Last week Sean McGilly, fast approaching his 80th birthday, organised a concert in the Clanard Court Hotel in aid of St. Brigid’s Hospice and Home Care Service. It was an expression of gratitude from Sean who was completing his recovery from recent heart surgery. The concert brought together a host of Sean’s musical friends and acquaintances but the highlight of the night was the launch of Sean’s CD, ‘Old Dogs and Children’. On stage Sean previewed some of the songs on the CD, bringing his unique talent to an appreciative audience, not many of whom knew the interesting musical background of the Clones born singer.
Originally from ‘the stony grey soil of Monaghan’ Sean with his wife Miriam and children came to live in Athy in 1973. When I returned to Athy nine years later I soon became aware of Sean’s wonderful singing voice which featured in many, if not all, of the concerts organised locally. It was a voice which in the past had been heard in places as far apart as Carnegie Hall, New York and London venues such as the Hammersmith Lyceum and Chiswick’s Empire.
Sean’s musical journey started when as a young man he won the Cradle of Stars competition in Dublin’s Theatre Royal. The prize was one month’s engagement as resident singer in the capital city’s Crystal Ballroom. A subsequent move to London saw him working the Irish clubs. The Blarney Club, Tottenham Court Road, the Banba Club in Kilburn and the Garryowen in Hammersmith were regular venues for Sean which for a time saw him alternating bookings with Johnny Logan’s father Patrick O’Hagan.
Sean’s involvement in the London music scene saw him singing with the Joe Loss Orchestra on several occasions in the Palais Hammersmith and the nearby Lyceum. Befriended by Rose Brennan, lead female vocalist with Joe Loss, Sean was called upon to stand in for Joe Loss’s regular vocalists on several occasions. One such occasion saw him deputising for Ross McManus, father of the singer Elvis Costello. For approximately 7 years Sean featured once a month as vocalist in the Chiswick Empire where he once shared the bill with Michael Holliday who was then a chart topping star on the English record scene.
Contracted by an American agency to appear in America Sean featured on the bill for a St. Patrick’s Day concert in Carnegie Hall in 1958, but had to return to Ireland to await the issue of a visa before taking up further work. While back in Ireland he joined Jimmy Dunny’s band as lead singer. This was just before the show band era and around the time of the final stages of the ballroom orchestra period where the leading bands included Jimmy Delahunty and Jimmy Dunny.
Married to Miriam Healy of Cavan in 1960 the young couple returned to America to where Sean had emigrated in November the previous year. Singing was a constant part of his life but having given up accountancy during his younger days Sean again returned to academia and qualified in computer science. He made an appearance on the famous Ed Sullivan show, standing in for another Irish man, Denis O’Dea who fell ill. Billed as an Irish tenor, Sean’s appearance on that St. Patrick’s night show led to a later appearance on the Merv Griffin T.V. show. Surprisingly, despite his obvious success both in London and America, Sean never regarded singing as a profession. He enjoyed singing but always felt that working in computer science was his profession. Indeed it was his expertise in his chosen profession that saw him take a five year assignment to work in the Middle East during which time the Iraq Iran war broke out.
His children, Siobhan, Brian and Kevin were born in America before the family returned to Ireland in 1973. The McGillys came to live in Athy when Sean took up a position with a Portlaoise based company. Since arriving in the town Sean has involved himself in many aspects of local community life. Captain of Athy Golf Club in 1983/84, he has been a member of Athy Musical and Dramatic Society for many years. Chairman of the Society in 2011 and 2012 he organised and participated in many of the society’s recent fundraising events.
On stage last week Sean gave a virtuoso performance, singing some of the songs recorded on his new CD. The musical talent of the McGilly family was apparent when his sons Brian and Kevin also sang on stage, Brian having come from California to take part in his father’s concert. Sean’s CD got an airing on Paddy Cole’s programme on Sunshine Radio during the week prompting the presenter to wonder whether Sean McGilly or Jimmy Magee, both seniors who recently recorded albums, would enter the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest recording artist with a first CD. Irrespective of who wins, Sean McGilly’s CD now on sale with proceeds going to St. Brigid’s Hospice and Home Care Service is deserving of your support. The CD ‘Old Dogs and Children’ can be bought in The Gem, Duke Street and Winkles, Emily Square.