Our History - Forty Years of Leeds Comhaltas 1969

In July 1969, at a meeting in Birmingham, the Council of Britain granted permission for a branch of Comhaltas to be formed in Leeds. The first meeting was held in the Regent Hotel on 24th October 1969. On the first committee were Eddie Bolger RIP (Chairman) Paschal Dwyer RIP (Vice Chairman) Mary Ferguson (Secretary) Michael Fean RIP (Treasurer) John Gillard RIP, John Boland RIP, Pat McNicholas RIP, Sean McHale, John Ferguson and Maureen Dwyer. Jackie Dwyer was co-opted on at the second meeting.

Leeds Comhaltas Our History


The Comhaltas movement was welcomed in Leeds and grew very quickly. The Regent, run by Martin and Nellie Ferguson R.I.P., was the venue for the first Branch meetings - as well as regular sessions, every weekend. The main aims of Comhaltas were put into practice and the various undertakings were shared out amongst the members with a view to disseminating the aims of Comhaltas as widely as possible.

BBC Radio Leeds invited Leeds C.C.É. to broadcast a fortnightly programme of music and songs. A senior ceili band was formed, made up of musicians Angela Canning, John Ferguson, Sean McHale, Hughie Igoe, Paddy McNicholas, Johnny Gillard, Eddie Bolger, John Boland, and Maureen Dwyer.

At the Fleadhanna Cheoil, in Birmingham and Liverpool, second places were gained by Joe Murphy (ballad singing) and John Ferguson (piano accordion). The first concert, performed in May at the brand new Leeds Irish Centre, was a great achievement for the new branch. Monthly sessions were now moved from the Regent to the Centre, and included music, song and the teaching of figure dancing. Saturday afternoon music lessons commenced at the Centre in September, led by Maureen Dwyer and John Ferguson.

The success of the first year was celebrated in the first Annual Dinner and Céilí held at the Centre on Friday 20th November. The guests of honour were Labhrás Ó Murchú and Donncha Ó Muineacháin. The music was by the Birmingham Céilí Band and the evening was a tremendous success. Can you believe the price of the tickets? A bargain at only 27 shillings (£1.35!).


In February two delegates attended the AGM in Birmingham, where Leeds were congratulated on their broadcasting success on the local BBC Radio. Branches throughout Britain were recommended to follow in Leeds CCÉ's footsteps in the broadcasting field. By now Leeds were making excellent strides in the realms of music.

The Comhaltas spirit was very evident at a spontaneous "mini-fleadh" held in the garden of Johnny and Agnes Gillard's home. It was a convivial occasion where ceol, spórt agus cairdeas was the order of the day!

Our first-ever All-Ireland successes came this year, at the re-scheduled fleadh in Dublin. Helen Igoe (now Flaherty) won the Under-11 Piano Accordion competition, and then, with her sister Marie, won the 11-14 duet. The two of them followed that up, with a win in the 11-14 trio competition, along with Michael Hurley.

The branch held its first local Fleadh Cheoil in October at St. Nicholas' School, Leeds - Donal de Barra, one of the successful competitors on the day, is well known in Comhaltas circles, as a former C.C.É. Uachtarán and another winner is well known just about anywhere - singer Christy Moore.


The branch hosted Fleadh Cheoil na Breataine on the 13th and 14th May at Primrose Hill Secondary School. Under John Ferguson's meticulous organisation, it was decided, for the first time, to make the Fleadh more of a festival, not being confined to competitive music only, but including workshops and discussions. At the Provincial Council meeting in Birmingham in July, Leeds were congratulated on the successful running of the Fleadh and the warm welcome given by the Leeds branch to visitors.

At the All-Ireland Fleadh in Listowel, Leeds were well represented: John Ferguson won the piano accordion competition at senior level and Helen Igoe at 11-14. Marie Igoe also took first place in the 14-16 piano competition.

Maureen Dwyer and John Ferguson were married on the 14th October at the Holy Rosary by the late Father O'Meara, President of the Leeds branch.


On February 9th the Comhaltas concert tour of Britain reached Leeds Town Hall where 1200 people enjoyed a marvellous show - tickets priced 40p; 60p; and 80p!

