Music has always been an important part of the social life of Athy people. Examining records going back as far as the 19th century one comes across many references to fife and drum bands, pipe bands and brass bands associated with different parts of the town and sometimes associated with local associations such as the C.Y.M.S. That musical tradition found expression in the 1940s and later in the orchestras and show bands fronted by Athy men and women. After the Stardust and the Sorrento dance bands of the 1940s and 1950s there followed a bewildering array of groups and musical combinations, not all of whom I have been able to document.
My near neighbour Christy Dunne was for many years a stalwart on the music scene. He was just 15 years of age when he joined Alex Kelly and his Aces as bass guitarist. He would remain active in music making for upwards of 50 years, combining a busy music career with a full time job in the local Asbestos factory, later renamed Tegral. He retired from Tegral at 60 years of age, following 41 years of service. If this was not enough Christy was also a volunteer fireman who served for 31 years in that capacity. Coincidentally his father Christy also worked in the Asbestos factory and served for many years in the local fire brigade.
Recounting his music playing career Christy recalls nine years spent with Alex and his Aces where his fellow musicians included Alex’s brother Tom Kelly on keyboard and Brian O’Neill on drums. Alex’s Aces played relief band for the annual military ball which was one of the major local social events held in Dreamland Ballroom during the 1960s.
Christy married Kathleen Foley in September 1968 and that same year with other local musicians formed the Adelaide Showband. The line up included John Kelly, John Lawler, John Scully, Christy Leigh, Robert Eston, Denis Chanders and Pat Keeffe. With the decline of the show band scene Christy formed a beat group with David Craig and John Kelly. Under the name ‘The Reeds of Innocence’ the trio played the provincial club scene including what I am told was a local club venue in St. John’s Hall. The country music scene next attracted Christy’s attention and with John Joe Brennan and their respective wives formed the group ‘Big Country’. It proved to be a very successful music combination during the seven years of its existence and they were joined towards the latter part of that period by Denis Chanders.
The final musical combination with which Christy was involved was the Spotlights. This three piece combination originally featured Christy, his wife Kathleen and Denis Chanders, later to be augmented with the addition of Eamon Walsh and for a time were joined by Pat Kelly and Andy Murphy. The Spotlights played on a regular basis in Jurys Hotel Dublin and held a weekly residency for almost five years in Lumville House, The Curragh. Towards the end the Spotlights consisted of Christy and Kathleen Dunne and Eamon Walsh who continued to enjoy huge success, not only locally but particularly with Dublin bookings. The band was on the road six nights a week, only keeping Tuesday as the one day free of engagements. After almost 50 years playing music Christy retired about three years ago and the Spotlights disbanded.
It is strange to recall the dance venues which were once available to the people of Athy, starting with St. John’s Hall and the Townhall ballroom, both of which were replaced by Dreamland ballroom. Now the former Dreamland ballroom is a sports venue and bands deprived of dancing venues are few in number. We can look back with nostalgia at the time when Alex and his Aces, the Adelaides and laterally the Spotlights played their part in continuing Athy’s extensive music tradition.