seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape

The Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape occurs on October 31, 1973 when three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escape from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which briefly lands in the prison’s exercise yard. The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government of the time, led by Fine Gael‘s Liam Cosgrave, which is criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil. A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána is launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, is not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones write a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which tops the Irish Singles Chart.

Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.

The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.

Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.

The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.

The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.

Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.

In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.


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Death of Larry Cunningham, Irish County Music Singer

Larry Cunningham, Irish country music singer, who is one of the leading figures of the Irish showband scene in the 1960s and 1970s, dies in Dublin on September 28, 2012, following a lengthy illness. He is regarded as a “trailblazer” and “legend” in the music industry.

Cunningham is born in Clooneen, Mullinalaghta, County Longford on February 13, 1938. He grows up in a farming family of seven children. After leaving school at the age of sixteen, 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, take over and entertain 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 boosts 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.

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 Dana Rosemary Scallon, Singer & Former European Parliament Member

Dana Rosemary Scallon, Irish singer, pantomime performer, and a former Member of the European Parliament known as Dana, is born on August 30, 1951 in Islington, London, England, where her Northern Irish family had relocated to find work. She wins the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest with “All Kinds of Everything,” a subsequent worldwide million-seller. She resides in Birmingham, Alabama, for much of the 1990s, hosting a Christian music and interview series on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

Scallon is born Rosemary Brown, the fifth of seven children of a King’s Cross railway station porter and trumpet player originally from Derry, Northern Ireland. When she is five, the family moves back to Derry where she grows up in the Creggan housing estate and Bogside. She attends St. Eugene’s Primary School and then enrolls at Thornhill College. A singing talent from childhood, she wins several local contests while also participating in local choirs and taking piano, violin and ballet lessons.

In the early 1960s Scallon forms a trio with two of her sisters, often performing at charity concerts organized by their father. When one sister leaves, the remaining duo lands a summer-long booking at the Palladium and a recording contract with Decca Records. Her other sister, however, leaves to join her new husband, a United States airman, in America. Stricken with stage fright, Scallon the solo singer manages to win a folk competition at the Embassy Ballroom with her eyes shut. The contest’s sponsor, teacher and music promoter Tony Johnston, helps her complete her equivalency degree and records a demo that convinces Decca Records to sign her on as a solo artist. She releases a single in 1967 that brings some attention from local TV and radio.

Performing under her school nickname “Dana,” Scallon becomes a fixture in Dublin‘s cabaret and folk clubs. She is crowned “Queen of Cabaret” and feted with a parade and a reception at Clontarf Castle on the Saturday before Easter 1968.

At the suggestion of Decca Record’s local agent, Phil Mitton, Scallon auditions for the Irish National Song Contest, a preliminary for the 1969 Eurovision competition. She reaches the finals in Dublin, but comes in second.

RTÉ Television chief Tom McGrath invites Scallon back to compete the following year. She accepts even though she is preparing to retire from active performing to pursue teaching. The song, “All Kinds of Everything” by Derry Lindsay and Jackie Smith, is picked for her by McGrath and propels her to victory. She goes on to represent Ireland in the 1970 Eurovision contest, held in Amsterdam. She performs perched on a stool on stage and defeats England’s Mary Hopkin and Spain‘s Julio Iglesias to secure Ireland’s victory.

Scallon is given a hero’s welcome upon her return to Ireland, especially in Northern Ireland. “All Kinds of Everything” shoots to #1 on the Irish Singles Chart, as well as the UK Singles Chart. It is also successful in Australia, Austria, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Yugoslavia, on its way to passing 1 million sales. She quickly records an album, with orchestral accompaniment. Her follow-up single, “I Will Follow You,” fails to make much of a splash. Given the choice of giving up, she decides to fight for her recording career, and succeeds with Paul Ryan‘s “Who Put the Lights Out,” which spends eleven weeks on the UK charts.

