From crossroads dances to the internet

Gerry Cahill was born in Caherlistrane and started playing music from the age of eight..... first the melodeon, then the double row accordion, and later the piano accordion. He was a great admirer of musicians like Will Starr and Jimmy Shand. He soon developed a distinctive style of his own and he was very much in demand at house dances and roadside dances, which were very common at the time.

After the war dance halls were being built, and Gerry played at a number of those venues locally in places like Shrule, Kilmaine, Headford, and Caherlistrane. In the early fifties he moved to Galway to work, and also to continue his musical career. He played on Radio Éireann for the first time around then on a very popular programme called Beginners Please.

In 1954 he got together with a group of talented musicians and formed a band which was known as The Gerry Cahill Dance Band. By now, ballrooms had become plentiful and marquees were also proving to be very popular and this group enjoyed a lot of success. As they all had day jobs they were a part time outfit and so their travelling was limited to the west of Ireland circuit.

Our photograph was taken in the Hangar Ballroom about 50 years ago in front of the painted backdrop on the stage. The musicians are, from the left: Ted Moore from Kerry on trumpet; Leo Beirne from Castlerea on clarinet and saxophone; Paddy Walsh, Munster Avenue, on saxophone; Eamonn Ryan from Mervue on drums; Denny Greaney, Shrule, on double bass and vocals; Gerry Cahill on piano accordion; and Peadar O’Reilly from Eyre Street on piano. Peadar used to take charge of the Saint Vincent De Paul carol singers at Christmas. Other Galway musicians who played with the band were Michael Harlow, Aidan Walsh, Peter Coyne, and Stephen Conneely.

As you can see, they were all reading music. They played the popular dance music of the time including Irish, but then Bill Haley and rock and roll came along so they had to drastically change their act and their presentation. They got rid of the music stands, played standing up, and literally began to move with the times. It was the beginning of the showband era and a new image was required.

After he gave up the dance band Gerry turned to cabaret for a time, and then at the request of Walton’s he recorded a solo LP for the Glenside label. It was regularly played on their sponsored radio programme which was presented by Leo Maguire. A re-mastered version of this LP entitled Accordion Time with Gerry Cahill, a selection of Irish dances is now being released on CD and will shortly be available through the usual musical outlets. It contains many old favourites and makes for very pleasant listening.

And while we are on the subject of musical entertainment, the Old Galway Society will host a lecture tonight in the Mercy School, Newtownsmith, at 8.30pm. It will be given by Jimmy Higgins who has written a remarkable book called Are Ye the Band? This is the title of his talk and it will evoke many memories of the showband era, what it was like to play in a band, how far they had to travel, etc, and as usual with Jimmy, there will be some hilarious stories as well. If you ever danced to a showband you will want to hear this. All are welcome.

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