Not many can boast that they have been performing professionally for six decades – but that is the milestone that Johnny Carroll will be celebrating in a tribute night in Salthill in a few weeks’ time.
His fans call him ‘the man with the golden trumpet’ and he not only made his mark on the Irish scene but internationally, having met some of the greats in music including Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison and Chubby Checker — the man behind The Twist.
A Roscommon man by birth, Galway has been his home for the past 40 years. And little did the 13 year old boy know – when he first expressed an interest in the trumpet in his home town of Castlerea – that it would be his passport to success.
Contemplating on his life and career in the lead-up to his tribute night in the Salthill Hotel on Thursday, September 21, he recalls the hardship of going on the road at such a tender age but quickly adds that he wouldn’t change a minute of it.
He believes in fate and often wonders if he hadn’t been overheard playing the trumpet in his kitchen by a passing band member, might he have followed his father into the painting trade.
“I don’t think so. Once I picked up that instrument, I knew I didn’t want to do anything else and when I got the opportunity a few years later to go on the road with the band, my parents couldn’t stop me because they knew how much I wanted to play music.
“In those days (the fifties) most of the bands were pioneers so at least my parents didn’t have to worry about that.
“But as there was no dancing allowed in Ireland during Lent bands went to England and I went with them. They were a hard few weeks going from one town to another playing to mostly Irish crowds.
“I loved every minute it. I loved meeting people and being on stage even if it was from 9pm till 2am. There were no relief bands in those days. We used take it in turns to have a little tea break but I didn’t mind. I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Johnny remembers.
Sitting in his salubrious home on the outskirts of the city, he knows how far he has come but appreciates that the music business has been good to him, certainly better than what a trade in a rural town would have gained him.
The Premier Aces was one of the first Irish bands to tour the US in an era when venues were massive and hundreds danced the night away. They also topped the charts in Ireland and the UK.
He stayed with The Premier Aces until he decided it was time to start his own band and move to Galway, where he knew he would have a greater chance at establishing himself as a musician.
The Magic Band was different because it was fronted by a singer whose costume was lit up. As it was Johnnny’s band, he was finally running his own show.
The Premier Aces had brought out a few albums but by now Johnny was synonymous with his trumpet so it seemed natural for him to bring out solo albums — he has 15 in all under his belt.
“I played instrumental versions of well-known songs from Danny Boy to The West’s Awake and every hotel, restaurant and B&B in the country played it and sure guests started asking where they could get it,” he says.
There were TV guest appearances and requests to play at special event. He embraced all of this because he felt it was meant for him.
And while his musical career was on the up, tragedy was to strike on the domestic front when his beautiful wife Stella, the mother of their four children, died after a short diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 37.
He tearfully recalls how most of the next decade was heartache for him as he kept working at his career while rearing children, aged from seven to 14, on his own.
“I had no family here in Galway and we had just built this house (referring to his Salthill home). We were only in it a few years when she died. Bills had to be paid, I had to stay on the road. It was hard. Those were the days before mobile phones. I remember ringing home from pay phones to check in on them.”
He is very proud of his children, all grown up now though none followed him into the music business. But they have given him seven grandchildren, aged from 19 to a few weeks old, whom he adores.
He remembers driving on bad roads around Ireland in second hand vans that often broke down.
Bands on the road would head home after playing for hours from venues in the far corners of Ireland.
“I remember one night the van broke down in Abbeyfeale in Kerry. I got a lift home but the lads stayed in the freezing van until I returned the following day with a tow truck.
“People wouldn’t live that life now. I remember too the first house we bought in Highfield Park. Stella and I lived downstairs and we turned the upstairs into two small flats. We had no choice as the mortgage interest rates were double digits at the time.
“Life was hard. I remember long journeys to gigs and the kids would be in bed when I got home and I’d still be in bed when they left for school. That’s how it was for showbands at the time.”
He has a strong faith and is grateful that he always had good health, something which is crucial when you are self-employed.
He also believes he was lucky when he met Ann, his second wife at a gig in her family’s hotel in West Limerick.
“I believe she was an angel sent to me. . . I’ve had a good life, no doubt,” he says in a room adorned with his two golden discs and family photographs.
His highlights are reaching Number One in the Irish Charts with Oh Mein Papa, playing The West’s Awake when Galway won the three All Irelands in the 80s and meeting and sometimes playing with some of his musical heroes.
