seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Brendan Bowyer, Royal Showband Frontman

Brendan Bowyer, Irish singer best known for fronting the Royal Showband and The Big Eight and who had five number one hits in Ireland, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on October 12, 1938.

Bowyer is also renowned for having The Beatles open for the Royal Showband at a concert on April 2, 1962 at the Pavilion Theatre, Liverpool, England, some six months before the release of The Beatles debut single “Love Me Do” in October 1962. He is regarded as one of the first headlining Elvis impersonators. Elvis Presley himself is a big fan of Bowyer’s performances and often attends his concerts in the Stardust Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada during the 1970s.

Bowyer begins his career with the Royal Showband in 1957. His ability to tailor American rock and roll music to the tastes of Irish audiences, and his athletic, spirited on-stage performances make him a popular vocalist of the 1960s Irish showband era. On September 6, 1963, he and the Royal Showband become the first Irish artists to top the Irish Singles Chart, with the hit “Kiss Me Quick,” which stays at the number one position for seven weeks. They return to the top position later that year with “No More,” and repeat the feat in 1964 with “Bless You.”

Bowyer takes part in the 1965 Irish National Song Contest for a chance to represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in Naples with the song “Suddenly in Love,” but can only manage fifth place. The Royal Showband’s greatest success is to come in 1965 with “The Hucklebuck,” which spends a further seven weeks at the top of the Irish Singles Chart, and is a hit in Australia, but fails to appear in the UK Singles Chart. “Don’t Lose Your Hucklebuck Shoes” returns the band to the number one position later in 1965.

In the summer of 1971 Bowyer, along with singer Tom Dunphy, leave the Royal Showband and form the Big Eight Showband. The band spends the summers playing the ballroom circuit in Ireland but also spends six months of the year in Las Vegas. Within a short time, the band makes the decision to relocate to Las Vegas permanently. He is based in Las Vegas from then on, though he makes frequent trips back to Ireland. In 1977 he makes a brief return to the Irish charts with his tribute, “Thank You Elvis.”

Having enjoyed a semi-retirement phase, Bowyer returns to the spotlight, touring Ireland each year, some for months on end, with his daughter Aisling Bowyer, and a six piece band. They perform his showband era hits, dance numbers, nationalist songs, modern contemporary songs and concert hits.

A covers album, Follow On, is released in 2001, where Bowyer performs some of the most popular Irish songs, such as “Summer in Dublin,” “What’s Another Year,” “Past the Point of Rescue,” and “I Don’t Like Mondays.”

In 2005, Bowyer and Aisling headline the entertainment list for the Tall Ships Festival in Waterford, performing in the open air to an estimated crowd of 12,000. In 2015, Bowyer is the star of the “Ireland’s Showbands – Do You Come Here Often?” concert series.

Bowyer dies at the age of 81 in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 28, 2020.


Leave a comment

Founding of The Royal Showband

The Royal Showband, the most popular Irish showband of the 1960s, forms on September 27, 1957 and turns fully professional two years later, with a line-up comprising Michael Coppinger (saxophone, accordion), Brendan Bowyer (vocals, trombone), Gerry Cullen (piano), Jim Conlan (guitar), Eddie Sullivan (saxophone), Charlie Matthews (drums) and Tom Dunphy (bass).

After coming under the management of the astute T.J. Byrne, the Royal Showband is poised to emerge as the biggest act in Ireland, playing almost every night to audiences of 2,000 or more. Ballroom gods, they usher in the era of the showband and in Brendan Bowyer boast the genre’s most potent sex symbol.

In 1961, they tour the UK, are supported by the Beatles in Liverpool and receive the Carl Alan Award for their prodigious box-office success. At some halls firemen are called upon to hose unruly crowds as their popularity reaches unforeseen proportions.

