piano was the only musical instrument taught by a qualified
music teacher to Shercock children in the early 1940s. Miss
OConnor, a highly regarded piano teacher in Bailieboro
cycled to Shercock, every Saturday on her yellow and blue
racing bike to give lessons to my sister and four school
pals in the parlour of our house. My father often refereed
to Miss OConnor as Miss Serious a title
which jocosely belied her blithe and cheery personality,
writes Brendan Murray.
Often as I passed our parlour window when piano lessons
were in progress I would hear her sing out in a strained
high pitched voice fa, fa, fa, or do,
do, do, as she desperately tried to help a pupil identify
a correct piano note. On an odd occasion she expressed her
exasperations by loudly screeching no no, not lower,
... higher, higher higher, higher. In my humble opinion,
her unmusical vocal endeavours couldnt help her pupils;
it was obvious to me and anybody else within hearing range
that her singing voice would be classified under the category
of Crow and she should never sing in public
and should immediately hide her voice under a bushel.
On that hypothesis, it was automatically assumed that she
would never contemplate giving singing lessons. I hated
the sound of the piano in those days, because not alone
had I, a hardy seven years old, to endure these unmelodious
and discordant sounds every Saturday but on other days of
the week as well when my sister and her pals practiced long
and hard in their determined efforts to become proficient
musicians. At times, the racket was intermittently increased
by the accompanying howls of our neighbours dog registering
One Saturday evening, when her final pupil of the day had
gone, Miss Serious played a tune on our piano,
presumably to get rid of her frustrations or perhaps just
to ascertain if the piano was suffering any ill effects
from her pupils enthusiastic thumping. My parents were quietly
chatting over a cup of tea in the kitchen at the time when
suddenly the sounds of a marvellous melodic tune wafted
up from the parlous; they stopped and listened and then
sat back in the company of glorious piano music played by
a skilled and undeniable virtuoso. When the music ceased
they remained silent for a while, afraid to disturb the
peace and tranquillity that for a whole ten minutes had
unexpectedly descended upon our household; after a few moments
my father broke the silence quietly exclaiming ... Jesus!
Shes good; I didnt know Miss Serious
could play like that.
Miss OConnor is an excellent player, said
Yes, he replied, she sure can play the
piano; she can make it talk; I never heard better; shes
got music in the tips of her fingers. What was the
name of that tune?
The flight of swallows.
The flight of swallows, he repeated and added,
it was grand, then relaxing into jocose mood
he said she sure can play the piano but please dont
ask her to sing, unless on some occasion youd like
an unwanted guest to take flight and rapidly at that.
Well now, Ive got news for you, replied
my mother. She told me this morning that her star
Bailieboro pupil, a young fellow called Slevin, will sing
at the variety concert that Fr. Maguire is organising.
Her star pupil, a singer, exclaimed my father
in disbelief, Do you mean shes teaching someone
to sing? That cant be right; you misunderstood her.
You heard me right; I was surprised myself,
replied mother adding, I didnt know she taught
singing as well as the piano; the thought never entered
Well, I can well understand that, replied my
father, anyway, I dont believe it. How in Gods
name could she teach someone to sing when she cant
sing a note herself? That would be similar to a man who
never kicked nor laced a football training the football
team. He silently pondered the conundrum for a few
moments and then to my delight announced, well
all have to go to this concert and hear this star pupil
sing; to say the least, it might be a very interesting concert
The concert was held on a Sunday night in one of Mr. Pete
Burns spacious potato warehouses; the premises was
well prepared for the occasion and justified the aggrandised
title of Burns Hall, Shercock on the posters
advertising the event. The large temporary stage was made
from scaffolding planks placed on wooden porter barrels
hidden from view by dark drapes. The noises of final preparations
from behind the borrowed plush wine stage curtains gave
an air of expectancy to members of the audience as they
entered and made their way to seats, all of which had been
borrowed from the chapel and other sources during the day.
Miss OConnor could be seen seated at our piano (borrowed
for the event) in front towards the left of stage; she was
busily arranging music sheets. Friends and neighbours warmly
greeted each other as they took their seats. Soon all seats
were occupied and there was standing room only for late
arrivals. A hush settled on the loquacious audience when
eventually a bell sounded to indicate that proceedings were
about to commence.
Anticipation increased as the stage curtains were slowly
drawn back to reveal a beautiful landscape background scene.
A microphone on stand stood in front centre of the stage.
Fr. Maguire came quickly from the wings and addressed the
audience; he welcomes each and everybody to what would
be a great nights entertainment, provided by
very talented people drawn from the four corners of the
parish, including pupils from the national schools of Shercock,
Duish and Bailieboro, all of whom had never performed in
public before. Without further ado, he introduced the opening
Three young Bailieboro men, dressed in Scottish kilts and
Tam OShanters danced in exaggerated highland style
from the wings to centre stage singing the Harry Launder
song commencing with the words:
If you see three Bonnie Ladd íes
Travelling through the rye,
Youll know its MacDoodle, MacNab and McCoy.
Mac. Doodle is the big fellow, the strongest of us all,
Mac. Nab in the middle is about 6ft tall
And the little fellow beside him is McCoy.
Their performance was all the more enjoyable as each young
mans size and weight was as described in the song.
When they concluded they danced off stage, again in exaggerated
highland dance style. There was rousing applause for this
opening number; cheers and handclapping greeted the performers
when they returned on stage to perform an encore.
Next to perform was a young Bailieboro man. He stood behind
a regal type chair on which he placed both hands as he sang
the old patriotic song - The Three Flowers commencing
with the verse -
One time when walking down a lane
As night was drawing nigh,
I met a colleen with three flowers
And she more young than I.