The music classes, which had started only three years previously, proved to have been remarkably effective when the Junior Céilí Band won first place at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Listowel. The band comprised Helen Igoe, Brendan Byrd, Margaret Igoe, Michael Hurley, Patrick Gillard, Mary Gillard, Hughie Igoe, Catherine Gillard, Des Hurley, and John Gillard.

Other successes were Helen Igoe, 11-14 Piano Accordion, representing the juniors and, at senior level, John Ferguson (piano accordion) and John Eddie O'Dwyer (bodhrán). John Eddie's competition was the first ever Bodhrán competition held at All-Ireland level.

Some of the monthly ceilis were taking place at The Shamrock Club on Kirkgate, at this time and also under the watchful eye of Canon O'Meara, we held one or two ceilis in the (unlicensed) Holy Rosary Hall in Chapeltown.

A branch magazine entitled "A Chara" was introduced, edited by Mary Gavaghan, and members contributed articles, anecdotes, poems and reminiscences in connection with Irish culture and tradition. The annual dinner and céilí was held at the Guildford Hotel with singer Michael Hipkiss and fiddler Paddy Ryan, as our guest artistes.


Fleadh successes continued with John Ferguson attaining the heights with his third consecutive senior title at the All-Ireland - heralding his retirement from competition. The junior band, now with Angela Mulkeen joining them, magnificently retained the coveted title that they won the previous year - all the effort and hard work was paying off.

This was the year when we first tried out the "Síamsa" - a kind of cabaret show with a little bit of a theme - this seems to have been the springboard for Leeds' success with shows generally.

Monthly branch sessions were held at different pubs throughout Leeds - spreading the word about Comhaltas!


Building on last year's production we put together both a junior and a senior síamsa group, which were put on in Birstall and Mirfield, and again at the Leeds Irish Centre, where the senior síamsa was staged to provide a great social evening with cabaret teams from neighbouring branches Rotherham and Keighley. The senior show starred Harry Slack RIP - with his white suits and his big Stetson hat, Harry was a real character and gave an added dimension to the show, which was called 'A Dream of the Past'.

Over the next few years in solo, duet and trio competitions members of the Junior Ceili Band continued their success at local, regional and national level, proving a great source of inspiration to our younger musicians.


Fleadh Cheoil na Breataine was hosted by Leeds, at Primrose Hill School once again, and in his Chairman's address Jackie Dwyer said:

"As we in Comhaltas are all aware, this year sees the Silver Jubilee of the inauguration of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. We, who are lucky enough to be part of this great organisation, can feel justifiably proud of the achievements of the past twenty-five years, culminating in the recent acquisition of our own Cultúrlann na hÉireann in Dublin."

Irish Dancing Traditional Dancing


House sessions were introduced this year, for the purpose of discussing and debating all aspects of our tradition: customs and sayings from different counties being compared. Ghost stories, always a favourite, figured high on the agenda. Wakes, banshees, landlords and taoiseachs would be given an airing. These house sessions were invaluable, with a rich diversity of opinions about nature, culture and folklore; they also kept alive the art of lively conversation and conviviality in an era when this was slowly dying in the face of the threat from television.

At the All-Ireland fleadh in Ennis, Helen Igoe once more brought success to Leeds, gaining the All-Ireland titles in both piano and piano accordion.


This summer Martin and Nellie Ferguson RIP moved back to live in Ballina, but fortunately Joe Dwyer RIP took over the Regent, so we still had a great place for weekend sessions.

For the second year running, Helen Igoe won both the piano and piano accordion competitions in her age group at the All-Ireland Fleadh.

Leeds once more held a fleadh, this time in October. The music classes and sessions continued, but the branch went through a quiet patch. However, this proved to be only the lull before the storm.


The Pléaracha competition was introduced into Leeds and, drawing on the Síamsa experience, the branch put on a good show against a team from Manchester, at Leeds Irish Centre.

Despite winning the music, singing and dancing sections of the show, Leeds were pipped at the post by Manchester, who won the production section and also the competition. Sessions continued to be held at the Centre on the last Friday of the month.


