The remarkable life and music of one of Ireland’s greatest tenors, John Feeney from Swinford, is to be celebrated in a special lecture in Ballina Library on Tuesday, and in Castlebar County Library on Wednesday.
The story of John Feeney, who was widely known as Jack, is an incredible immigrant tale of a former construction labourer who swapped building sites in England for sell-out performances in Carnegie Hall, Manhattan.
Feeney had been working as a labourer in England for nine years when he set off, quite penniless but full of dreams to launch a singing career, for New York in 1928.
In America, and with the support of his wife, Mary Ruddy from Ballina, Feeney’s easy, rich tones, singing songs of joy, sadness, love, and of course, yearning for the homeland, resonated strongly with the Irish immigrant population in America, and made him a huge singing and radio star.
By the 1930s, Feeney, famous for Irish favourites such as Galway Bay and Moonlight in Mayo, was one of the leading names in the golden era of American radio.
After more than three decades of success in America, Feeney retired and returned to Ballina with his wife in 1964.
However, the tenor was not to enjoy a long retirement. Instead, just three years later, aged 64, he died from a major heart attack, in Mary’s arms on a roadside between Tubbercurry and Ballina.
Feeney’s fame faded considerably after his death.
Some years later, RTÉ radio producer Harry Bradshaw was enlisted by Feeney’s widow to revive and highlight her husband’s legacy.
Although initially hesitant to trawl through the five large chests of her husband’s tapes, records, and documents gifted by Mrs Feeney, Bradshaw eventually turned his attention to the matter and uncovered an incredible story, talent and star, who had been almost forgotten.
Bradshaw painstakingly compiled Feeney’s recordings into a new double CD When It’s Moonlight in Mayo, the release of which coincided with the centenary of the tenor’s birth.
Bradshaw will be in Mayo next week to speak about the colourful life and times of John Feeney and the legacy of the hugely talented tenor.
Admission to the lectures and wine reception, at 8pm on Tuesday in Ballina Library and Wednesday in Castlebar County Library, is €10.