I have recently written of the great tradition of music and music making in South Kildare. We have been witnessing a re-awakening of that tradition in recent times in the music of Brian Hughes, Jack Lukeman and David Bradbury. These are all young men whose musical talents are a refreshing re-affirmation of the present generation’s commitment to quality music making. How delightful it is then to be able to acknowledge the musicianship of another local man of an earlier generation whose music is recalled in a CD issued last year. The Ardellis Ceili Band and special guests are featured on a celebratory CD of forty years of dance music and song issued by Chart Records.
Taking its name from the townland of Ardellis the Ceili band formed in 1957 by Fontstown man Brian Lawler has had an interesting and chequered career stretching back five decades. Although born in Dublin Brian lived in South Kildare since the early 1940’s and in Fontstown since 1943. His father was the farm manager in Lambe’s fruit farm in Fontstown and Brian’s brother Dermot now lives there. While a pupil in Athy’s Christian Brothers school Brian developed a keen interest in the playing of the accordion. He got one lesson on the instrument from “Bridge” Behan of the Moate and two formal lessons from Joe O’Neill before embarking on a regime of practice and playing which gave him proficiency and confidence while still in his teens.
In 1956 Brian took up employment in Dublin and late that same year put an advertisement in the evening newspapers for musicians to join a Ceili band he proposed forming. In those pre showband days the Gallowglass Ceili Band based in Naas was the premier musical group in the country and Brian was undoubtedly encouraged by their success. Before the end of the year the nucleus of the band had come together and while still practising got a number of the engagements in Barrys Hotel, Dublin. “The name Ardellis had a nice ring to it” says Brian explaining why he borrowed the South Kildare townland name for his new group. The 1957 line up included Brian and Johnny Hughes of Tipperary on accordions, Freddie Dean on fiddle, Rita Harte on piano and Paddy Dunne on drums.
One of Radio Eireann’s popular programmes was Roy Croft’s “Beginners Please” and in May 1957 the newly formed band travelled to Kilkenny city in a somewhat overcrowded Ford Anglia to audition for the programme. Recording their contribution for “Beginners Please” the Ardellis Ceili Band went out over the Irish airwaves for the first time later that month. A further radio programme followed in September 1957 when the Ardellis provided Irish dance music broadcast live from The Portobello studios in Rathmines. At the beginning of the following year the Ardellis began to play each Monday night at the Irish Club at Parnell Square. Once the quietest night of the week Monday night with the Ardellis in the Irish club soon became the most popular date for ceili dancing in the city of Dublin. Soon Brian Lawler and his small group were playing in venues all over Dublin city and further afield in the provinces. The growing popularity of the Ardellis Ceili Band was marked by further radio broadcasts in February and May 1958. Their big break however, came when they were approached in October of that year by Padraig O’Neill otherwise Paddy O’Brien producer of “Take the Floor” - the most popular radio programme of its day. The band took part in a number of the Sunday night programmes which featured the legendary “Din Joe” including the programme on Christmas night 1958. By now the Ardellis was a household name and throughout 1959 the band travelled three or four nights a week to fulfil engagements. This at a time when the band members were still working in their “day” jobs. The band’s popularity was similar to that of the showbands a decade later but despite their success Brian Lawler decided in 1964 to leave Dublin for Cork city. The Dublin based Ardellis was disbanded and when it was re-formed it was to have Cork based musicians such as Anthony O’Sullivan, John Bennett and Gabriel Frost. I have particular reason to remember John Bennett who was a member of the Cork Senior hurling team deprived my beloved Kilkenny of an All Ireland Championship in 1966. By the mid 1960’s the Irish showbands had replaced the Gallowglass and Ardellis Ceili Bands in the people’s affections. Nevertheless the Ardellis continued to play their music in and around Cork occasionally travelling to Dublin for an Irish Club engagement. In 1970 the band which was then twenty three years on the road recorded its first long playing record with EMI. “Other Side of the Shamrock” was released not only in Ireland but also in England, USA, Canada and Australia and one of Brian’s compositions “One Tuesday April Evening” was subsequently chosen as the theme music for an RTE television programme. The LP was the band’s second recording as they had recorded a single for Columbia in September 1966 with the hurler John Bennett singing the “Winding Banks of the Lee”.
The band took part in the very last “Take The Floor” programme which went out on Radio Eireann in the early 1970’s and had the honour of playing when “Din Joe” called out for the last time “lift the latch, open the door, step right in and take the floor”. A second LP “Bells of Shandon” was released in 1972 but by then ceili band music was on the wane and the Ardellis drifted into semi-retirement. Brian Lawler, however, continued his accordion playing and for five years from 1975 he was accompanist to the well known Cork singer Sean O’Shea.
The Ardellis Ceili Band last performed in April 1997 but now their recently issued CD of Irish music and song gives us an opportunity of enjoying recordings of the band made at different times over those forty years. Their strict tempo ceili music gives what Brian Lawler describes as “tight music” in the distinctive Scottish style and contrasts nicely with the traditional Irish style of the Tulla and Kilfenora Ceili Band. The Ardellis were unquestionably in the first division of Irish ceili music and Brian Lawler whose musical arrangements have bedrocked the band’s performances down the years, despite his protestations is a talented player on the piano accordion. In latter years Brian has become involved in composing and two of his compositions are featured on the recently issued CD. The Ardellis Ceili Band have enriched our Irish musical heritage and have ensured that the South Kildare townland of the name will forever be linked with the music of the Irish people.