MEMORIES OF A SNOW-BOUND SHOW-BAND AND OTHER WINTER’S TALES

by ehistoryadmin on April 15, 2016

 

Memories of a snow-bound show-band and other winter’s tales

Liam Kenny

The children of at least one north Kildare school were determined not to let the war-time gloom of Christmas 1914 overshadow their festive entertainment. That much is clear from a report in the Kildare Observer newspaper which told of how the pupils of Timahoe National School “were the recipients of the treat given them each year by Mrs Wilson of Coolcarrigan.” The report tells of how the lady from the big house was herself absent but she was represented by her daughter, Lady Wright, and by Miss Doris Wright. Rev W. Rice, C.C., of Clane was also present, together with a number of local ladies who attended on invitation. Tea was partaken of and the children contributed to the entertainment by recitations and other performances. Their ability reflected much credit on their teachers – Miss E. Crowley and Miss B. Kelly. At the conclusion Father Rice, in returning thanks to Lady Wright on behalf of the pupils, paid a tribute not only to the kindness shown by Mrs Wilson and her late husband to the pupils of the school, but also to the charity they had always extended to the poor of the district.

Such a feel-good recollection of the Christmas party in Timahoe school in 1914 is as good a starting point as any to review the latest publication from the enterprising St Mochua (Timahoe) History Society which embraces the area of Kildare bounded to the south by the Prosperous to Allen road and to the north by the Johnstownbridge road to Carbury. In recent years the Timahoe historians have been sharing their researches with the wider community by publishing a rewarding journal entitled “The Bridge” – named after one of the many canal bridges which are such landmarks of north-west Kildare.

The 2015 edition of the journal was launched in Ger Kelly’s premises in Timahoe the other week and a glance through its contents shows that it will make a great read, not alone for those in the immediate catchment towns-lands of Ballynafagh, Cooleragh, Coill Dubh, Donadea and Staplestown but also for the many historians throughout the county who devour everything published in Kildare.

The journal features articles on such headline Kildare names as the patriots John Devoy and Theobold Wolfe Tone and the priests Fr Mogue Kearns who was hanged in 1798 and the Ven. John Sullivan, S.J., who in the 1930s forayed from Clongowes college to bring care and compassion to the infirm of the district. Its content is anchored by two contributions of substance: one a history of Allenwood written with characteristic professionalism by Seamus Cullen, and the other a master class interview by Aileen Saunders with local man Tommy Byrne who had stories to tell of adventure and excitement over eighty years.

Remote as the Bog of Allen was from the clamouring war that pulverised the earth of France from autumn 1914, the grim conflict brought its own share of sombre news to many households in north-west Kildare. The shadow cast by war is described by contributor Liam Egan who documents the names of 31 men who perished and who had grown up in the quiet towns-lands bordering the Bog of Allen. Distinctive names from the Kildare peat-lands such as Colgan, Ennis, Freeman, Brilly, Tuite and Halligan are conspicuous among the long roll of casualties.

Fortunately there is abundant evidence of happier times in Timahoe as exemplified by an article written by Margaret Brereton of the family show band “The Dandies” which entertained revellers in Dag Welds and Pat Dowling’s in the early days of a stellar showbiz career. The concept for the Brereton family band had grown out of a successful appearance at a hop in Staplestown Hall in October 1966 with music from Vincent and Chris Brereton with Richie Hayden. Later the line-up included Christy Brereton (Snr.) on fiddle and saxophone, Chris (Jnr.) on accordion, Vincent on bass guitar and sisters Helen and Margaret on vocals. Through the Seventies the band surfed the show band craze playing at such magnetic venues as Brady’s in Timahoe, The Copper Beech in Edenderry, the Hamlet in Johnstownbridge and, possibly the most exotic of all, the Rising Sun in Brownstown. Weddings were a staple for the Brereton-led band and it was on a winter’s night journey to a wedding booking in Navan in 1979 that their “show must go on” determination came to the fore. Margaret Brereton recalls setting off from Blackwood in deepest mid-Kildare with heavy snow tumbling. They were hardly two miles gone when the band’s VW mini-bus (bought from Paddy Woods in Clane, of course) got embedded in a snowdrift at Downing’s cross. It was to prove a long and wintry itinerary to royal Meath but the Brereton’s got through and another wedding party bopped away to their distinctive sound.

Not that dealing with adverse weather is anything new to the hardy folk who inhabit the peat-land plains between Coill Dubh and Carbury. Veteran historian Patience Pollard records her childhood memory of the great blizzard of 1933. She writes of the sense of alarm when her uncle Joe set off from their home at Derrinturn on his bicycle to fodder his cattle which were in pasture near Drummond. The snow fell with ferocity as the winter evening closed in and by nightfall there was no sign of her uncle returning. Early the next morning her father and a neighbour, Ned O’Brien, went in search and yoked up a big plough horse which hauled them across the snow encountering drifts higher than the roadside hedges. There was no trace of the Uncle Joe along the route and their anxiety mounting, they decided to stop at Pender’s house at Dreenane cross to thaw out. Imagine their reaction when they walked in and there was the bold Uncle Joe toasting himself at Pender’s fire where he had been snug out of the storm since the previous evening.

And many years before snow had also draped its soft blanket on the gentle hills of north Kildare. The Kildare Observer reported that at Christmas 1914 “snow fell in the North Kildare district to a depth of three or four inches. Apparently the fall was only of a local nature, as the district adjoining Co. Kildare and Meath were merely visited by shower, while nearer the metropolis it is stated that there was no snow in evidence.”

For a great seasonal read, a copy of “The Bridge” from Timahoe will while away many a snowy night.

Leinster Leader 16 December 2014 Looking Back Series no: 412

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