In 1974 Scallon switches to GTO Records. Her first single on that label, “Please Tell Him That I Said Hello,” returns her to the top 10. Her 1975 holiday single “It’s Gonna be a Cold Cold Christmas” by Roger Greenaway and Geoff Stephens, reaches #4 and remains a classic. Now an established Irish singing star she appears in films and festivals and sells out a week of concerts at the London Palladium. She also maintains her “Queen of the Cabaret” reputation with regular appearances in top London clubs. The BBC gives her two shows of her own: a series called A Day with Dana in 1974 and four-part series of Wake Up Sunday in 1979. BBC Radio follows suit with a series of I Believe in Music in 1977.

Meanwhile, Scallon begins performing stage pantomime in a blockbuster production of Cinderella in Oxford. In September 1976, however, she is hospitalized with a non-malignant growth on her left vocal cord, requiring surgery. The single “Fairytale” is sustained in the charts with the publicity from her dire medical prognosis. The experience strengthens her religious faith. On October 5, 1978 she marries Damien Scallon, a hotel-owner from Newry, at St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry.

In 1979, recovered from her surgery, Scallon records a new album entitled The Girl is Back, which has modest success. Pope John Paul II‘s visit to Ireland that year inspires her to write a song based on his personal motto, “Totus Tuus,” which tops the Irish charts. Long associated with Christian causes and Sunday-morning programs, she and her husband look for opportunities to reach a broader market for Christian music, and find one in the United States. They attend the National Religious Broadcasters conference in Washington, D.C. in 1980 and secure a contract with Word Records.

Scallon’s first album of Christian songs, Totally Yours, is released on Word Records in 1981. She continues to record pop music, including the 1982 album Magic and the official 1982 FIFA World Cup song for the Northern Ireland team, “Yer Man.” She also continues her stage career, starring in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Hull and later in London’s West End and Wolverhampton. She tours the United States in 1984, including appearances at Billy Graham‘s Boston crusades. She pens an autobiography in 1985. She performs “Totus Tuus” before a packed Superdome crowd during John Paul II’s visit to New Orleans in 1987.

Also in 1987, after one of her husband’s hotels is damaged for the seventh time by a terrorist bomb, he takes a job managing retreats for EWTN and moves the family to Alabama. They rent a house in the Cherokee Bend area of Mountain Brook and enroll their children at Saint Rose Academy. Scallon is welcomed to the network as well, hosting the Say Yes and We Are One Body programs. She leaves Word Records and signs with Heart Beat Records for her later Catholic albums. In 1993 she again performs for the Pope at a World Youth Day event in Denver, Colorado.

Scallon is naturalized as a dual citizen of the United States and Northern Ireland in 1997, and moves back there a year later because she has been drafted as an independent candidate for President of Ireland. She garners 15% of the popular vote, finishing third in the race won by Mary McAleese, ahead of the Labour Party candidate. Most of her votes come from rural districts where conservative values are more strongly held.

In 1999 Scallon wins a seat on the European Parliament, representing Connacht-Ulster on a family values and anti-abortion platform. During her five-year term she opposes the development of a European constitution. She also speaks out against a 2001 proposal to amend the Irish constitution to legalize the “morning-after pill” and intrauterine contraceptive devices. With the support of the mainstream parties, the amendment is put to a popular referendum, which fails in 2002. That same year she is defeated in a campaign to represent Galway West in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament. In 2004 she fails to hold her seat in the European Parliament and also does not secure a nomination for President.

Leaving politics behind, Scallon joins a weight-loss challenge on RTÉ’s The Afternoon Show in 2005. In 2006 she competes with Ronan McCormack on Celebrity Jigs ‘n’ Reels, finishing second on the popular dance contest.

That same year, Scallon and her husband launch their own music label, DS Music Productions, and release a compilation of songs deidcated to John Paul II’s memory. That is followed by Good Morning Jesus: Prayers and Songs for Children of All Ages, which is featured in a special series on EWTN. Heart Beat Records files a lawsuit against DS Music Productions for alleged copyright violations.

