Heavenly music in Galway

On November 26, 1905, the new organ in the Augustinian Church was launched at a High Mass. The organ was placed ‘in the western gallery of the church in a handsome varnished case of specially selected woods, stands 26 feet high and 25 feet wide. The front pipes, some of which are over 18 feet long, are gilt and present a superb effect. The sides of the organ are recessed to leave room for an augmented choir and for the present, the organ is blown by hand at one end of case; at a future time it is hoped to apply a hydraulic motor to do this work. There is great variety in the tones of the various stops and the general effect of all combined is truly magnificent. The entire work reflects great credit on the builders who built it at their factory in Dublin. The number of speaking pipes in the organ is close to 2,000.'

Our illustration is of the cover of the programme of music that was played on that day. As time went on, the presence of the choir became unreliable and sporadic, people drifted in and out with no real commitment. In the late forties, the Prior, Fr Thomas White set about re-organizing it and appointed Fr Anthony Mansfield as choirmaster. It was he who really set up the choir properly. His ambition was to have the best choir in Galway ready for the upcoming centenary in 1955 of the Augustinian Church.

He recruited new talent from various schools and other church choirs. In 1952, Mrs Jeanne Byrne replaced Miss Biddy Halloran as organist. Some of those who were in the bass line at the time were Jimmy Dooley, Paddy Corcoran, Tom Lynskey, Paddy Kelly, Dick Byrne, Gerry Glynn, Finn McRea and John Armitage. Among the sopranos were Miss Francis, Marie Geraghty, Breda Green, Bernie Folan, Bernie Ryan, Teasy Geraghty, Grace Semple and Nelly Dooley. The altos included Mrs Wallace, Dolores Kelly, Lou Buchan (Geraghty ), Bernie Corcoran and Maura Joyce (O’Connor ). Among the tenors were Johnny Cloherty, Tom Coogan and Sonny Molloy. They rehearsed in the room behind the sacristy every Wednesday night, and often after Mass on Sunday.

Their range of material became very wide and varied. One could almost tell the time of year listening to them — ‘Hail Glorious St Patrick’ in March, ‘The Halleluiah Chorus’ at Easter. 'All in the April Evening', 'The Queen of the May’ and their remarkable 'Silent Night’ at Christmas. You might also hear the occasional ‘Happy Birthday’ or even ‘Galway Bay’ if we were playing in a final, lullabies for Christenings and always, great dignity for funerals. Whatever the occasion, they always added a different dimension to the liturgy.

They simply loved to sing which is why so many of them sang with the group for long numbers of years as you can see from our photograph which was taken outside the church in November 1985. The occasion was a presentation being made to Johnny Cloherty to mark his 50 years singing with the choir. He joined the on November 18, 1935.

In front are Sonny Molloy, conductor; Mayor Bridie O’Flaherty who made the presentation; Johnny Cloherty; Fr John O’Shea PP; Patricia Lillis, musical director. Second row: Noel O’Rourke; Martina Duggan; Ann O’Hare; Lisa McLaughlin; Mary Cantwell; Anne McDonagh; and John Armitage.

Third row: Michael Staunton, Tom Lynskey, Michael O’Hare, Anne McManus, Hilary McLaughlin, Joan Armitage, Dolores Glynn, Mary O’Leary and Claire Madigan. Back row: Joe McDonagh, Cathal Cunningham, Gerry Staunton, Dennis Killeen, Michael Giblin, Gerry Glynn, Declan Rapple and John Mannion.

Several of these people had joined the choir in the 1940s and when the photograph was taken, Patricia Lillis had been playing the organ for 28 years.


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