Music in Castlebar in Co. Mayo

Castlebar has always been to the fore in choral, musicals, church choirs, dance bands and marching bands. It is indeed a tradition of which the town is very proud.

When one mentions Castlebar and music some leading names come to mind. Among the most notable are Stephen Garvey and Margaret Bourke Sheridan.

Musicals and Opera

The tradition of musicals and opera goes back to right back to the early 1920’s and before. Stephen Garvey was the producer of many fine musicals and operas around this time. The principals in his first operatic production in 1925 were Eddie Cannon, Phil Hoban, T.J, Armstrong, Willie Downes, Tommie Gavin, Ray Jackson, Irene Gillespie, Goretta Hayden and Angela Corcoran.

Margaret Bourke Sheridan who was born in Castlebar was renowned worldwide as a Soprano.

The talent of Stephen Garvey was recognised by Archdeacon Fallon who appointed Stephen as church organist in 1925 a position he proudly held for over 25 years.

Some of the operas produced included the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, including The Gondoliers and The Mikado. The works of Schubert including Lilac Time were also produced. Others included The Belle of New York and The Country Girl.

The tradition started in the 1920’s was the start of a long tradition of musicals, operas, pantomime and choral groups which was to become part of the everyday life of the town and continues up to the present day. Stephens’s brother Jimmy Garvey also produced many musicals and pantomimes. Some of these included A Country Girl (1944), Cinderella (1951), Robinson Crusoe (1952), Enchanted Danny (1953), Aladdin (1954), Mother Goose (1955), Jack and The Beanstalk (1959) and Babes in the Wood(1964).

After a lapse of a number of years The pantomime group was reformed with Sean Lyons and Marina Rice among its producers. The pantomime group is still with us and has gone from strength to strength and has entertained generations of Castlebar people young and old over the years.

Marching Bands

Again the tradition of marching bands in Castlebar goes back a long time. In the early 1920’s. The Society of National Foresters and Friendly Societies had a very successful marching band. They had their H.Q. at the Forrester’s Hall in Market Square. (Situated where Fionas ladies fashion shop stands today).

Castlebar Town Band was also formed in the 1920s and had as its leader J.P.Mullins. This was followed by the Castlebar Temperance Band whose leader was James Horkan. Following World War 2 a Pipe Band was formed in the town and remained in existence throughout the forties and early fifties.

In the sixties school bands were then an important part of town life in Castlebar. In the boys school was a flagolette band under the directorship of Rev Brother Julius. A Fife and Drum band was formed under the leadership of Brother Agustus. Stephen Dunford , who was a Garda Seargeant instructed the boys in the skills of marching. St. Angela’s Girls School Band was formed under the dedicated guidance of Sr. Assumpta Corkell. This band is still with us today and is the pride and joy of the town on St. Patrick’s day and other occasions of celebration in the town.

St. Joseph’s Silver Band was formed in the late sixties. It had among its leaders Leonard Sheridan. This band was the precursor to the present Castlebar Town Band and still has some of its original members as a core of the present band.

Dance Bands

When Stephen Garvey started up his band – The Stephen Garvey Strict Tempo Orchestra, it was the start of an era of famous showbands. He was the first in Ireland to import the famous Hammond Organ, in 1936. When one mentions The Stephen Garvey Band names such as Joe Chambers, Seamie Gavin, Jimmy Feeney and Brendan Ward come to mind, as these were household names at the time.

There were as many as 10 to 14 part time bands operating around Castlebar in the fifties and early Sixties. The most notable being Brose Walshe and The Arcadia Orchestra and Tony Chambers of Ballroom of Romance fame. Kevin Bourke, Dick Gillespie, and Sean Bourke are other names that were to the fore in the entertainment world of Castlebar during this era.

Choral Society Castlebar also has a long tradition of choral music. The church choir has always been an integral part of Castlebar life. Many of our most noted singers started out their singing careers as members of the church choir. In the sixties after The Second Vatican Council community singing was introduced in Castlebar’s Catholic Church and Castlebar Folk Group started up shortly after this time. Recently a Gospel Choir has been started in the town. The Church Funeral Choir provide a most valuable service to the parishioners.

Castlebar Choral Society was founded in 1974 with Owen Connolly, as it’s Musical Director. This beautiful choral group has staged a spring concert every year since and is to be congratulated for their continued dedication. As members of the A.I.M.S. (Association of Irish Musical Societies), the Choral Society has represented Castlebar at national level and has brought many awards back to their native town. Several members of the choral society are also members of the distinguished Mayo County Choir.

Irish Dancing and Traditional Music One cannot mention music without mentioning the great tradition of Irish dancing and traditional music in the area.

Castlebar Pearse Ceilidh band brought back the coveted Sligo Cup from Feis Ceoil Sligigh in 1934. It had among its members Angela Corcoran, Mag Byrne, M. Egan, M.J. Mc Namara and J.J. Collins.

The Redmond and Deere Schools of Irish Dancing have taught dancing to several generations of Castlebar children over the years. In recent years the Cresham School of Irish Dancing has been formed. This proud tradition is going from strength to strength.

Castlebar has an active branch of Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann. Set dancing classes are organised by this group weekly in the Welcome Inn. Set dancing classes are also organised by a private teacher in the Traveller’s Friend Hotel weekly. There is an excellent set dancing group in Breaffy called the Barney Set Dancing group and they have won several trophies in competitions over the years.

Castlebar Branch of Conradh na Gaeilge – Craobh an Phiarsaigh- have been involved in the promotion of Irish music and the language over the years. They organise Ceilis and Irish Nights on a regular basis and especially during the summer months.

Castlebar Mitchells G.A.A. club are involved in the organisation of Scór and participate in Scór at local and national level.

Traditional music is provided in several pubs in the town throughout the year. Some names that come to mind are The Kilkenny family from Castlebar, the Mayock family from Ross, The Smith Family from Straide and John Hoban from Castlebar.

In 1972 when The Castlebar Song Contest was at its zenith, a group of schoolchildren called La Salle won the top prize. They went on to tour the USA. Some of the members of this group went on to form a traditional group called General Humbert. It was with General Humbert that Mary Black started her professional career. Shay Kavanagh who was a member of this group is now with the Dublin City Ramblers.

Brendan O Regan who also played around this time in Castlebar went on to join De Dannan and has performed the score music for several films.

Article by Brian Hoban