddie Palmer

** All entries marked with two asterisks were given to us by Patrick Hoye, a great supporter of the site and member of the era of Irish Showbands. I've asked him on several occasions how he remembers all these names and he said, they just keep coming to him. Thanks Patrick, your help in compiling this list has been invaluable! Patrick played bass with the Jivenaires, Swingtime Aces, New Drifters, and the Joe Dolan Band before emigrating to Boston!

*** All entries marked with two asterisks were taken from a list in Finbar O'Keefe's 2002 book, "Goodnight, God Bless and Safe Home."

^ All entries marked like this come from the 1967 Showband Annual which we received from Liam O'Reilly of Arklow, former member of The Columbia Showband, among others. Thanks Liam for the contribution and photos elsewhere on the site!

Although much has been added since its inception, the basis for this list was from Francis Kennedy's excellent website on Irish Showbands located at: http://www.irishshowbands.net Francis has photos of many of these bands, as well as information on members, showband posters, records sleeves, and a wealth of information. Visit his site today to learn more. Another great site for information on the showbands of the 50's and 60's is at www.jivenaires.com.


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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006