Friday, July 2, 1993

Paddy Keenan

A long association with pedal power was not broken when Paddy Keenan retired in 1985 as a rural postman. He had spent 45 years in the saddle delivering letters and parcels on his country rounds when the time came to retire. Paddy is still a familiar sight on his bicycle but now he confines his travels to the town where he has lived since 1948. In that year Paddy, a Stradbally man, was transferred from his home town Post Office where he had already spent nine years as a postman.

When he joined the postal services Paddy was following a Keenan family tradition as his brother and sister had done when they joined Stradbally Post Office where their father had worked in the early 1900's. Mr. Keenan Snr. was the driver of the mail car which travelled between Stradbally and Portlaoise.

As a young man in his native Stradbally Paddy was very involved in Gaelic football and music. He played for the local Club and was a substitute on the Stradbally team which won the Senior County Championship in 1941. It was as a musician however that Paddy was to excel and his first of many musical engagements was as a young man of 18 years when he joined the Stradbally All Stars Band. Music always was an important part of Keenan family life as Paddy's father was a violinist, his brother David an accordionist while his other brother Joe played both the violin and the ukulele.

In the 1940's Paddy started up his own Quartet and with him at different times he had musicians of the calibre of Mick Hennessy of Carlow, Gabby O'Brien and Joe Hayden. Gabby was to marry Paddy's sister Chrissie and Joe is remembered by Paddy as "the longest banjo player in Ireland". Paddy and his group played at all night dances all over the midlands until Paddy was transferred to Athy in 1948. It was not long before Paddy joined Joe O'Neill's 'Stardust' band which was possibly the most famous musical combination ever to come out of Athy.

He spent 12 years with “Stardust” travelling to every Marquee, Town Hall and Parochial Hall in the country. Purpose built dance halls were seldom encountered outside the major seaside resorts and dances were usually organised for parish and other fundraising purposes.

Travel in the early 1950's was apparently less hazardous than it is today, even if the cars available were less reliable. This was the heyday of Mick Delahunty and his orchestra and Paddy recalls the occasion when the car bringing the 'Stardust' players broke down in Youghal on the way to a dance in West Cork. Mick Delahunty who was playing the Show Boat in Youghal put his own transport and driver at the disposal of the Stardust for the journey to West Cork. Mick, the most famous musician in Ireland was to be found patiently waiting with his Band on the footpath in Youghal at 4.30 a.m. for the van loaded with the Stardust's equipment and musicians to return.

Music played in those days, says Paddy, was strictly of the Ballroom variety with the musicians wearing dress suits and remaining seated. The show band era was still years away as the Stardust and the Mick Dels crisscrossed the country playing to dance fans eager to put the emergency years behind them.

Paddy recalls the hectic activity of the weekends when the Stardust players set off from Athy on journeys which might not see them back in their home town until the following Monday morning. All this time Paddy was working full time as a postman. One such trip, typical of the time, involved the band departing on Saturday afternoon for Ballina, Co. Mayo for a Saturday night dance and travelling from there to Blarney in Co. Cork for a Sunday night dance. The return journey to Athy did not permit much opportunity for sleep as Paddy and his companions reached home in time for Paddy to change into his postman's uniform and report for work at 7.00 a.m. Colleagues in the Stardust included Joe O'Neill, band leader who played organ and accordion, George Robinson on drums, Brendan Doran on drums, John Luttrell, Paddy Kelly and Jimmy McDonnell on saxophone, and Teddy Fleming on trumpet. Paddy played accordion and organ and was also one of the male vocalists. The female vocalists included at different times in the 40's and 50's Maisie Conneran, Patty Carey, Mary Dargan, Chrissie Ford, May Fleming and Maureen Ryan.

Paddy spent 12 years with the Stardust and later played with Paddy Murphy's Sorrento Dance Band. This was largely made up of members of the Murphy family of Offaly Street and as a young fellow I can remember the excitement on hearing the Sorrento Dance Band broadcast a programme from Radio Eireann in the 1950's.

The well known Casey Dempsey was another of Paddy's colleagues in the Sorrento Dance Band. Both Casey Dempsey and Paddy Keenan were to have separate and popular careers on the cabaret scene throughout the 1980's. Paddy with his old Stardust colleague John Robinson played every week for almost ten years in Pedigree Corner and as he says himself he played at more wedding receptions in the area than he cares to remember.

Paddy's musical talents have been displayed the length and breadth of Ireland, and his musicianship spans the big band era of the 1940's and 1950's through the showband age of the 1960's and 1970's to the pop scene of the 1980's and 1990's. Truly a magnificent record if one pardons the pun.

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