In January, Leeds won their first heat in a Pléaracha competition and two members of Comhaltas (former branch secretary John Grogan and Jo Flannery) became involved in the production of a weekly traditional Irish music programme on BBC Radio Leeds - "If You're Irish" - presented by BBC man Denis Walsh.

In April, we qualified for the All-Ireland Pléaracha final in Ennis, by beating a team from Manchester. At extremely short notice, the branch organised the trip to Ireland, at the end of May. In the meantime, however, the regional fleadh cheoil was hosted by Leeds at Primrose Hill School in early May.

The Fleadh Núa - magic words! The end of May saw the beginning of what became an annual pilgrimage to Clare; an event looked forward to from one year to the next. At the first attempt the show put together by John Ferguson came a very close second - losing by just a half of a point in the Pléaracha final - unbelievable!

John Joe Faughnan RIP and Michael Fean RIP started up dancing classes on a Tuesday night at the Centre and these developed into the Tuesday night sessions, which flourished for many years.


"A Chara" magazine was published again after a lapse of some time; in April a "This is your life" presentation was done for John and Maureen Ferguson to the delight of all the members, and their friends and relatives who travelled from Ireland to be with them.

The Pléaracha qualified a second time for Ennis and a super show was put together, set on the B & I boat heading for Ireland. The show was opened and closed by the late Pat McNicholas carrying his suitcase, labelled "Ennis via Dublin."

Despite meeting with great acclaim, the show attained only third place, but it was hugely enjoyed not only by the audience, but also by the cast! One wonderful memory from that show in Ennis - poor 'Paddy Mac' ran out of breath when playing the whistle – only for Jim Doody to step into the breach, joining in the tune, lilting, to be swiftly joined by the rest of the group, while Pat got his breath back. Absolute magic.


In view of the success of the weekly Tuesday night sessions, the monthly session on Fridays was discontinued. The Pléaracha group lost by one point to St. Wilfrid's in Hulme, Manchester in April. Once the committee was convinced by John Ferguson that the dialogue of the show no longer had to be in Irish, the branch took the decision to attempt a Scoraíocht. Based on a Bernard Dwyer idea, "The Draggin' Home" was performed at Tíonol Cheoil in Princethorpe College on Easter Sunday, where it won the All-Britain title.

This was the first of many Easter Sunday trips to Princethorpe. The trip to Ennis had to be abandoned due to the Pope's visit to England, but Leeds were represented at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Listowel: Sean Gavaghan took 1st place in the under 12 piano accordion competition, and Martin Joyce won the senior men's competition for singing in Irish.

In November, the branch hosted a seminar, given by Seamus and Peter McAuley, on the production and presentation of Pléaracha and Scoraíocht.


In February, a colourful and lively Leeds Pléaracha was defeated by a Liverpool group at Leeds Irish Centre: this meant that the pressure was on to qualify for Ennis via the Scoraíocht! But we need not have worried, the "The Fairy Prisoner" duly qualified at Princethorpe College. Our new backdrop was strung from a special scaffolding structure, which was designed and built by Jackie and Eddie Dwyer. We still use this system 26 years later - and woe betide anyone who loses their Allen key! This was the first show from outside Ireland to win the Scoraíocht title. Although the Production Shield had gone to North London some years earlier, this year John Ferguson and the group brought both trophies back to Leeds. The excitement was tremendous and no wonder: the theme of the show was so very simple, but also so very moving. Many people still remember those haunting scenes far better than many of the shows of the intervening years. It was true magic and everyone wanted to share it, as Leeds were asked to go up and down England, on tour, in the autumn of 1983.

Three weekends in a row we set off with costumes, lights, trees and fairy forts to recreate the magic in Nottingham, Manchester, Preston, Leicester, London, Keighley, Liverpool and finally Leeds. And the catastrophes that befell our cast - measles and broken collar-bones to name the most minor occurrences!

Amazingly, John Ferguson managed to adapt the Scoraíocht almost from performance to performance. New stars were brought forward to help out, and the show went on. You cannot help wondering whether or not this was the birth of the professionalism for which Leeds is now so well known.

Sean Gavaghan won his second All-Ireland title on piano accordion this year. The branch was honoured in the Irish Post Awards receiving a special presentation for work in the community. In September, our friends from Ennis came to stay with us for a weekend and entertained us mightily.