Back in Ireland, they are the first showband to record a single, with Tom Dunphy singing lead on the infectious, quasi-traditional “Come Down The Mountain Katie Daly.” That is just the start. The Royal soon notches up four successive number 1 hit singles: “Kiss Me Quick,” “No More,” “Bless You” and “The Hucklebuck.” The latter becomes one of the bestselling dance records in Irish chart history. Dunphy and Bowyer continue the chart-topping spree with “If I Didn’t Have A Dime” and the cash-in “Don’t Lose Your Hucklebuck Shoes,” respectively.

Having conquered Ireland, the band switches their attention to Las Vegas where they become a regular attraction from the late 1960s onwards. In 1971, Bowyer and Dunphy rock the Irish music world by leaving Ireland’s most famous septet to form the showband supergroup, The Big 8. Although the star duo are briefly replaced by vocalists Lee Lynch and Billy Hopkins, the Royal Showband collapses within a year. The abrupt dissolution of the Royal Showband at the beginning of the 1970s symbolically ends the showband domination of the previous era, to which they had made an incalculable contribution.

Founding member Tom Dunphy dies in a car accident on July 29, 1975, just two days after three members of The Miami Showband are murdered near Newry. Brendan Bowyer dies in Las Vega on May 28, 2020.


Leave a comment

Birth of Eric Bell, Founder Member of Thin Lizzy

eric-bellEric Robin Bell, Northern Irish rock and blues musician, is born on September 3, 1947 in East Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is best known as a founder member and the original guitarist of the rock group Thin Lizzy. After his time in Thin Lizzy, he briefly fronts his own group before joining The Noel Redding Band in the mid-1970s. He has since released several solo albums and performs regularly with a blues-based trio, the Eric Bell Band.

Bell begins his career with local groups around the Belfast area, including the last incarnation of Them to feature Van Morrison, between September and October 1966. He also plays with a number of other bands including Shades of Blue, The Earth Dwellers and The Bluebeats, before joining an Irish showband named The Dreams. He leaves in 1969 having tired of the showband format and, at the end of that year, forms a band with local musicians Phil Lynott, Eric Wrixon and Brian Downey. Bell names the group Thin Lizzy, after Tin Lizzie, a robot character in The Dandy comic.

Organist Eric Wrixon leaves Thin Lizzy after a few months, and the remaining trio later secure a contract with Decca Records. As lead guitarist, Bell plays on Thin Lizzy’s first three albums, Thin Lizzy, Shades of a Blue Orphanage and Vagabonds of the Western World, as well as their hit single “Whiskey in the Jar.” He co-writes a number of songs with Lynott and Downey, including “The Rocker” which becomes a live favourite throughout the band’s career. He also composes one song on his own, “Ray Gun,” from their first album, Thin Lizzy.

Although Thin Lizzy gains in popularity during the early 1970s, the pressures of recording, touring and the excesses of the rock star lifestyle begin to take their toll. Bell leaves the band after a New Year’s Eve concert in 1973, after throwing his guitar into the air in the middle of the concert, pushing the amplifiers into the audience and storming off stage. He states later that he had no regrets about leaving: “I really had to leave because of ill-health. It was exhaustion, and the majority of things that were available to me… I couldn’t really handle it.” He is temporarily replaced by Gary Moore.

In 1974, after a brief period fronting his own Eric Bell Band, Bell is recruited by ex-Jimi Hendrix sideman Noel Redding, along with guitarist/singer Dave Clarke and drummer Les Sampson, to form The Noel Redding Band. He is initially unsure of the musical direction Redding is taking, but goes on to record two albums with the group before they split in 1976. A third album of unused tracks is released in 1995. He composes the song “Love and War” for the second album, Blowin’.

In 1980, Bell reunites with Thin Lizzy to record a tribute song to Jimi Hendrix, “Song for Jimmy,” which is released as an orange flexi disc and given away with Flexipop in August 1981. It is later included on Thin Lizzy’s Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels box set in 2002, although much of Bell’s lead guitar work is missing from this version as the relevant master tapes cannot be found. He also appears as a guest on Thin Lizzy’s final tour in 1983, and the accompanying live album, Life.