Johnny says he has no regrets as he believes everyone’s life is set out for them, as his was and continues to be. There’s longevity in his family genes as his mother Rose turns 102 the same week as his tribute concert.
“No, it’s not my swansong. There’s life in the old dog yet,” he laughs.
Tickets for the gig which feature a host of guest musicians are on sale in The Salthill Hotel, Des Kavanagh Electrical, Tom Dempsey’s in Oranmore and Quinn’s Newsagents in Tuam.
Local Ireland welcomes move to 0% VAT for news publishers
Local Ireland, the association representing 32 weekly paid-for newspapers around the country, has welcomed the decision by the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe to remove VAT on newspapers.
President of Local Ireland Declan McGuire said: “This is a very important move for news publishers.
“Zero per cent VAT will allow local newspapers around Ireland to invest in journalism and in the transition to new digital business models.
“News publishers have faced a series of major challenges over recent years, most recently the huge increases in the cost of newsprint. This move will help support jobs in the industry and sustain the quality of our service to readers.
“We very much appreciate this endorsement by Government for the valuable role we play in our communities and the public service content we provide.
“I would like to thank the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and all the Ministers, TDs and Senators from across the political spectrum who have given their support to our campaign to end VAT on journalism.”
Executive Director of Local Ireland Bob Hughes said: “Local news publishers are the lifeblood of the communities they serve. Along with our national colleagues represented by NewsBrands Ireland, we play a vital role in Ireland’s democracy.
“Today’s decision will protect the future of trusted, professional journalism in Ireland against the tide of global disinformation that threatens to undermine healthy democratic debate and analysis.”
Take a spooky staycation this Halloween at Púca Festival
For Halloween fans looking for a spooky staycation with a difference, Púca Festival is just the ticket. Returning to Co. Meath from 28th – 31st October, Púca celebrates Ireland as the original birthplace of Halloween. Vibrant, fun, and contemporary in feel but strongly rooted in tradition, the festival will take place in the hubs of Trim and Athboy.
Now in its fourth year, this year’s festival line-up is an exciting one, with a pool of contemporary Irish acts gearing up to re-ignite Celtic traditions through incredible music and live performances. Offering three breathtaking days and four spectacular nights of music, myth, food, folklore, fire, feasting, and merriment, Púca will boast a range of ticketed and free events, all individually priced.
From the ‘Arrival of the Spirits’ procession in Trim on Saturday 29th October right through to the ‘Coming of Samhain’ celebration at the Hill of Ward in Athboy on Halloween night, visitors will be immersed in the original and authentic spirit of Samhain.
Festivalgoers and fans of folklore will enjoy the well-rounded line-up of evening entertainment showcasing the best in contemporary Irish music, spectacle, and performance, including the talented Imelda May, Gavin James, King Kong Company, Block Rockin’ Beats, Lisa Hannigan & Cathy Davey, Jerry Fish & his Electric Sideshow Cabaret, Joanne McNally, Blindboy, David O’Doherty, Neil Delamere, and Jason Byrne. Headlining the Púca Big Top stage on October 29th, The Academic is an act not-to-be-missed. A thrilling live four-piece, their super-uplifting, hugely melodic guitar-driven sound is the product of a tight-knit gang who’ve been playing together since school.
Historic Halloween Walking Tours, Candlelit Tales Storytelling, Banshee Bingo Hall, Self-guided treasure hunts, Foraging Workshops, Circus performances, and Handfasting Ceremonies will complement the music and comedy programme, ensuring a host of diverse activities to keep visitors entertained all weekend. At Trim Castle, step back in time at the Deise Medieval Traditional Living Village. In the midst of mead and the smoke of the campfire, living history, crafts, and skills of the early to mid-medieval period come to life and will be open for all the family to discover from 29th – 31st October.
And as Samhain is a time for feasting, Jack O’Lanterns Food & Craft Markets at Trim Castle will feature local harvest offerings and Halloween favourites, in what promises to be the most spirited Púca festival yet.
Tickets are on sale now at Pucafestival.com
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Italian archer brings whole new outdoor leisure pursuit to Loughrea
An eagle-eyed Italian has converted a cohort of locals in Loughrea into archery enthusiasts – in the heart of their local forest.