And we were on the Pléaracha and Scoraíocht trails once more, as both groups qualified for the Fleadh Núa. The income from the raffles at the Tuesday night sessions, hosted by Mick Fean, throughout the year, helped to defray some of the expense of taking two groups with us to Ennis. This year the Ennis people kindly provided accommodation for the groups and this considerably helped to lower the cost of the visit. A slight side trip to Ballina and Bonniconlon raised additional funds. We have very good friends in Ireland! The Pléaracha was placed joint second and our Scoraíocht "Tá Na Lá" - co-produced for the first time by John Ferguson and Jo Flannery - also came second. We had great fun with a smoke machine, as we 'rolled back the mists of time' with this show - set on a quayside, waiting for the return of a fisherman (Hughie Igoe) lost at sea.

On our way back from Ennis, we called in at O'Sullivan's Bar in Nenagh, where we had a memorable afternoon, joined by Nora Butler and her family. This was the start of the annual session in Nenagh.

Sean Gavaghan emulated his uncle, John Ferguson, by gaining a third All-Ireland title in his age group (under 12). In September we enjoyed the company, for the second year in succession, of the Dal gCais group from Ennis.


The Northern Regional Fleadh was held in Leeds once more, this time at the Irish Centre "under canvas", as five marquees were erected on the playing field to cope with the abundance of competitors. John Ferguson's prayers were answered, his detractors were confounded, the day was fine and the Fleadh was a huge success. Meanwhile, both Pléaracha and Scoraíocht groups had qualified for Ennis and we set off on the Fleadh Núa trail, once again via Ballina and Bonniconlon, with high hopes for both shows. We made history, the first branch ever, either inside or outside Ireland to win both Pléaracha and Scoraíocht in the same year. The production of both shows was the result of joint efforts: Patrick and Paul Ruane for the Pléaracha and John Ferguson and Jo Flannery for the Scoraíocht. Not only that, but the Scoraíocht "The Black Pullet's Egg" was awarded the Production Shield. The show was set during a Halloween party (based on another of Bernard Dwyer's stories) and featured a haunting dream scene. Karen Tweed was studying in Leeds at this time and was one of the musicians in this show.

Martin Joyce again won the senior men's singing in Irish at the All-Ireland Fleadh. In the autumn, the Northern Region introduced a junior Pléaracha competition for the first time and, as it was most definitely our year - we won that as well! The two senior shows were invited to different parts of the country: Scarborough, Coventry, Sheffield, Luton and two venues in Leeds.

Again, a marvellous time was had by all and the memories are great. Who can forget Tommy McLaughlin being helped off-stage by a hearty whack from Úna Reddington's brush - and nearly bringing the whole set down around his ears as he went! Or the night we were left on the side of the road in Luton, with dressers, beds, chairs, kettles and so on, waiting for the coach to turn up at one o'clock in the morning, like a band of travelling people.

But there was a sad note to end a glorious year with the death of our President, Canon Patrick O'Meara RIP, who died on the 5th November.


In the middle of February, John Ferguson was approached by Fathers Heskin and Keating from St. Anne's Cathedral to see whether or not a Mass in Irish could be prepared, in time for St. Patrick's Day. It was somewhat short notice, even by Leeds Comhaltas standards, but it was managed - and so another annual event was born. From this beginning, a choir was formed, known as the Sister Ambrose Leeds Comhaltas choir. This was to acknowledge the invaluable help of the late Sister Ambrose, in the pronunciation of Connaught Gaelic. For many years after this, we had monthly choir practices run by Maureen and John Ferguson to help us stay word (and note) perfect!

The Pléaracha this year was beaten by Liverpool, who went on to win the All-Ireland. There was continual involvement in the junior Pléaracha. The Scoraíocht, meanwhile, was a powerful tale of eviction called "Mná na hÉireann". With the help of Michael Hester RIP, we built a cottage on stage, so that during the show, we could evict the family, then wreck the cottage to the accompaniment of strobe lighting and finally rebuild it.