In 2007 Scallon appears as a guest judge for Young Star Search, a Belfast CityBeat radio contest. In 2009 she is brought on as a judge for The All Ireland Talent Show. That same year she returns to EWTN as host of Dana and Friends.


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Bridie Gallagher’s “The Boys From The County Armagh” Tops the Irish Charts

Bridget “Bridie” Gallagher, Irish singer affectionately known as “The Girl from Donegal,” reaches No. 1 in the Irish Singles Chart with “The Boys From The County Armagh” on July 2, 1957. She is widely regarded as “Ireland’s first international pop star.”

Gallagher is born on September 7, 1924 in Creeslough, County Donegal. She starts her singing in the Creeslough Hall with a local Céilí band started by Bill Gallagher. The Creeslough Hall is owned by Jim McCaffrey and Bridie makes many more visits to the Creeslough Hall in her home town throughout her long and successful career. Her talent is soon spotted in the 1950s by Billy Livingstone who is a talent scout for Decca Records. She goes to Belfast, which becomes her base, where she marries Robert (Bob) Livingstone (no relation to Billy Livingstone) and has two boys, Jim and Peter. Peter dies in a motor accident in 1976 and Jim later goes on to tour with her.

Gallagher shoots to fame in 1956 with her recording of “A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing” and achieves international acclaim with her legendary rendition of “The Boys From County Armagh.” During her career, which spans over six decades, she appears in many leading venues across the globe. She also makes songs such as “The Homes of Donegal” famous.

Gallagher holds the record for the largest number of people in attendance in the Royal Albert Hall in London, with over 7,500 people, a record that is never equaled as it goes on to become an all-seater venue. She becomes world-famous and travels all over the world, United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and is known as “The Girl from Donegal.” She plays in many of the world’s best known theatres, including London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall in New York City. She sings mainly ballads or as they later became known as Country and Irish. One of her best known songs is “The Boys From The County Armagh,” which sells over 250,000 copies, the biggest-selling Irish single at that time.

Bridie also records “Cottage by the Lee,” written by Irish songwriter, Dick Farrelly. Farrelly achieved worldwide fame with his classic song “The Isle of Innisfree“, which is originally a worldwide hit for Bing Crosby and is chosen by movie director John Ford as the main theme music for his film The Quiet Man.

Gallagher lives in Belfast for most of her life. She is honoured by the people of Creeslough on July 10, 2000 with an event to celebrate her career. Members of her family from Creeslough and Donegal attend the event along with her two sisters and their families who travel from Glasgow to be there along with an estimated crowd of 2,500 fans. A plaque paying tribute to her is unveiled. The following day she is honoured by Donegal County Council when they hold a Civic Reception for her. “Bridie blazed the trail for many artists who followed after her and I’m sure that many of them looked upon her as a role model as they started their careers in the music world,” council chairman Charlie Bennett says at the ceremony.

Gallagher dies at her home in Belfast on January 9, 2012 at the age of 87. Her burial takes place in her native Creeslough.


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Thin Lizzy Reaches No. 1 with “Whiskey In The Jar”

Irish rock band Thin Lizzy reaches No. 1 on the Irish Singles Chart with its rendition of “Whiskey In The Jar” on December 19, 1972.

“Whiskey in the Jar” is the tale of a highwayman or footpad who, after robbing a military or government official, is betrayed by a woman; whether she is his wife or sweetheart is not made clear. Various versions of the song take place in County Kerry, Kilmoganny, Cork, Sligo and other locales throughout Ireland. It is also sometimes placed in the American South, in various places among the Ozarks or Appalachians, possibly due to Irish settlement in these places. Names in the song change, and the official can be a Captain or a Colonel, called Farrell or Pepper among other names. The protagonist’s wife or lover is sometimes called Molly, Jenny, Emzy, or Ginny among various other names. The details of the betrayal are also different, being either betraying him to the person he robbed and replacing his ammunition with sand or water, or not, resulting in his killing the person.

