Stephen Garvey (1902 - 1962) Bandleader

Stephen Garvey was born in Castlebar in 1902. He was the son of Charles (Chassie) Garvey and Mary Mc. Millan: they had 10 children. By the age of four Stephen was showing a remarkable interest in music. His teacher Dean Jackson was the church-organist and Stephen later on in life became the church-organist and choirmaster at the Church of the Holy Rosary in Castlebar.

Stephen led the first dance-orchestra on Radio Eireann and arising from this he set up “The Stephen Garvey Orchestra” in 1926. They quickly became an institution and played all over Ireland and the United Kingdom in venues ranging from The Emerald Ballroom in Lecanvey to the Mansion House in Dublin and Stephen was the dance-band leader of the time. He played the piano with his back to the audience and watched them through a mirror on his piano while his brother Jimmy played the base. The members of the band, which in the 1950’s included Val Doonican, often changed but the name always stayed the same under the leadership of Stephen Garvey.

He had a keen interest in light opera and staged his first one in 1926, “Mikado”. It was a tremendous success and six more opera's followed within four years. He was a great organizer and also staged pantomimes including “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Babes in the Wood”, all for charity.

Stephen went to America and retired in 1956 after 40 years in show business. He died in 1962 and was buried at Heuston, Texas in the United States. The Castlebar Urban Council unveiled a plaque to his memory in 1978 at the house he was born in at Castle Street. Castlebar was known as the “Cultural Envy of the 40's” and “The Singing Capital of the West” all because of this man and his talent.

The Stephen Garvey Memorial Committee was set up to fulfill his greatest wish, which was to be buried in Castlebar graveyard. Due to the efforts of this committee his final homecoming was organised on the 18th of August 1996 and his remains were finally laid to rest in County Mayo.

Article by Brian Hoban

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