MusicLife + Tributes (19)
A Super Heritage Jewel Nestled in the West at Gurteen, Co. Sligo…
Birthplace of World Famous Fiddle Player, Michael Coleman……
Driving leisurely westwards in Sligo countryside on a beautiful summers afternoon, we came upon a four roads crossroads in a small quiet village, that was dominated by the presence of a well appointed local heritage centre. I wondered why such a splendid building had sprung up, and what role the business of heritage had played, to warrant such an attraction.
It was an obligatory stop of my four wheels, and on a quick glance, I began to think, an investigation of what lay inside would need to be done. The location was real country, and my mind was asking, who might the famous person be from the area, that such a splendidly appointed heritage centre was established.
Michael Coleman’s life straddled two centuries. He was born on31st January 1891, just a short distance outside the village of Gurteen, Co.Sligo, and died in far off Manhattan, America, on 4th January 1945, at the relatively young age of fifty four. Michael was the youngest of a family of seven and his dad, James, was a well known flute player of farming stock, but the acreage was very small.
Michael Coleman was the survivor of twins, he had a legacy of ill health and was of light build and small in height and his native district of Killavil, was well known for its reputation of producing notable fiddle players and travelling musicians. In rural Ireland, travelling dance teachers were very prominent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and music sessions in peoples own homes were quite frequent.
A young Michael Coleman would have grown up surrounded by Irish music and dancing. He was reputed to be quick on his feet with his dancing shoes on, but aside from dancing, he became an accomplished violinist in his youth. Local organised concerts were also hugely popular events in times past, and Michael Coleman’s exquisite skills on the violin were much admired.
Names that popped up in my research include, Johnny Gorman, Phil O’Beirne and PJ McDermott, all noted fiddlers and Michael’s elder brother, Jim, was reputed to be influential in Michael’s development, as a musician of note.
The call of emigration came upon Michael Coleman in 1914, aged 23, and building with bricks and mortar, would not have been enticing for the Gurteen native. and instead he devoted a huge amount of time to perfecting his musical skills. It wasn’t too long before the recording companies of his day enticed him into their studios in the 1920’s/30’s decades.
A desire to explore far off America was fulfilled and he left England’s shores in search of greater opportunity and appreciation. The dance halls, bars and clubs of New York, often echoed to the strains of Michael Coleman’s fiddle playing.
He made several recordings in association with famous fiddlers, Patrick Dolan and Tom Gannon and flute players, Tom Morrisson and Michael Walsh. In later years Michael Coleman linked up with legendary fiddlers, Hugie Gillespie and James Morrison and made several recordings.
The gramophone was the juke box of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and many Irish homes were privileged to own this special musical piece of equipment, and the music of the now famous Sligo musician, found its way back to the Emerald Isle. His music was extensively popular and he had, like all like great solo musicians, developed a sound instantly recognisable as Michael Coleman.
The fiddler from Killavil, Gurteen, Co. Sligo, took fiddle playing, perfection and ability to new heights. He could transform an ordinary song, into a tune that everybody knew, could only be achieved by Michael Coleman, Famous Musical Son Of Ireland.
COLEMAN MUSIC CENTRE……
This popular centre at Gurteen, the scene of my discovery, is a community based, state of the art traditional music and cultural centre which draws together the many strands of south Sigo’s rich musical heritage.
The Heritage Centre is dedicated to the memory of the famous Gurteen fiddle player, Michael Coleman, a musician who had a profound influence on traditional Irish music around the globe.
The objective of the centre is the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music and culture, and just like our own Irish Heritage Online project, Famous Sons & Daughters of Ireland, we also are all about preservation and promotion of time past in Sport; Music; Heritage and History.
On my own personal visit to the Michael Coleman Music Centre in 2017, it was a revealing insight to an Irish Heritage Centre, that could only be described as a magic work of art.
The facilities at the centre are illuminating and a joy to behold, and maybe one fine summers day, I may get an opportunity to offer up our very own Irish Heritage night of Famous Sons & Daughters Of Ireland on our BigScreen with music of times past galore.
Editorial & Research by
Derry JF Doody
Irish Home of
All Ireland Hall of Fame Online Gallery
Famous Son Of Ireland: Singer Category:
Ireland's 'Messenger Boys'Commemorated
Worldwide In Song and Verse By Kerryman Christie
The Kingdom of Kerry and the town of Tralee was the native birthplace of an Irishman who emigrated to London to search for a livelihood in 1960.
