The Entertainers, Charlestown in Co. Mayo

One such Entertainer, never to be forgotten, was the late Michael "Mick" Mulligan, of Hagfield, Charlestown. Mick was born in Hagfield on the 12th of December 1924. He was one of three children born to Michael and Margaret, nee Corley. The other two children were Mary and John.

Since there was no TV to watch in those far off days, radio was the only means to hear what was going on in the outside World. In his teenage years, Mick would listen to the radio frequently, especially music sounds from around the world and America in particular.

He was very interested in the masters of Swing from America, and the likes of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller influenced him greatly. Some of the Jazz legends like, Buddy Rich, Mel Tormey, Gordon Jenkins and Billie Holiday were also on his agenda. Mick was a self taught saxophone player, and started with that instrument, completing his musical training with the trombone. He was also a music teacher and band director, and many young men around the Charlestown area were taught by him, and greatly influenced by his direction.

By the late 1940's he had his own six-piece orchestra, and one of his first engagements would have been in the Old Town Hall, now our local Library, in May 1949. A Carnival was organised in the Town, to help raise funds for the new Gaelic Park, in Lowpark. He would have shared billing with the likes of: Brose Walsh, The Crystal Dance Band, Boyle, Tony Chambers, Newport, and Johnny Cox and his band from Galway. Some of the following people would have been associated with him in the early years: they were Tommy Doohan, Sonny Blake, P Maloney, Son Devanney, Frank Connerton, Eddy Cahill, John Joe Mulligan, Tommy Durkan, Mickey Frain, Bill Cafferty and Mike Lenihan. Also, Ollie Durcan's Diamond Sound, with Jack Gallagher, PJ Kileen and Tom Callaghan. The late Michael Carr of Church St was his transport man and would have driven him and his band all over the country.

Mick's passion was music, and his Orchestra quickened the pulse of a generation, from the late 1940's to the late 1950's. His music helped people to shrug off the poverty and depression of those hard times. Other popular Orchestras at the time would be the likes of Mick Delahunty and Maurice Mulcahy. In the next paragraph I will deal with the Bands and Venues, and the people associated with entertainment in and around Charlestown. Interesting photographs will accompany this article.

In the 1950's, most of Ireland's entertainment was provided by the Orchestras, which were really just dance bands, with between ten and twelve musicians. In the West, bands like Brose Walsh and Jack Ruane would have been the order of the day. They played a mix of standard tunes and pop, their music was danceable, and if you could not dance, then God help you, you would not get the lady!

In came the Sixties and everything changed. Younger people wanted something different and exciting, and they got it. The Showband era had arrived and once again, as happened in the 1940's, American influences would play a part. Elvis was King, and Bill Hayley and his Comets would influence many singers here. The Showbands brought the modern pop music to our shores, and all the modern songs were sung in every Hall, all over the Country. Who were the first? ... well, the Clipper Carlton are credited with starting the rage, although the Dave Glover band were close behind. Their music was a mixture of Rock and Roll, Pop and Country. Singers like Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Johnny Ray, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin; and English singers like Cliff Richards, Billy Furey and Adam Faith, would influence our artists greatly.

Mick Mulligan would have to adapt quickly to the new sounds and that he did. As I mentioned earlier, he was a teacher and master of music. He encouraged many young men in and about Charlestown, and if they wanted to learn, he taught and organised the bands. Under his influence, along came some young men like: Mick Higgins, Malachy Tiernan, Sean Tiernan, Pete McDonnell, Joe Talbot, John Foley, Patsy O'Grady, Shay Cribben, Gerry Foley, Patsy Haugh, John Conway, Kevin Maloney, Brendan Walshe, Gerry Walshe, Kevin McDonnell, Patsy Foley, Vinnie Egan, Brendan O'Grady, and many others too numerous to mention. In the early sixties he formed bands like the Dixietones, the Fab Five and the Fiesta Showband.

