Reflections at the turn of the Millennium

By Andrew Vincent McManus

As we begin a new millennium, I think of all the years gone by, and I find most of my happiest memories are connected with traditional Irish music. In Scotland during the 40’s and 50’s Irish music was not as popular with the general public as it is now. No pubs or clubs to play tunes or sing ballads and as a result house sessions were the thning in those days.

My father Owen McManus was born in 1893 in Drumquin, Co Tyrone as was my mother Susan Reilly. They met and married in Paisley, Scotland in 1924. My father was a fiddler, and many musicians visited our home.

My earliest recollection wa sof two brothers from Dromore - Jode and Dennis McGoldrick, both fiddlers, jolly men full of fun and yarns.

Other musicians who crossed the threshold of 121 Freguslie Park Avenue included a very young Jimmy McHugh of Castlederg, who later became known throuhout Ireland for his legendary reel playing. Fiddler Joe Leonard of Glasgow, Packy McCusker of Dromore and Packy Carr of Fanad - both button accordian players joined the likes of Pat and Mick Gallagher brothers from Ederney, and Pat McDonagh also from Ederney - all fiddlers. Another regular was my father’s old friend from Drumquin Mick McLaughlin who tried to teach my sister Maureen the old style step dancing.

As the the music flowed from our front room, my mother was kept busy in the kitchen, making tea and baking bread - a welcoming smell for the young Irish men and women in lodging in Scotland. About 1952 a weekly céilí was fromed in St Mirin’s Church Hall. Packy McCusker, Pat Gallagher, my father Owen McManus and occasional guest musicians played, they eventually became known as ‘The Four Provinces Céilí Band’. In time Jimmy McHugh, drummer Owen Kelly (Ederney), Packy Carr and pianist Rose Heggarty (Glasgow) joined the line up of the band. Frank Cam (Ederney) was the Fear a’ Tí, and others involved in what became the Four Provinces Club were Rory Compbell (Glasgow), Plunket Cairns (Monaghan) and my brother James. The band and club were popular with the Irish around Paisley and Glasgow. Jimmy McHugh became the band leader after a while and kept the name of the band going for a good number of years.

In 1954 a family from Bundoran came to live in Paisley. The Kelly family arrived without any of their instruments and were at a great loss without their music. Someone sent them to our home - Pat Kelly Senior (known as ‘The man from Bundoran’) and his sons. Eventually when their instruments arrived from Ireland, there was much discussion over the size of Pat Kelly Snr’s fiddle. It was much larger than any fiddle we’d seen, but how he could play it! He had won the very first All Ireland Fleadh in 1951 and had broadcast on Radió Eireann. Sadly though, after he died in Paisley in 1959 all trace of the instrument was lost.

Pat Kelly Jnr is an accomplished fiddler and can still be found playing away in Bundoran.

Around that time Ireland’s greatest piper Leo Rowsome visited Glasgow for a celebrity concert, and my brother Louis brought him back to our home, and what a session was had by all!

Most of my brothers and sisters met their partners through the traditional music scene. This is where the seed of our love for Irish music was planted and it has not gone to waste.

My brother Louis learned the fiddle in his late 20’s; though never a Michael Coleman, his influence encouraged his son Louis Jnr to become an exceptional fiddle, mandolin, banjo and bouzouki player. Louis’ family emigrated to Australia in 1962 when Louis Jnr was 6 years old. Now anyone around Melbourne connected with Irish music will know of young Louis McManus.

Another of my brothers, James RIP has a son Tony who is a self taught musician, and his guitar and mandolin playing has taken him touring all over the world.

My own daughter Mairéad is a competent flute and whistle player and has won many competitions, but has still to make her mark on the music scene.

These are the thoughts of a Scots born Irishman at the turn of the millennium. Strong in the knowledge that Irish music and song is far stronger in Scotland than it was in my father’s time. Much of it due to the aforementioned musicians, who kept the tradition alive in the lean years.

And as a result, the CCÉ holds a very strong position in the West of Scotland, may it grow from strength to strength.

Andrew Vincent McManus Irish Minstrels CCE Born 3rd July 1938, Paisley, Scotland