His educational toolbox on leaving Tralee was extremely sparse simply because he left primary school before the advent of his 12th birthday and went out to work as a ‘Messenger Boy’ in his local town.
This was a popular choice of work in the 1950’s for young boys who opted out of school with little knowledge of their ABC’s.
Every town in Ireland had their fair quota of ‘Messenger Boys’ who delivered groceries in all weathers on messenger bicycles with a large basket positioned in front of the handlebars.
Christie probably didn’t realise at that time that he possessed a unique musical genius.
The music in Tralee of the 1950’s was primarily Irish ballads and he took his first musical steps at just six years old when a local man made Christie a dummy guitar out of a tea chest.
The road to stardom was about to begin and Christie, with his musical air, began strumming his new 'instrument' and producing his own sound to the amazement of his family and friends.
Living an impoverished life in Tralee and staring in to a life of long and great toil, he decided to seek his fortune and a new life in London when aged just fifteen.
That journey was complicated as Christie was unable to read or write due a severe dyslexia impairment. His dyslexia condition did not impair his ability to compose songs and lyrics and during his early years in London he began working on building sites as a labourer and later would become an accomplished painter and decorator.
It was this type of work that later in his life began to torment Christie and would result in his early death at just sixty two years old. Working on sites with much asbestos content was not seen as a major problem in the 20th century but in modern years scientific research proved that asbestos was a very dangerous building component.
As the years progressed for Christie in London he brought his musical talents to pubs all over England at week-ends and earned a token amount for his gigs. These were tough and insecure times for Christie and his young family but his trademark was his unique and melodious voice and his ability to compose music and songs whilst working at his trade or taking a stroll around his neighbourhood.
Famous songs of Christie include ‘Roll Back The Years’; Don’t Forget Your Shovel’ a song famously recorded by Christy Moore; ‘All The Lies That You Told Me’ a song that made Frances Black one of Ireland’s most renowned female singers; ‘ I Am A Star’ and many more famous compositions.
A song composed by Christie that took him back to his Tralee roots ‘Messenger Boy’ became his own national anthem and endeared him to legions of fans around the globe.
His first venture into a recording studio was in 1972 when he recorded his first album ‘The Green Album’ whilst still working at his day job. The new release made little impact and Christie would spend another twenty years toiling with his paint brushes to support his family.
In 1992 Christie was persuaded to go back to the recording studio and this time he did so with great confidence when some influential people in the music business recognised he had a really special talent.
‘The Rehearsel’ album was the catalyst that jettisoned the Tralee artist to national and international stardom and he claimed a triple platinum award for this release.
He followed up with two more albums, ‘A Year In The Life’ and ‘Box’ and both became huge hits.
His new found popularity and status made a huge impression on music lovers worldwide and the Tralee born singer, who was still unable to read or write, discovered that despite this impediment, he was appearing on major television shows and in major concert halls to huge acclaim.
At the pinnacle of his career the dormant cancer began to surface from asbestos inhalation and now Christie had a new and life threatening challenge. Despite his terminal illness the popular Irish singer continued with his work as an international singer and songwriter but alas in a London hospice on the 11th December 2007, Christie Hennessy succumbed to the cancer.
Gone was an Irishman who left a huge message for people with learning difficulties throughout the world.
Don’t allow your deficiency to hinder your mind and soul – keep right on to the end of the road and that is precisely what the Famous Son of Tralee did right through to his own end.
Christie is Ireland’s most famous ‘Messenger Boy’ and that long lost service work by Irish boys will never be forgotten in the annals of Irish history and Christie Hennessy’s song ensured the rightful remembrance of this noble service.
Christie Hennessy born 1945 - died 2007
A monument in Tralee to the famous Kerryman is a proud testament to the musical genius of Christie Hennessy.
By Derry JF Doody
Famous Son Of Ireland: Singer Category:
Stardom And Fame For Famous Musical Son Of Waterford
Easy Going On Stage; Easy Listening, Radio & TV Listeners & Viewers Just Loved Irishman, Val Doonican
There are nice Irish singers and great Irish singers and whilst we enjoy listening to both types, there’s always a special one who really stands out.
One of Ireland’s greatest ever singers was also a great entertainer and that special mix cannot be applied to all great singers.
