I got a phone call during the week from a local man who no doubt prompted by last weeks Eye on the Welsh Male Voice Choir Concert on Saturday spoke of Athy’s musical heritage and how it could be represented in our local Heritage Centre. His call prompted me to reflect on the subject of local bands, musicians and singers
I have in previous Eyes made reference to many pipe bands which were once to be found in and around the South Kildare area. One of those bands was St. Brigid’s Pipe Band which was formed some time before World War I. It had a band room in the premises of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Duke Street. When the Garda barracks was later opened in that premises, the band moved to Killart, the area in which the majority of the band members lived. Other local pipe bands were the Churchtown Pipe Band and the Kilberry Pipe Band which I understand were formed following the break up of the local L.S.F. Band following World War II. Long before pipe bands were formed, Athy and district was home to several Fife and Drum bands. One such band was attached to the C.Y.M.S branch in Athy in the 1880’s while Kilberry had its own Fife and Drum Band based in the Coke around the same time.
It wasn’t just bands which gave Athy its strong musical tradition. Musical Societies have been a prominent part of the social life of the town as far back as the beginning of the last century. The 1940’s saw the emergence of Athy Musical Society and happily there exists a considerable photographic record of the shows put on by the Society members in the Town Hall. Emigration probably caused the Society to go out of existence but in the early 1960’s another Musical Society came into being and flourished for a few years. It too was to go the way of its predecessors but yet again a Musical and Dramatic Society was formed in 1984 and happily that society still carries on the tradition of community involvement in the arts.
Recently I came across an L.P. of the late Abbey actor, Harry Brogan, reciting the works of some Irish poets which had issued in America in the 1950’s. I was intrigued to find that Dominion Records which produced the L.P. had also produced an L.P. of Irish ballads by Athy singer Maisie Dooley. I am sure copies of that L.P. must be in several Irish homes and I would welcome the opportunity of acquiring a copy for Athy’s Heritage Centre. A similar request is made in relation to a record made in Dublin by the late Ernest O’Rourke Glynn in the late 1930’s. Another local man, local in so far as he was born in Athy in 1922, was John Breen who also recorded ballads for Dominion Records. John’s singing career took off when he participated in the BBC radio programme “In Town Tonight” and he subsequently featured on Radio Eireann’s programme, “Take the Floor”. He sang in New York’s Carnegie Hall and after living in America for a number of years returned to Kildare Town where he died in May of last year.
Nearer to our own time there is a wealth of recorded music and song featuring musicians and singers from the South Kildare area. Amongst Ireland’s leading artists is Jack Lukeman, a singer of unparalleled quality and musician par excellence Brian Hughes. Brian will be on stage during the Welsh Male Voice Choir on Saturday for what promises to be a unique Celtic occasion.
The great tradition of music and music making in South Kildare was captured in the music of the Ardellis Ceile Band formed in 1957 by Fontstown born, Brian Lawler. Perhaps the greatest exponent of Irish traditional music today is Uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn who for a number of years past has been living in the South Kildare area. We can be proud of having two first class musicians in the persons of Liam O’Flynn and Brian Hughes living in the area where the legendary piper Johnny Doran drew his last breath in 1950.
The musical heritage of this area is not just measured in terms of Irish traditional music but extends to Bluegrass Music whose exponents include excellent musicians such as Martin Cooney, Tony O’Brien, Clem O’Brien,Nicola O’Brien, Liam Wright, Paddy and Robert Chanders. In any review of our musical past, it would be remiss to overlook the contributions made by local bands and musicians such as Joe O’Neill and the Stardust Band and Paddens Murphy and the Sorrento Band. They operated during the 1940’s and 50’s and were followed by a number of Showbands, the longest lasting of which were “The Spotlights” led by Christy Dunne.
In recent years Athy's Shane Sullivan has established himself as a singer/songwriter while the upcoming Athy band 'Picture This' have virtually sold out an Irish and UK tour this year.
Athy’s musical tradition was developed not just by those named but also by countless others who could not be named in this short article. It’s a subject I will return to again but in the meantime don’t forget Saturday’s concert in St. Michael’s Church of Ireland when the visiting Welsh Male Voice Choir will be joined by Brian Hughes for a unique night of music reflecting the Welsh and Irish sides of the Celtic music tradition.