Abbey Céilí Band Years 1947 – 1955
The Abbey Céilí Band developed from the tradition of the local Ballygowan Mummers of the mid 1940s. Mummers dances were held in Dolan’s Ballygowan, home of Pakie and Delia the most welcoming and friendly house. The players were John James Lyons playing flute; Paddy Conroy playing fiddle; Willie Conroy played flutes and whistles; Francis Conroy played the Kettle Drum.
The Band was invited to play at a house wedding in Gortanumera in 1948. By then we had found a Button Accordeon player named Jimmy Lyons from Killeen. We were invited to play our first ‘gig’ at a marquee in Portumna Fair Green, now the Church grounds. Our pay was £10 out of which we paid Sheehy’s £2 for amplification. The rest went to purchase a new accordion for Jimmy Lyons!
By 1948 Paddy Conroy went to work in Dublin. Jimmy Lyons went to England. These players were replaced by Bernie Conroy, a fiddle player, who had returned from the UK. Bernie married Maidie in 1951. Bernie brought structure and a business-like approach to the outfit. He recruited three other Conroy’s, Thomas, Teresa and Johnny from Woodford and also Aggie Heagney. The band went on to achieve success and fame all over the west of Ireland.
Abbey Céilí Band in the 1950s – Photograph taken in the Hangar Ballroom, Salthill. Photo courtesy: Lily Sullivan
Back Row: Francis Conroy, Ballygowan, Abbey – Drums. Front Row: Willie Joe Conroy, brother of Francis – Flute; John James Lyons, Coolfin – Flute; Teresa Conroy, Dooras, Woodford – Accordion; Bernie Conroy, Wellpark, Abbey, cousin of Willie Joe and Francis – Fiddle; John Conroy, Dooras, brother of Teresa – Fiddle; Thomas Conroy, Rockhill, Woodford – Accordion.
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In response to Tony Holmes’ query about Vincent Conroy, yes you are correct Tony. Vincent worked away from home for the Automobile Association and anytime he was home on holidays he ‘took over’ as lead singer in the band and M C for the night and he was very good!
Thanks for posting the photos & history, now that Internet is the link it’s lovely to share the recalls, roots, and current carry ons in this time of distance. Bernie & Maidie were my Father & Mother, & the others all relatives & friends, music always in my life altho the fiddle & trad music seemed to be of little advantage or interest in the “popular” world in former times….. I am so glad to have had the chances to honour those who handed it to me & I look forward to some other future times when we can play, sing, dance, broadcast & perform together with soul, heart & fun.. Mary Conroy
Lovely article. It is something that happened all over Ireland, the formation of such bands. We have a rich cultural tradition in music and this article brings that to life. Well done!
Great article Paddy on a little piece of family history. Would have loved to have seen the band in its heyday, although I remember Bernie, Willie Joe, Francis and John James playing from our visits home in the early 60s. Was Vincent Conroy not a member back in the 50s as the singer or did he just make occasional appearances
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