Val Doonican, born in Waterford City on 3rd February 1927 is indeed a Famous Son Of Ireland and he was also a singer that every home in Ireland throughout the 1960’s;70’s; and 80’s could identify with. Val was the youngest of eight children born to John and Agnes (nee Kavanagh) and the Wateford family were musically inclined.
Young Val played in his school band from the age of six and in 1941, when he was just fourteen, his father died. This necessitated leaving school and acquiring a job. He secured work fabricating steel and making orange and grapefruit boxes and his weekly wage helped his mum to maintain the household.
It was in Wexford he began pioneering his music with his friend, Bruce Clarke, and they had their first professional engagement as a duo in 1947. Courtown Harbor, Co. Wexford, was an Irish seaside port and it was here in the summer that Val got the music bug and gigging into his daily worklife.
He progressed to feature on Irish radio, sometimes with Clarke, and appeared in Waterford's first-ever television broadcast. At that time he was playing the drums and singing in an English band on a tour around Ireland.
His Irish personality on his own BBC TV shows made listening and watching him a delightful pleasure but most importantly his English audiences also wanted more and more of Val Doonican.
Sitting in his rocking chair and singing many melodies of Irish songs was a brave act to perform for any artist on an English stage and not too many Irish singers could get away with such a diary of Irish songs.
Val died on 1st July 2015 at age eighty eight and as a crooner, composer and traditional pop singer, unlike many famous singers, Val Doonican knew his music intimately, but this wasn’t known to many. His warm and very relaxed style endeared him to all age spectrums.
Val’s popular successes, especially in the United Kingdom, where he had five successive Top 10 albums in the 1960s, as well as several U.K. hit Singles that included "If the Whole World Stopped Lovin”; “Walk Tall”; and “Elusive Butterfly" to mention just a few.
The Val Doonican Show, which featured his singing and incorporating a variety of special guests, had a long and successful run on BBC Television from 1965 to 1986 and Val won the Variety Club Of Great Britain BBC-TV Personality of the Year award three times.
Whilst many dates in Val’s life were very special, the year 1951 took him across the Irish sea and never again to come back home to his native Waterford to live out his life. He toured around England with the Four Ramblers initially and also appeared on BBC Radio Shows.
English based U.S.A. Air Force bases were places where many budding artists took their first musical steps and Val was a popular act with the American troops. When international artist, Anthony Newley, toured England, Val’s Four Ramblers were the support act and the boys also had a dancer, Lynette Rae, as part of their act.
Val and Lynette became an item and married in 1962. On the advice of Anthony Newley, who recognised his unique talent and voice, he quit the group to set up a solo career. Radio Shows took him to a much greater audience. He was later allocated his own Radio Show and also performed as a solo artist in concerts and cabaret.
A huge opportunity opened up when Val Parnell, an impresario, booked him to appear on BBC TV Show “Sunday Night At The London Palladium”.
The show had a multi million viewership and Val hit the jackpot big time as the producers offered him his own TV Show.
At their peak Val’s shows attracted audiences of over 19/20 million viewers. The shows featured his relaxed crooner style, sitting in a rocking chair, often sporting popular Irish style cardigans/jumpers.
The BBC were so overwhelmed with Val’s public appeal, they decided to publish a book “Val Doonican Tells The Adventures Of O’Rafferty”. This was 1969.
Val Doonican and Lynette Rae had two daughters, Sarah and Fiona. Life for the Waterford entertainer/singer reached a summit and he announced his retirement in 1990 but legendary international performers never retire and in 2009 Val was still on stage.
Leisure for Val as a keen golfer was an escape from the limelight and as a talented watercolour painter, this was another escape from his music. He was also known to cook up a nice dish to further endorse his all round talents.
In June 2011, the Mayoral office of Waterford decided to grant their Famous Son “The Freedom Of Waterford City” and this honour really signified that the Val Doonican legacy would live on forever in Waterford City.
Val Doonican died at a nursing home in Buckinghamshire on the evening of 1st July 2015, aged eighty eight. His death was unexpected, as he hadn’t been ill. He just passed away peacefully and quietly on English soil at a nursing home in Buckinghanshire.
Gone was an Irishman who loved his native soil so dearly. He sang about Ireland all around the globe and now our Irish Heritage website @ www.scorboardmemories.com welcomes the incorporation of Val Doonican into our All Ireland Hall Of Fame Gallery as a Famous Musical Son Of Ireland.
Happy reading to all our browsers around the world.
Derry JF Doody