Ambitious or what? But the picture of the woman of the house (Maria Dyer) leading the two little girls (Nicola McGowan and Fiona Brown) back in to the rebuilt cottage brought a tear to many an eye! Although it failed to win the Scoraíocht title, John Ferguson and Jo Flannery did bring back the Production Shield, for the second year in a row.

A monthly céilí, on the second Sunday of every month, was added to the calendar, following a mighty weekend of set-dancing in April, at a workshop run by the wonderful Connie Ryan RIP. Following the retirement of Denis Walsh, the local radio programme "If You're Irish" became almost wholly supported by Comhaltas – involving some of the younger branch members (Patrick Ruane, Patrick Heffron, John Early and Kevin Tierney) alongside Jo Flannery, Denis's co-presenter for many years.


The Scoraíocht "Keashurneen" qualified for the Fleadh Núa, but was not placed this year. In June the branch was invited to participate in the Scarborough Irish Festival, by way of music sessions and the singing of the Mass in Irish. The usual branch activities continued apace: music classes, Tuesday night sessions, monthly céilís and the junior Pléaracha competition.

Leeds Comhaltas Irish Instruments


The senior Pléaracha came second in Britain to Liverpool, but due to a change in the rules, allowing two groups to qualify, we were able to compete in Ennis, although the show was not placed. "The Piper and the Púca" was the name of this year's Scoraíocht, which went down very well in Ennis and took second place. A young Lizzie Gallagher danced the front-end of the Puca (in our view a kind of pantomime horse) and Katherine Kerrigan danced a hilarious 'back-end'!

Due to budget cuts, BBC Radio Leeds axed "If You're Irish" in July after it had run for eight and a half years - despite protests from the community. As the branch representative, Jo Flannery had been with the show for almost its entire history, in one capacity or another, ending up as producer/presenter for its last two and a half years.

Tragically leaving a young family, Margaret Gaughan RIP died this summer – she had been one of our hard-working 'mums' always ready to help whenever she could. A very short while later, Thomas Flannery RIP also died - Tom had audited the accounts for our treasurer, John Joe Faughnan, for over ten years. Ann McGrath then took over the role of branch auditor and we are very grateful to her for still undertaking that job for us twenty one years on.

At the All-Ireland Fleadh, Sean Gavaghan gained his 4th All-Ireland medal, by winning the 15-18 competition in piano accordion. Our guest from Ireland, at the annual dinner and céilí, in November, was Donncha Ó'Muinacheán, who volunteered to run a set-dance workshop for us on the day after the dinner, catering for the enormous surge of interest in the sets.


While the majority of the branch were at the annual St. Patrick's Day Mass at Leeds Cathedral, seven young musicians (Liz Gaughan, Margaret Duffy, Helen Gallagher, Bernadette Gaughan, Michael Tennyson, Kevin Brown and Paddy Heffron) accompanied by Mick Fean, travelled to Dublin to represent Leeds C.C.É. at the St. Patrick's Day Parade, at the request of Bord Fáilte. The youngsters' enthusiasm and willingness to co-operate earned them a special award from Bord Fáilte, to the delight of the branch.

At the end of March, newly formed Bradford Comhaltas held their first céilí, and our band provided the music, following our policy of support for neighbouring branches. Then, in April, the choir sang the Mass in Irish, to open the Irish Festival in Leicester, with the musicians playing subsequently in street sessions.

In Ennis, the Scoraíocht "Geasa" took second place and Jo Flannery won the Production Shield, for her efforts – this was Jo's first production on her own, after working with (and being trained by) John Ferguson since 1984. A show was put on at the Beverley Folk Festival in June, where we met up for the first time with Eddie O'Dea, Eddie Murphy, Simon Whale and their set-dancing friends from Hull University. Their gang were to supply us with dancers for our sets for quite a few years, until they all qualified as clinical psychologists!

At the Sligo Fleadh, Sean Gavaghan brought home his 5th All-Ireland medal and former Leeds member Michael Hurley, now living in Ballymote, Co. Sligo, was part of the winning Senior Trio.