Saint Patrick bless you dear said I
If you will kindly tell
For the place where you did find those flowers
I seem to know so well.
The continuous applause when he had finished the song prevailed
upon him to sing an encore.
Fr. Maguire then announced that the time had now arrived
for the audience to be entertained by pupils from the various
schools in the parish. He said that he had auditioned quite
a number of volunteers in each school and while they were
all very good, he considered that the mix of those selected,
provided good variety and best represented the traditions
of their schools and districts. He then introduced three
young girls representing Shercock School - Dolores Murtagh,
Myra Mac Morrow and Gertie Murray and asking for an encouraging
round of applause he lowered the height of the microphone
before leaving the stage.
The girls, two dressed in cowgirl outfits and one in cowboy
outfit (with buckskins), complete with hats, decorated waistcoats
and riding boots with spurs, paraded onto stage jangling
their spurs and singing the popular song with the opening
Ive got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle,
As I go riding merrily along.
This act got great applause, swelled by boisterous cheers
and whistles from the Shercock contingent in the audience.
Acts by other schoolchildren followed; all appropriately
introduced by Fr. Maguire who adjusted the microphone on
each occasion depending on the height of the performers.
Bridie Murtagh, a Shercock schoolgirl sang the popular ballad
- The turf man from Ardee. There was dead silence
as Birdies sweet voice commenced the opening verse
For the sake of health, I took a walk
One morning in the dawn.
I met a jolly gentleman as I slowly walked along.
A friendly conversation passed between that man and me,
And thats how I got acquainted with the turf man from
For her encore Bridie sang - The Bold Felim Brady
- The Bard of Armagh.
Next, wearing matching navy-blue gangies and long pants,
the young Carolan twin brothers from Taghart representing
Duish school sang the international balled, - Barbara
They sang in perfect unison and in a traditional harmonious
style that captivated the entire audience, some of whom
didnt previously know that the townland of Taghart
existed never mind Duish school. The uproarious applause
when they concluded the song guaranteed that the young Carolan
twins had put the high mountain region of Taghart on the
map for all time; the applause only subsided when they returned
on stage to sing the ballad London Derry on the banks
of the Foyle commencing with -
I know a wee spot
Its a spot of great fame
It lies to the north
Sure, Ill tell you its name.
Its my own native fair place
And its on Irish soil
And they call it London Derry
On the banks of the Foyle.
Piano accompaniment for all the singers with the exception
of the Carolon brothers was played by Miss OConnor;
she could now be observed fussily arranging her music sheets
in preparation for the next item. This indicated to close
observers that the moment of truth for her and her star
singer had arrived; a hush of anticipation settled
on the audience seated near the stage and spread like wildfire
to the four corners of the hall; you could hear a pin drop;
the noise of Fr. Maguires footsteps approaching the
microphone sounded loudly throughout the entire hall. He
announced that the time had arrived for the final item of
the night, a song by a young Bailieboro boy, Jim Slevin.
He said that Jim was a pupil of Miss OConnor and like
most of the youngsters tonight hadnt sang in public
before; he said Jim would attempt a song which the older
people in the audience might appreciate. He adjusted the
mike and a lad of about 12 or 13 years of age came from
the wings. He was dressed in short pants, white starched
shirt and red bow tie. His brown hair was combed back in
mans fashion (at that time). He stood in centre stage,
well back from the mike. An odd whisper was audible, hes
too far back from the mike; well never hear him.
Jim then did the unexpected; he stepped up to the mike,
lifted it and placed it at the side of the stage; a hand
reached out and took it into the wing. He then took up a
position at the front centre of the stage and nodded towards
Miss Serious with an expect flourish she ran
her fingers over the piano keys playing the opening bar
of his song; she stopped and nodded to him.
The quality of Jims voice stunned the audience as
he commenced with the lines -
Love thee dearest, Love thee,
Yes, by yonder star, I swear.
His voice had all the qualities of a male counter tenor,
unbelievable in someone so young; his marvellous tone had
too much depth to be considered the voice of a boy soprano.
He hit the top notes effortlessly. Every note sounded as
clear as a bell in every corner of the hall. The entire
audience, young and old, sat enthralled. When he had concluded
there was a silence; then the enraptured audience awoke
and broke into tumultuous applause. Jim stepped a few paces
back and bowing in acknowledgement looked towards his teacher.
She nodded to him and he stepped centre stage once more
for an encore and only then did the applause abate; with
an expert flourish on the piano keys, his delighted teacher
played an opening bar before stopping and nodding to him;
there was real confidence in his voice as with chest out
he commenced his encore singing ...
Im sitting on the style Mary
Where we sat side by side
On that bright May morning long ago
When first you were my bride.
The audience sat relaxed listening in the company of a marvellous
voice, as with great technical ease he slowly sang the song
they knew so well but never heard so well sung before.
The applause continued long after young Sleven had taken
his final bow. It did not subside until Fr. Maguire came
on stage to thank the performers, their parents and schoolteachers
and all who helped in any way in the nights entertainment.
Finally, referring to the performance of young Master Sleven,
he said that on a rare occasion the good wine is reserved
till last and pointing towards Miss OConnor
he added, a great singer must have a great teacher.
We emerged from the hall amid that companionable audience,
some were dallying outside on the dimly lit street waiting
for their enlivened friends and neighbours; they jovially
greeted each other with shouts of marvellous entertainment
Great night, Up Taghart, Come
on Bailieboro wasnt young Sleven great
and Great voice-well trained.
When eventually we turned for ho me my father winked at
me and said I wonder does Miss Serious
know anything about football; our lads need a bit of help;
a great team must have a great trainer.
Taken from Breffni Blue