Mattia Cestonaro set up Loch Riach Traditional Archery, the first field archery club in Galway to be affiliated to the Irish Field Archery Federation (IFAF).
After raising nearly €800 in public donations, he established the course geared to different levels in a forest located in Peterswell on the Slieve Aughty Mountains.
Field archery has participants shooting at various targets. The targets may be concentric circles, animal faces on paper or 3D animal targets, from a variety of distances, which can be marked or unmarked.
There is a main course layout in a loop shape, where small groups of archers, typically up to four, walk around and stop at each station to hit a target.
The club is a non-profit organisation with the main aim to promote our beloved sport in Ireland.
“This is a sport for everyone, we have kids, adults, families shooting together. It’s some mighty fun,” enthused the native of Vicenza in north-eastern Italy.
“This is an exciting new activity for the local community, as well as to visitors from other counties and clubs.”
Mattia has created three small bridges to cross the river in different points using pallets on the course located on over 160 acres of forest. There are currently 14 targets spread out over 1.5km, crossing different types of terrain.
The club teaches a ‘traditional, instinctive way of shooting’.
“It is a challenging course with different tricky shots, uphill, downhill, between trees. We tried as much as we could to use natural backstops to make the shots look as natural as possible,” he explains.
“We think our club as a group of friends who share the same passion, we organise many social activities and we encourage members to volunteer in the club’s activities.”
The main course is made entirely of 3D targets.
“We believe there is nothing else like the sight of a realistic 3D target in the forest.”
Several of the first courses held last July sold out. The courses in August completely sold out.
It costs €50 per person for four weekly classes lasting an hour and a half, with the minimum age of eight set for participants. Archers aged under 18 must have at least one parent participating in the course with them. Adult membership of the club costs €60 for the year, while kids pay €30, which includes membership to the social club.
“There was an overwhelming response to our first beginner courses and an ever more surprising conversion rate, which saw the 100% of those who completed the course become members of the club. This was amazing and already repaid the months of hard work in the woods,” enthuses Mattia.
The club will now concentrate on making sure all the new members receive proper support during their first months in the archery world.
Mattia was doing field archery in Italy but took a few years off until he got the opportunity here over three years ago to reignite his passion.
“I went back into it thanks to my friend Enea, who is the son of the iconic Italian character Papetto, who is one of the greatest masters of Instinctive shooting and whose values and philosophy he is trying to promote and keep live for over 45 years.
“This is the same I’m trying to do with the club, I am offering beginner courses where we cover all the basics of field archery and where I try to spread my archery philosophy which has the social aspect of this discipline in his core values.
“To put it in simple words, I’m in love with this sport, and I try to transmit my passion to other people.”
The Italian moved to Ireland from Italy in 2014 looking for a change in lifestyle. After three months in Clifden, he transferred to Galway and found a job in supply chain with Schneider Electric, where he continues to work.
In December 2020 he bought a house in Loughrea and moved in with his partner Tatiana.
“It was a huge step in our life, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. We found a lovely welcoming community, everyone is so kind with us and there is so much to do around here: from the lake which is at our doorstep, and we walk daily with our dogs, to the numerous sport activities available.”
Mattia plays with the Loughrea Rugby Club and recently helped organise a group of 14 Italian teenagers to visit Loughrea from his old club, the Rangers Rugby Vicenza. They stayed with host families and trained with the Loughrea RFC for a week.
Mike Feerick of Ireland Reaching Out said he and wife Eileen regularly get behind the bow and arrow on a Sunday morning after completing a beginner’s course earlier this summer.
He has praised Mattia’s hard work, with the support of Coillte, in turning an area of Slieve Aughties into a recreation hub.
“It’s interesting that someone has come to live among us and helped us strengthen our community, starting a new pastime in the locality which takes advantage of the wonderful hinterland we have in East Galway.”
“It is a big undertaking for any one person – but he has persevered and indeed succeeded.”
Mattia has plans to expand the course with new targets and create a bigger training range.
“We plan to create nice picnic areas for members to spend time together with benches and tables and some shelter for the rainy days. We also plan to host the first official IFAF shooting in 2023, where people from other clubs from all Ireland will come over to compete as part of the IFAF annual calendar,” he explains.
“The future ahead is exciting, and I am very proud to be able to offer something different to a community which is giving so much to me and my family in terms of quality of life.”