The song first gains wide exposure when Irish folk band The Dubliners perform it internationally as a signature song, and record it on three albums in the 1960s. In the United States, the song is popularized by The Highwaymen, who record it on their 1962 album Encore. The song has also been recorded by singers and folk groups such as Roger Whittaker, The Irish Rovers, Seven Nations, Off Kilter, King Creosote, Brobdingnagian Bards, Charlie Zahm, and Christy Moore.

Thin Lizzy’s 1972 single (bonus track on Vagabonds of the Western World [1991 edition]) stays at the top of the Irish charts for 17 weeks, and the British release stays in the top 30 for 12 weeks, peaking at No. 6, in 1973. This version has since been covered by U2, Pulp (first released on a 1996 various artist compilation album Childline and later on deluxe edition of Different Class in 2006), Smokie, Metallica (Garage Inc. in 1998, which wins a Grammy Award), Belle and Sebastian (The Blues Are Still Blue EP in 2006), Gary Moore (2006), Nicky Moore (Top Musicians Play Thin Lizzy in 2008), Simple Minds (Searching for the Lost Boys in 2009), Blaggards (Live in Texas in 2010) and Israeli musician Izhar Ashdot. The song is also on the Grateful Dead live compilation So Many Roads (1965-1995) disc five.


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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.


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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-cunningham

Larry 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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“Riverdance” Performed for the First Time

riverdance-1994Riverdance, a theatrical show consisting of traditional Irish music and dance and featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley and a score composed by Limerick native Bill Whelan, is performed for the first time on April 30, 1994, as an interval performance act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin.

Riverdance is rooted in a three-part suite of baroque-influenced traditional music called Timedance composed, recorded, and performed for the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, which is hosted by Ireland. At the time, Bill Whelan and Dónal Lunny compose the music, augmenting the Irish folk band Planxty with a rock rhythm section of electric bass and drums and a four-piece horn section. The piece is performed, with accompanying ballet dancers, during the interval of the contest, and later released as a Planxty single. Whelan has previously produced EastWind, an album by Planxty member Andy Irvine with Davy Spillane whose cross between Irish and Southeastern European folk music proves an influence on Riverdance. Thirteen years later, Bill Whelan is invited to do the intermission piece for another Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, and composes Riverdance. In the book The Humours of Planxty by Leagues O’Toole, Whelan says, “It was no mistake of mine to call it Riverdance because it connected absolutely to Timedance.”

The 1994 performance earns a standing ovation from the packed theatre of 3,000 people. As a result of this success, Riverdance is invited to perform at the prestigious Royal Variety Performance at Dominion Theatre, London, in the presence of Prince Charles on November 28, 1994.

At Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest and Eurovision Song Contest’s Greatest Hits events, the seven-minute performance is named as one of the most popular interval acts in the history of the contest.

An audio recording of Riverdance enters the Irish Singles Chart at number one on May 5, 1994, and remains there throughout the summer, eventually totalling a record eighteen weeks at #1. In response to the Rwandan genocide of May/June 1994, a video of the Eurovision interval performance is released by the Irish broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann under the title Riverdance for Rwanda with all proceeds going to the Rwanda Appeal Disasters Joint Appeal Committee.

The success of the Eurovision performance leads husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty to consider how to develop the piece. They decide to produce and direct a stage show, expanding the Eurovision piece and Bill Whelan’s composition. In November 1994, tickets are sold in Dublin for the first full-length performance of Riverdance, which opens at the Point Theatre on February 9, 1995. The show runs for five weeks and is a sell out with over 120,000 tickets sold. It stars the original lead dancers from the Eurovision performance as well as many from the dance troupe featured in the Eurovision performance.

Riverdance continues to be performed all over the world, in a diminished format and in smaller venues. Current productions are geared towards smaller theatres, whereas past productions have been performed in large theatres and arenas. Sets have been simplified and some numbers contain fewer performers than in past productions.