seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.

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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.”


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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.


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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.”


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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.”


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Birth of Singer-Songwriter Van Morrison

Sir George Ivan Morrison, best known as Van Morrison, Northern Irish singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is born on August 31, 1945 in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the only child of George Morrison, a shipyard electrician, and Violet Stitt Morrison, who had been a singer and tap dancer in her youth.

Known as “Van the Man,” Morrison starts his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands, covering the popular hits of the time. He rises to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead vocalist of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he records the garage band classic “Gloria.” His solo career begins under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records buys out his contract and allows him three sessions to record Astral Weeks (1968). Though this album gradually garners high praise, it is initially a poor seller.

Moondance (1970) establishes Morrison as a major artist, and he builds on his reputation throughout the 1970s with a series of acclaimed albums and live performances. He continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains.

Much of Morrison’s music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” “Domino” and “Wild Night.” An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream of consciousness narrative, such as the album Astral Weeks and the lesser-known Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as “Celtic soul.”

Van Morrison has received six Grammy Awards, the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, he is knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

(Pictured: Van Morrison performing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 26, 2015 | Image: Getty)


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Birth of Enya, Singer & Songwriter

Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin, singer, songwriter, musician, and producer better known professionally as Enya, is born into a musical family in Dore, Gweedore, County Donegal on May 17, 1961.

Enya’s father, Leo Brennan, is the leader of the Slieve Foy Band, an Irish showband, and runs Leo’s Tavern in Meenaleck. Her mother, Máire Brennan (née Duggan), who has Spanish roots, is an amateur musician who plays in Leo’s band and teaches music at Gweedore Community School. Her maternal grandfather, Aodh, is the founder of the Gweedore Theatre company.

Enya begins her music career when she joins her family’s Celtic band Clannad in 1980 on keyboards and backing vocals. She leaves in 1982 with their manager and producer Nicky Ryan to pursue a solo career, with Ryan’s wife Roma Ryan as her lyricist. Enya develops her distinct sound over the following four years with multi-tracked vocals and keyboards with elements of new age, Celtic, classical, church, and folk music. She sings in ten languages.

Enya’s first projects as a solo artist include soundtrack work for The Frog Prince (1984) and the 1987 BBC documentary series The Celts, which is released as her debut album, Enya (1987). She signs with Warner Music UK which grants her considerable artistic freedom and minimal interference from the label. The commercial and critical success of Watermark (1988) propels her to worldwide fame, helped by its international top 10 hit single Orinoco Flow. This is followed by the multi-million selling albums Shepherd Moons (1991), The Memory of Trees (1995), and A Day Without Rain (2000). Sales of the latter and its lead single, Only Time, surge in the United States following its use in the media coverage of the September 11 attacks. Following Amarantine (2005) and And Winter Came… (2008), Enya takes an extended break from music. She returns in 2012 and releases Dark Sky Island (2015).

Enya is known for her private lifestyle and has yet to undergo a concert tour. She is Ireland’s biggest selling solo artist and second overall behind U2, with a discography that has sold 26.5 million certified albums in the United States and an estimated 80 million albums worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. A Day Without Rain (2000) remains the best selling new age album with an estimated 16 million copies sold worldwide.

Enya has won several awards throughout her career, including seven World Music Awards, four Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album, and an Ivor Novello Award. She is nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for May It Be, a song she writes for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).