Bell subsequently joins saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith‘s eight-piece blues rock ensemble Mainsqueeze. They tour Europe, record a live album in 1983, and later tour as Bo Diddley‘s backing group, recording the Hey… Bo Diddley: In Concert album in 1986.

Bell continues to perform and record with the Eric Bell Band throughout the 1990s and 2000s, releasing several albums. He also records with the Barrelhouse Brothers.

In 2005, Bell joins Gary Moore onstage to perform “Whiskey in the Jar” at the Phil Lynott tribute concert “The Boy Is Back in Town” in the Point Theatre, Dublin. This is released on a DVD called One Night in Dublin: A Tribute to Phil Lynott. In 2010, he moves from London where he had lived for many years to his new home in West Cork, Ireland.


Leave a comment

Death of Rory Gallagher, Irish Blues & Rock Guitarist

rory-gallagherWilliam Rory Gallagher, Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader, dies at the age of 47, in London on June 14, 1995 of complications following a liver transplant.

Gallagher is born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, on March 2, 1948. Both he and his brother Dónal are musically inclined and encouraged by their parents. At age nine, Gallagher receives his first guitar from them. After winning a talent contest when he is twelve, he begins performing with both his acoustic guitar and an electric guitar that he purchases with his prize money. It is, however, his purchase three years later of a 1961 Fender Stratocaster for £100 that becomes his primary instrument and most associated with him for the span of his lifetime.

Gallagher is initially attracted to skiffle after hearing Lonnie Donegan on the radio. While still in school, playing songs by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, he discovers his greatest influence in Muddy Waters. He begins experimenting with folk, blues, and rock music.

While still a young teenager, Gallagher begins playing after school with Irish showbands. In 1963, he joins one named Fontana, a sextet playing the popular hit songs of the day. The band tours Ireland and the United Kingdom, earning enough money for Gallagher to make the payments on his Stratocaster guitar. Gallagher begins to influence the band’s repertoire and successfully moulds Fontana into The Impact, changing the line-up into a rhythm and blues group. The band plays gigs in Ireland and Spain until it disbands in London, with Gallagher and the bassist and drummer continuing to perform as a trio in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1966, Gallagher returns to Ireland and forms Taste, a blues rock and R&B power trio. Initially, the band is composed of Gallagher and Cork musicians Norman Damery and Eric Kitteringham. However, by 1968, Damery and Kitteringham are replaced by Belfast musicians John Wilson on drums and Richard McCracken on bass. Performing extensively in the UK, the group supports both Cream at their Royal Albert Hall farewell concert and the blues supergroup Blind Faith on a tour of North America.

After the break-up of Taste in 1970, Gallagher tours under his own name. He hires former Deep Joy bass player Gerry McAvoy to play on his self-titled debut album, Rory Gallagher. This is the beginning of a twenty-year musical relationship between Gallagher and McAvoy. The 1970s are Gallagher’s most prolific period, producing ten albums in the decade. In 1971 he is voted Melody Maker‘s International Top Guitarist of the Year, ahead of Eric Clapton. However, despite a number of his albums reaching the UK Albums Chart, Gallagher does not attain major star status. Though he sells over thirty million albums worldwide, it is his marathon live performances that win him the greatest acclaim.

In the 1980s Gallagher continues recording and embarks on a tour of the United States. In addition, he plays with Box of Frogs, a band formed in 1983 by former members of The Yardbirds.

In the later years of his life, Gallagher develops a phobia of flying. To overcome this he receives a prescription for a powerful sedative. This medication, combined with his alcohol use, results in severe liver damage. Despite his condition he continues touring. By his final performance on January 10, 1995 in the Netherlands, he is visibly ill and the remainder of the tour is cancelled. He is admitted to King’s College Hospital in London in March 1995. His liver is failing and the doctors determine that a liver transplant is the only possible course of action. After 13 weeks in intensive care, his health suddenly worsens when he contracts a Staphylococcal infection. Gallagher dies on June 14, 1995, and is buried in St. Oliver’s Cemetery just outside Ballincollig near Cork.