The Fiesta Showband was formed in 1969, and had as it's members: Mick, as leader and Saxaphone player, PJ Foley, Vocalist and Guitarist, Michael Murphy, Drums and Trumpeter, Vincent Doherty, Bass Guitar and Vocalist, Pat Blake, Rhythm Guitar and Vocalist, and last but not least, Brendan Walsh on Guitar, Accordian and Vocalist. Their dress was red jackets, white polo shirts and white pants. They once played in the Central Ballroom, Charlestown, in front of over seven hundred people. They also shared top billing with Big Tom in Swinford Town Hall, on one famous night. Mick and his Bands would have played all over the West in venues like: The Central Ballroom, Charlestown, which was founded by the legendary Andrew Walsh (Snr), Derrynameel, Erris, Doohoma, Glenamoy, Blacksod, Bonniconlon, Easkey, Mulranny, Carracastle, Clonbur, Galway, Kerry, Swinford, Donegal Town, Glenties, Donegal, Town Hall, Balla, Pavillion Hall, Newport and St Bridget's Hall, Tubbercurry.

Later on in the early seventies, the Fiesta was re-named the Western Dixie Flyers and was managed by Eamonn Walsh. PJ Foley became the Tall Texan, and was in great demand all over the West. During the late Sixties many artists changed bands and one such band that achieved fame all over Ireland, was the Riviera Showband. In 1967 the following were it's members: Patsy Haugh, Gerry Foley, John Conway, Brendan O'Grady, Kevin Maloney and Shay Cribben. This band was managed by Seamus Cox. Kevin Maloney had a hit with Johnny McCawley's "The Latchyco", Shay Cribben with "Love and the Country" and Malachy Tiernan received several plays on Radio Eireann. Malachy, Gerry and Brendan would later on form the group 'Roots' and played the singing lounges and many Dinner Dances in the area. During this time Mick Mulligan was also the director in the West for the National Rosebud Competition, the forerunner of the Rose of Tralee.

Before I leave the venues, I would like to mention the Central Ballroom once again. As already mentioned, Andrew Walsh Snr established it in the 1940's. He had to compete with the Town Hall, and indeed with other venues in the area. That he did, with gusto, and if a Band failed to turn up, Andrew had the answer, his own family. The family members were: Nicko on Sax, Andrew Jnr, on Sax, Eamonn on Drums, Mickey (cousin) on Trumpet, Carmel, singer, and Eugene on violin.

During this very musical era in Charlestown, a group was formed in the town and was called The Four Shamrocks whose members were: Frank Connerton, John Mahon, Sean Honan and Seamie Fleming. Their hits included: Cool Water, Goldmine in the Sky, A Mother's Lullaby, Hannigan's Hooly and Galway Bay. They were very much in demand on Radio at that time. Frank Connerton sang with many bands, as the demand presented itself, once singing with Maurice Mulcahy in the Town Hall. Jimmy Joe Mulligan was also a well known flute player in that era and right up to the 1980's. The ladies also had their singers, like Ita Carr and Maureen McGowan.

In earlier times, one of the first Masters of music was Pat Brennan of Church St. He was father of Annie, Tom and Pete. He had a Pipe band in town, with Tom, Pete and Mike Doherty (father of Vincent), on big base Drum. Another was Mike Towey and his Star Band. John Irwin was also a well known traditional player and his son Peter was the Town Crier. Mr Giblin was a music teacher in those days and Delia Gannon, mother of Seamie Fleming, was also a beautiful singer. Frank Connerton remembers with fondness Pete Browne and his Band of renown and Dick Prendergast, Kilkelly.

In conclusion, I would like to say about Mick Mulligan, who went to his eternal reward in July 2002 - he had great singers, great songs, great arrangements and above all, he was a great leader. He left a wonderful legacy to his fans, to his friends and to his beloved wife Evelyn and children Fiona and Michael.

For more showband information check out the Irish Showbands Photo Archive website.

Many thanks to Evelyn for all her help.

©Cathal Henry 2008

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