In 1951 Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann was set up to promote traditional Irish music. The first Galway branch was formed about 1965 and initially they held a committee meeting every week. Then somebody suggested they have a session every week instead, and this they did, in Martin Forde’s Eagle Bar in William Street West. Mind you, the session could not start until Mrs Forde had finished watching The Fugitive on television. These sessions became hugely popular at a time when very few pubs in Galway allowed live traditional music.
As a result of these get-togethers, a group called Ceoltóiri Chonnacht was formed. These included Padraic O’Carra, Eamonn Rabbitte, Martin Rabbitte, Dick Byrne, Donal Standún, May Standún, Celine Hession, and Padraic Johnny Ó Coisdealbha, who was a singer from Spiddal. These musicians played regularly in The Eagle, in Jim Johnny’s in Spiddal, and in various other haunts. They entered Comhaltas Cabaret competitions at county, regional, and provincial level and won the national title in 1968. They also won the Oireachtas Award in 1968 and 1969.
In 1971, Dick Byrne realised that there was no decent summer entertainment in Galway for visitors if they did not want to go to the pub or the pictures. At that time the Taidhbhearc was ‘dark’ during the summer months, so Dick put the idea to the directors of an all-Irish cabaret that included Ceoltóirí Chonnacht, the Celine Hession dancers, and Taidhbhearc actors, and the formula worked. The show played to packed houses throughout that summer and for several years afterwards. According to their modest publicity, “Visitors from all over the world have voted Seoda the best night’s entertainment in Ireland.”
Anyone who lived in Galway that time will remember Dick Byrne driving around town with loudspeakers on the roof of his car saying “Seoda , Seoda , Seoda.... come along to Taidhbhearc na Gaillimhe, Ireland’s world famous Irish language theatre for an evening of traditional music, song, dance, and drama... ring Galway 62024 for your reservation.” We all knew this promo by heart by the time autumn came around, but it worked and put a lot of bums on seats.
Our photograph today shows some of the musicians who played in many of those shows. They are, back row: Lily O’Dea on harp; Dick Byrne on bodhrán and vocals. In the centre are Íde Ní Fhaoláin on fiddle and Patsy McDonagh on accordion, and in front are Martin Rabbitte, banjo; Eamonn Rabbitte on fiddle; and Padraic Ó Carra, who played whistle and mandolin-zither and was also the musical director.
The above information is gleaned from Tell ‘Em Who You Are, a life in the west of Ireland, a recently published autobiography written by Dick Byrne. It starts with affectionate tributes to his parents and his grandfather, takes us through his childhood growing up in Devon Park, the games he played as a youngster, going to the Bish and later the Jes, joining the FCA, playing music, working in the Taidhbhearc, being involved in making films... you would wonder how so much could happen to one person, but it is very informative and entertaining, evocative and nostalgic. If you know of any old Galwegians living abroad then this is the perfect Christmas gift to send them, and the old Galwegians living here should get a copy too. Highly recommended.
The Galway Branch of An Taisce will have their annual lunch and slideshow in The Ardilaun at 2pm. The meal will be followed by a slide show with commentary by Donal Taheny which means good food and guaranteed entertainment. Some tickets are still available at €25. Contact Helen Spellman at (091 ) 521872.