Leave a comment

Birth of Margo, Irish Country Music Singer

margaret-catherine-o-donnellIrish singer Margo, born Margeret Catherine O’Donnell, is born on February 6, 1951 in County Donegal. She rises to prominence during the 1960s in the Irish country music scene and has had an extensive career since.

Margo is brought up in the small village of Kincasslagh, in The Rosses area of County Donegal. She grows up in a Catholic family, with her parents Francis and Julia (née McGonagle) O’Donnell, and her siblings: John, Kathleen, James, and Daniel, who is also a singer. Her father dies of a heart attack when she is a young woman.

Margo starts performing country music at a very young age in 1964 with a local showband, The Keynotes. She records her first single in 1968, Bonny Irish Boy/Dear God, which is a success as is her second single, If I Could See the World Through the Eyes of a Child/Road By the River, released in 1969. She has been a successful singer for five decades and has sold more than 1,000,000 records to date. She has performed with Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. She presents numerous TV shows for RTÉ in the 1970s and has collected many awards during her career.

Margo is sister to Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell, who got his start with Margo’s band in the early 1980s while attending college in Galway. Margo is named “2007 Donegal Person Of The Year” and spends most of 2007 traveling Ireland acting as an ambassador to her native county. She makes her home in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, where she has lived for several decades along with her partner.

Since 1977, Margo has been active in the search for Mary Boyle, a distant relative from Kincasslagh, who went missing at age six near Ballyshannon, County Donegal.


Leave a comment

Birth of Tom McBride, Ireland’s King of Country Music

tom-mcbrideTom McBride, Irish country, traditional, easy listening singer, guitarist, and saxophone player best known as Big Tom, is born in Castleblayney, County Monaghan on September 18, 1936. He is affectionally known as “Ireland’s king of country music.”

With a career spanning over five decades, McBride starts his career in 1966 as the frontman of the Irish showband Big Tom and The Mainliners. In 1980, suffering from a fear of flying, he undertakes a sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to record his Blue Wings album in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 2000, McBride undergoes a vocal cord nodule operation on his throat. On July 8, 2005, a plaque is erected by the local community in his home village of Castleblayney. In November 2006, he suffered a sudden heart attack at the age of 70, which puts doubt into whether he will ever tour again with his band.

On February 1, 2008, McBride begins a 12-date tour of Ireland after doctors give him the all clear. On March 24, he performs at Castlebar‘s TF Ballroom’s final farewell night but reportedly takes ill on stage during the performance.

On 25 May, McBride performs for the closure night of the Galtymore dance hall in Cricklewood, London. He is the headline act at London’s Irish Festival on July 27 and headlines the Claremorris Dance Festival weekend on November 23.

In July 2009, K-MAC Records announces more dates in Ireland for Big Tom and the Mainliners which commences in August. From August 14 to September 13, McBride runs a successful tour of Ireland with large attendances to venues. The highlight is the Glencarn Hotel in his hometown Castleblayney where the concert is packed to capacity. The tour ends in Ennis with fans travelling many miles to see McBride and the band. Two days after the end of the tour the band’s trombone player and vocalist Cyril McKevitt dies of a heart attack.

In 2010, McBride announces an extensive series of tour dates. From 2011 until his death in Drogheda, County Louth on April 17, 2018, McBride and his band continue to perform with sporadic appearances.

In June 2016, McBride becomes the inaugural artist to be inducted into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame.


Leave a comment

Death of Musician William (Billy) Brown

william-billy-brownWilliam (Billy) Brown, a musician and artist from Northern Ireland, dies on June 6, 1999 of a heart attack at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. He is best remembered as a singer, saxophonist, and pianist with The Freshmen, one of Ireland’s most popular showbands of the 1960s and 1970s.

Brown is born in Larne, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. While studying at the Belfast College of Art he joins Billy McFarland’s Showband. Later he forms The Freshmen with some friends. Through Brown’s skillful arrangements, the band is able to reproduce sophisticated vocal harmonies in their covers of songs such as “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow,” “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” and “Carpet Man.”

