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Connacht Tribune

Tom’s many memories from 50 years of Shaskeen

Judy Murphy

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Tom Cussen of Shaskeen with the bands 2020 Golden Tour poster and one from the mid 1970s for their cabaret in Teach Furbo, where the Connemara Coast Hotel now stands. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Lifestyle – Tom Cussen founded Shaskeen in London in 1970, where it gained many fans among the Irish community. It was revived in Galway when he settled here a year later. Since then, it has been at the heart of the trad music scene and its members have included some of the country’s top performers. As a new album is released, he talks to JUDY MURPHY about friendship, gratitude and loss.

Anybody wanting to carry out a study of social life in Ireland from the early 1970s onwards could do worse than take a peek at Tom Cussen’s booking diaries for the trad band Shaskeen.

These give a glimpse into how rural Ireland went from being a place where people socialised seven nights a week in newly-built lounge bars of the 1970s, to one where discos took over from the singing lounges, and to the current time where nobody is going anywhere at all.

Tom has witnessed it all from the unique position of 50 years with Shaskeen, the group he founded in London in 1970 after being asked to do so by the owner of the Oxford Tavern in Kentish Town, at a time when London was full of Irish people.

Tom, from County Limerick, was one, having moved there in 1968.

“I was able to a play a bit of music before going over, but it was harmless enough,” he says. “I had a great interest in it – céilí, old-time and country.”

Tom bought his first banjo in a London pawn shop shortly after emigrating and learned to play it, using a reel-to-reel tape recorder.

A tee-totaller who didn’t go to pubs, Tom lived near Finsbury Park, and wasn’t part of London’s Irish scene.

Then, a friend who was also into music, told him that he’d heard Irish music coming from a local house on Sundays. They followed the sound one day and came to a bed-sit where a few people were playing. They asked Tom if he played and he told them he was learning banjo.

The musicians invited the young immigrants to join them for a Sunday session in a local pub that night, a mix of tunes and ballads. Tom loved it and found he was able to keep up. Afterwards a pound note was pressed into his hand. Bewildered, he asked what it was for and was told that each musician received a pound. It was his first paid gig, he says with a laugh, and he was hooked.

The banjo was coming into popularity in the folk and Irish music scene at the time, thanks to groups such as The Clancy Brothers and once Tom started playing publicly, he became part of a growing network.

He teamed up with fiddle player Maureen Minogue and flute player Seán McDonagh, both from Galway, for Sunday-morning sessions in the Oxford Tavern in Kentish Town. For the first few weeks, the clientele was made up of a few mainly English people, reading newspapers and accompanied by their dogs. After a while, the word got out and “the Paddys and Biddys were coming in”, he recalls with a laugh.

The owner then asked if Tom could put a band together for Friday nights, and he called on Maureen’s husband, accordion player Johnny Minogue, and Benny O’Connor, a Galway drummer whom he’d met at a Fleadh in London – they’d been in a band together for a competition.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Exploring the merits of moving into the west

Dave O'Connell

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Mary Kennedy with Carol Ho, one of the Galway interviewees for her new TG4 series, Moving West. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Broadcaster Mary Kennedy has an abiding image of those early mornings when she’d set out from Dublin at the crack of dawn to begin work on another day’s filming down the country with Nationwide.

“I always liked to go in the morning rather than stay there the night before – so I’d be on the road early. And from the moment I’d hit Newland’s Cross, all I’d see was a line of traffic of people trying to make it from home to their workplace in Dublin,” she says.

These were people whose day began before dawn to get their bleary-eyed kids ready to drop at a childminder along the way, so they could be on time for work – and then race home to hopefully see those same kids before they went to sleep.

But if the pandemic had a positive, it was the realisation that work was something you did, not a place you went to. As a result, many people finally grasped the nettle, moving out of the city and sometimes even taking their work with them.

Which is why Mary – busier than ever since her supposed retirement from RTÉ – is presenting a new television series called Moving West, focusing on those individuals and families who have, as the title, suggests, relocated to the West.

One of the programmes comes from Galway, where Mary met with Stewart Forrest, who relocated with his family from South Africa to Oughterard, and Carol Ho, a Hong Kong native who has also settled in Galway.

The TG4 series also stops off in Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Roscommon and Leitrim.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Community’s tribute to one of their own – saving final cut of turf after his passing

Dave O'Connell

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Well saved...members of St Brendan's GAA Club honour their departed stalwart, John Geraghty, after a record-breaking evening saving his turf.

A local community responded in force to the death of one of their own – a man who had given so much of his life for the good of the parish – by paying one last practical tribute to him last week.

They lifted and footed his turf.

John Geraghty – or Gero as he was known – lived for Gaelic football and he’d filled every role imaginable with the St Brendan’s GAA Club since he came to live in Newbridge in 1983.

He’d cut the turf before he died last Tuesday week, but there it lay, until his old GAA friends organised a bunch of guys – made up of the football team, friends and neighbours – to meet in the bog last Wednesday evening to lift and foot/clamp John’s turf.

“Upwards of 50 fellas from the community showed up,” said St Brendan’s chairman Gerry Kilcommins.

Which was just as well, because, as Gerry acknowledged, John – himself a two-time chairman of the club in the past – had a lot of turf cut!

“It took up an area around three-quarters of the size of a standard football pitch,” he said.

Not that this proved a problem, given the enthusiasm with which they rolled up their sleeves for their old friend.

They started at 7.30pm and had it done at 7.55pm – that’s just 25 minutes from start to finish.

Read the full, heartwarming story – and the St Brendan’s GAA Club appreciation for John Geraghty – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Liver donor dad would do it all again in a heartbeat

Denise McNamara

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Daddy’s girl…Sadhbh Browne with her very special message on organ donations. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

It is nearly two years since Paddy Browne gave his daughter Sadhbh part of his liver to save her life. And just ahead of Father’s Day, he reflects on how he would do it all over again in a heartbeat, without a single moment’s hesitation.

After an initial testing time in the first six weeks when they beat a path to the intensive care unit after the operation in St King’s Hospital in London, Sadhbh has never looked back.

“She’s thrived and thrived and thrived. She skips out to school every day. She loves the normal fun and devilment in the yard. She’s now six and started football with Mountbellew Moylough GAA, she loves baking, she’s a voracious reader – she’ll read the whole time out loud while we drive up to Crumlin [Children’s Hospital].”

But it could have all been so different.

Sadhbh from Mountbellew was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia shortly after she was born. She quickly underwent major surgery to drain bile from her liver. It worked well until she reached three years old when an infection caused severe liver damage and she was placed on the liver transplant list.

She was on a long list of medication to manage the consequences of advanced liver disease. While she lived a full life, she would tire very easily.

Paddy was undergoing the rigorous process to be accepted as a living donor when one of the tests ruled him unsuitable. His brother Michael stepped forward and was deemed a good match.

Then, further tests revealed that Paddy was in fact eligible for the operation and the previous result disregarded as a false positive.

Read the full, uplifting story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.

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