Last Sunday President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina led the distinguished guests of St Patrick's Brass Band at the memorial concert for the band's late president and long serving member Tom Feeney. Mr Feeney, a native of Bohermore who passed away in December of last year, was deeply involved with the band and played a key role in the band's revival in the 1960s.
President Higgins, a long standing friend of Tom Feeney, unveiled a photo and commemorative plaque in St Patrick’s Bandroom on Frenchville Lane. Guests at the memorial included members of the Feeney family, Mayor of Galway Frank Fahy, and Senator Hildegarde Naughton.
Tom Feeney, a lifelong music lover, was born in Galway in 1927 and like many of his generation he emigrated to England after World War II. It was there he joined the Royal Air Force Band, playing the French horn and serving in both England and Germany. On his return to Galway in the sixties he joined St Patrick’s Brass Band, initially as trombone and euphonium player, and through his decades long association with the band Mr Feeney served proudly in many roles. He was an exacting bandmaster mentoring countless young musicians; a proud drum major who lead the band through numerous parades; and finally an inspiring honorary life president of the band. Whether it was as a playing member or raising money with his legendary “hops” or by participating in the 2013 Galway Film Centre documentary about the band, he was always an active and vital member of St Patrick’s Band.
President Higgins and his wife Sabina were welcomed to the band room by chairman Stan O’Grady and MC Peter Power. The President was invited to address the band and guests after a special rendition of 'Nella Fantasia' by Senator Hildegarde Naughton accompanied by St Patrick’s Brass Band.
President Higgins spoke warmly of his relationship with Tom Feeney, remembering fondly how, when he would visit Tom, that Tom would always first have to remove his headphones having been immersed in “some march or aria”. He told of Tom’s immense love of music and his pride in the band when they were on show and performing. President Higgins also mentioned how Tom was especially “proud of Michael Dooley, the band’s current bandmaster”. He went on to speak of the importance of music to society and of the band’s importance to the city in that context.
Continuing that idea, President Higgins spoke of the “space shared by both audience and musicians” when music is performed, and he remembered that “space” when the band played on his return to Galway after he was elected. He thanked the band for welcoming him and his wife once more and praised the night as a “most fitting of tributes” to a wonderful man.
Mayor Frank Fahy also addressed the band and gathered guests. He too spoke of the band’s importance to Galway and committed to the city’s continued support of the band, noting the recent grant awarded for instrument purchase. Mayor Fahy then presented bandmaster Michael Dooley with a euphonium specially engraved with Tom Feeney’s name.
Tom’s daughter Madeleine spoke movingly about her father and his relationship with the band, and said she was “absolutely sure he was here and would absolutely love it”. Former bandmaster Tommy Joyce spoke of the importance of Tom’s mentoring in his own musical development. He wove an enchanting narrative of his friendship with Tom Feeney and how it grew through the years. Remembering how Tom loved the the lines of the song 'Pack Up your Troubles', Mr Joyce closed his tale by leading the entire room in song.
“What's the use of worrying?
It never was worth while,
So pack up your troubles in your old kitbag,
And smile, smile, smile.”