Brown leaves The Freshmen in the mid-1970s to pursue other musical challenges, albeit with limited success. He later rejoins the band and, in 1977, they have one of their biggest hits with his composition, “Cinderella.” Following the breakup of The Freshmen, he has a minor solo hit in 1980 with his own song, “Look What Jerry Lee Did To Me.”

In his latter years, Brown develops his interest in wildlife, becoming a successful painter of nature scenes, as well as contributing his insights into the natural world on RTÉ 2fm‘s children’s show, Poporama.

Billy Brown dies of a heart attack on June 6, 1999, at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. In its obituary, the Irish Independent refers to him as “one of the most gifted musicians of his generation.”

In a tribute to Brown following his death, Freshmen founder-member, Maurice Henry, describes his late friend’s pivotal role in the band:

“You could say Billy was The Freshmen and without his talent and innovative musical skills we would certainly not have achieved as much, either as a showband or in our recordings.”


Leave a comment

Death of Showband Icon Butch Moore

butch-mooreButch Moore, born James Augustine Moore, Irish singer and showband icon during the 1960s, dies in Massachusetts on April 3, 2001. He is born in Dublin on January 10, 1938.

Moore plays with a number of bands before securing his big break with the Capitol Showband in 1958. Its lineup includes band leader, Des Kelly, and Paddy Cole, who is still involved in the entertainment business, and an early songwriter for the band is Phil Coulter. The Capitol achieves a considerable degree of success in the early 1960s attracting huge crowds in the State’s many ballrooms. It tours the United States in 1961, and two years later becomes the first showband to appear on the new RTÉ Television service. The Capitol plays in the London Palladium in 1964 on a night when the lineup includes Roy Orbison.

Moore marries Norah Sheridan in 1962. They have three children – Karen, Grainne and Gary.

Moore achieves celebrity status as Ireland’s first contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965. At the height of his success, he wins the National Song Contest to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest 1965, in Naples, singing Walking the Streets in the Rain. The song reaches number one on the Irish Singles Chart, but fails to chart in the United Kingdom.

As the lead singer with the Capitol Showband, he rivals the Royal Showband’s Brendan Bowyer as Ireland’s most popular showband vocalist. His marriage to Norah breaks down in 1969 and his career begins to decline. He emigrates to the United States in 1970, where he spends the last 31 years of his life.

Moore marries Irish ballad singer Maeve Mulvany in 1972 in the United States. They form a very successful group known as “Butch N Maeve” with a mixture of ballads and pop. They also own a pub in Massachusetts named after one of their songs, The Parting Glass. They have three children, Rory, Tara and Thomas.

Although suffering from cancer of the esophagus, Butch Moore dies of a heart attack on April 3, 2001. His body is returned to Dublin and a funeral Mass is celebrated at St. Canice’s Church in Finglas. After his death, Maeve makes plans to move back to Ireland where she has bought a house in Cormeen, County Cavan, but she dies on February 14, 2004.


Leave a comment

Birth of Singer Larry Cunningham

larry-cunninghamLarry Cunningham, Irish country music singer, who is one of the leading figures of the Irish showband scene in the 1960s and 1970s, is born in Clooneen, Mullinalaghta, County Longford on February 13, 1938. He is regarded as a “trailblazer” and “legend” in the music industry.

Cunningham grows up in the townland of Clooneen in a farming family of seven children. After leaving school at the age of 16 he goes to England and works as a carpenter, playing Irish traditional music and gaelic football during his spare time. In 1958 he returns to Ireland. Still working as a carpenter, he soon joins the part-time Gowna-based Grafton Showband, but leaves it in 1961 to become fully professional as the lead singer of the Mighty Avons, based in Cavan. That band initially specialises in covers of Jim Reeves songs and similar country material.

The band’s first taste of fame comes when they are supporting Jim Reeves during the Irish leg of his European tour in 1963. When Reeves walks off the stage during a concert in Lifford in protest at the poor condition of the supplied piano, the Avons, as they later become popularly called, takes over and entertains the crowd, to much subsequent publicity and acclaim.