Due to work commitments, John Ferguson had to step down as a teacher, after twenty years. During this time, he had trained a very impressive list of piano accordion players. What came to be known as the 'Leeds style' was really John's style passed on to his pupils, many of whom passed it on in their turn. Meanwhile Maureen Ferguson continued on with the Saturday afternoon classes, teaching tin whistle, flute, button accordion, melodeon, bodhrán and singing. Before she eventually returned to Ireland in 2001, she had completed an awesome thirty-one years of teaching several generations of our youngsters. We cannot thank her enough for what she did for us as a branch.

This year we celebrated our twentieth anniversary as a branch, and just in case we were not around for our 25th birthday (that was John Ferguson's reasoning!) we decided to have a huge celebratory weekend at the Centre. Former members, friends and guests from Ireland were all invited and we had an amazingly good time! A special 'Review' - a glossy magazine - was produced by John Ferguson, and edited by Mary Dwyer, and we had workshops, a dinner and céilí, displays and exhibitions.


This year's Regional Fleadh was held in Leeds, at Mount St Mary's High School. At the All Britain Fleadh in Glasgow, twenty of our members qualified for the All Ireland Fleadh in Sligo, where we had some major successes: Justin Quinn won 12-15 years Piano Accordion, Elizabeth Gaughan and Michael Tennyson won the All Ireland Duet at Senior Level and Thomas McElvogue won the Flute.

A great weekend was had by all, on our trip to the Fleadh Nua, as it was the 750th anniversary of the town of Ennis. Some of our group dressed up as 19th century emigrants and took part in a Monster Siege of Ennis, at the end of the Cultural Parade. Our scoraíocht this year was an adaptation of a one act play by Lady Gregory called the 'Rising of the Moon'. This unusual basis for a scoraiocht was suggested by Pat McCabe and after he persuaded us to try it out, we managed to persuade him to take on the role of the R.I.C. Sergeant. There was a great scene when he was confronted by the rebel on the run – Jackie Dwyer.

We won the All Ireland title, although the Production Shield went to the Dublin Pipers Club. This was the last year the Pipers Club entered the competition, which was a great shame, as they had been enthusiastic competitors for many years.

The Gala Day, held for the first time on the Irish Centre's playing field in July, was a lovely day and a financial success, and it became a great annual event in our calendar for several years to come. Anne Conboy left us this September to go and live in Aghamore - we lost a good friend and musician and also a talented artist, who had helped with backdrops for the shows.


Cúlra came to life this year, after years of preparation by John Ferguson. With Joe Sheeran's help, the first study day was held in Liverpool on the last Sunday of January. Any member, between 15 and 25 years, was eligible to attend. This year's Concert Tour arrived during a snowstorm! Despite this, a great crowd came and it was well worth it for those who made the effort on such a terrible night.

The task of producing the junior Pléaracha was taken on by Helen Gallagher and Séan Gavaghan. We had a successful heat, coming out as Regional Winners, and then represented Britain at the finals in Kilkenny, in early spring. We took a coach of competitors and parents and had a grand weekend, being placed a very creditable fourth out of seven groups.

Unfortunately, Princethorpe had to be cancelled, and so the new Scoraíocht made its debut in Leeds, just a week before the trip to Ennis. The journey was a little bit fraught this year, as, due to an error in our timing, we set off too late to get the bus on to the boat.

However we all managed to run up the ramp onto the car deck, only a minute or two before sailing, and spent the day in Dublin until the coach arrived on the evening ferry. Whew! That did not happen again. We arrived very late, and very sorry, in Aghamore, where we should have been entertaining earlier in the evening.

Fortunately, we went on to take joint 1st place at the All Ireland Championship at Fleadh Núa with 'The Céilí Barn and the Bottleblowers', which was inspired by another of Bernard Dwyer's stories. Who remembers Jackie Dwyer, in the costume of a Dancing Master, looking cool in knee breeches and tall hat? And what about our 'red coats' who had to break up the seditious gathering in the barn? The troops were John Aylward, John Reape and Brendan Quinn - our 'props' and lighting people - and there's some mighty stories about rehearsals with these three!

However on a very sad note the branch were stunned by the tragic death of our President, Fr. Eugene Murtagh RIP who was killed in a car crash in Scotland, on 31st May 1991, on his way home from Ennis. Fr. John O'Keeffe became our President and Spiritual Director later that year.