In December 1964, Cunningham and the Mighty Avons have a Top-10 hit with the song Tribute to Jim Reeves, which also enters the British charts and is played on Top of the Pops, both firsts for an Irish artist, which further boosted their career. Their major hit is Lovely Leitrim in September 1965, which stays at number one in the charts for four weeks. As well as regularly touring Ireland to large crowds, the Avons make many appearances on television, and often played in Britain, the United States, and other places.

In late 1969, Cunningham leaves the Mighty Avons and merges with Edenderry band The Fairways to form Larry Cunningham and the Country Blue Boys, leaving Gene Stuart to front the Avons. He continues having success with his new band, but after his marriage to Beatrice Nannery in February 1972 he gives up regular touring in favour of occasional concerts and recording. He continues to have top-10 hits until the mid-1970s, and still performs occasionally for the remainder of his life. In recent years, audio and video compilations of his music have been released, as well as a biography.

Larry Cunningham dies in Dublin on September 28, 2012, following a lengthy illness. Among those to pay tribute are U.S. country singer Robert Mizzell who says, “I am so saddened to hear of the passing of country legend Larry. I admired his talent and quick humour. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and the fans who loved the big deep voice that rattled the radio waves.”


Leave a comment

Birth of Robert Ballagh, Artist, Painter & Designer

Robert “Bobby” Ballagh, artist, painter and designer, is born in Dublin on September 22, 1943. His painting style is strongly influenced by pop art. He is particularly well known for his hyperealistic renderings of well known Irish literary, historical or establishment figures.

Ballagh grows up in a ground-floor flat on Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, the only child of a Presbyterian father and a Catholic mother. He studies at Bolton Street College of Technology and becomes an atheist while attending Blackrock College. Before turning to art as a profession, he is a professional musician with the Irish showband Chessmen. He meets artist Michael Farrell during this period, and Farrell recruits him to assist with a large mural commission, which is painted at Ardmore Studios.

Ballagh represents Ireland at the 1969 Biennale de Paris. Among the theatre sets he has designed are sets for Riverdance, I’ll Go On, Gate Theatre (1985), Samuel Beckett‘s Endgame (1991) and Oscar Wilde‘s Salomé (1998). He also designs over 70 Irish postage stamps and the last series of Irish banknotes, “Series C,” before the introduction of the euro. He is a member of Aosdána and his paintings are held in several public collections of Irish painting including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Ulster Museum, Trinity College, Dublin, and Nuremberg‘s Albrecht Dürer House.

In 1991, he co-ordinates the 75th anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, during which he claims he is harassed by the Special Branch of the Garda Síochána.

He is the president of the Ireland Institute for Historical and Cultural Studies, which promotes international republicanism. It is based at the new Pearse centre at 27 Pearse Street, Dublin, which is the birthplace of Pádraig Pearse in 1879.

In July 2011 it is reported that he might consider running for the 2011 Irish Presidential election with the backing of Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance. A Sinn Féin source confirms there has been “very informal discussions” and that Ballagh’s nomination is “a possibility” but “very loose at this stage.” However, on July 25 Ballagh rules out running in the election, saying that he has never considered being a candidate. His discussions with the parties had been about the election “in general” and he has no ambitions to run for political office.

That same month, Ballagh breaks ranks with his colleagues in the travelling production of Riverdance in their decision to perform in Israel. He is an active member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which insists that artists and academics participate in boycotts of Israeli businesses and cultural institutions.

In July 2012, Ballagh says he is “ashamed and profoundly depressed” at the en masse closure of Irish galleries and museums. He cites an example of some Americans and Canadians on holiday in Ireland. “They described most of the National Gallery as being closed along with several rooms in the Hugh Lane Gallery. I’m glad they didn’t bother going out to the Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham because that’s closed too. At the point I met them, they were returning from Galway where they had found the Nora Barnacle Museum closed too.” He condemns the hypocrisy of political leaders, saying, “I know arts funding is not a big issue for people struggling to put food on the table but we are talking about the soul of the nation.”