Martin Walsh (Snr.) again took on the job of chairing the Gala Day committee. Brenda O'Malley also came to the fore at this event and we became aware of her many organising and financial talents! The hard work of Martin, Brenda and the team was well rewarded in the success of the day and the amount raised.


In April, our branch was hit by the tragic death of Mary Gallagher RIP following a car accident. A great loss to the branch and to Comhaltas in Britain, Mary would be sadly missed for all her hard work and devotion.

The junior Pléaracha was produced by Helen Gallagher and Bernadette Gaughan, and the senior Pléaracha by Patrick Heffron. The Scoraíocht 'Lucky in Love' was again produced by Jo Flannery, who won the Production Shield in Ennis. The story was written by Maria Dyer and the show won the All Ireland title - that's three in a row!

The story was set outside the gates of the 'big house' and we heard the tale of the Ghost of the Lovely Lady Isabel (danced ethereally by Noeleen Ferguson) and Maria wrote herself a great part as the man-eating widow who terrified the McDonagh brothers!

This was the year that Cúlra went 'provincial' under the organising talent that was John Ferguson, Joe Sheeran and Christine Byrne. The first summer school was held over a glorious July weekend at Trinity and All Saints College in Horsforth as youngsters (from age 15 to 25) attended from all over Britain.

Our senior Céilí Band qualified as All Britain Champions for the All Ireland Fleadh in Clonmel. Michael Tennyson won the Senior All Ireland Championship for Piano Accordion.

Sandy and John Dyson, both of them being former secretaries of the branch, left us this year, with Ciara their daughter, to go and live in Ireland. We had some great parties at the home of the very hospitable Dysons over the years!

In October, the first week-long Cúlra took place at the Cultúrlann in Dublin. Fortunately the upper age limit was relaxed to allow all interested CCE members to attend and a very memorable weekend it was too.


This year the City of Leeds was celebrating its Centenary. Our branch was asked to take part and did so by providing a display at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, mixing the talents of members from both Junior and Senior Pléaracha. A Memorial Céilí for Mary Gallagher RIP was organised by the Northern Region at Liverpool Irish Centre. The branch gave a memorial trophy, in Mary's name, for the Céilí Band competition.

Irish language classes were started in our branch by Ann-Marie Maher, from Tipperary, who was studying in Leeds. The classes were for beginners and were very popular.

We took three shows to compete in Ennis – that takes some organisation! The junior Pléaracha was produced by Helen Dunleavy and came third; the senior Pléaracha was produced by Patrick Heffron and came third; and the Scoraíocht (called 'A Stoír Mo Chroí') produced by Jo Flannery also came third. We were consistent, anyway! The story told of the son of landowners who had to choose between the love of his life – a girl who was just not good enough for his family - and inheriting the land. It may not have been the jolliest of productions, but it certainly seemed to hit a nerve with many people in the audience.

Sadly we heard the news that Martin Ferguson RIP had died in Ballina, after battling with a long illness. His grand-daughter Noeleen made the decision to go and live with her grandmother Nellie in Ballina, so we lost another good friend. Michael Tennyson won his second Senior All Ireland medal in Clonmel.

In August, two former scoraíocht members were married on the very same day - musician and step-dancer Helen Gallagher married Séan Conlon and singer, set-dancer and scriptwriter Maria Dyer married Andrew Jackson – and both receptions were at the Irish Centre. Mary Patterson's book 'The Ham Shank' was launched at one of our Tuesday night sessions. This was a lovely book of reminiscences and photographs of the Irish in Leeds, set in the area known as 'The Bank'.

Davitt House opened in Leeds and a special weekend was organised in October. We held a Céilí and also performed a special production, detailing the history of how Irish people settled in the area around The Bank, and mentioning Michael Davitt's connection with Leeds. On the Saturday, an Immigrant Mass was celebrated at St. Anne's Cathedral Leeds. Michael Tennyson was invited to join the new National Folk Orchestra of Ireland – a great honour indeed.


This year's Concert Tour was extra special for us, as, for the first time ever, one of our members was included: Michael Tennyson! This subsequently led to his involvement in the American Tour in October, and we were all delighted for him.

We managed to send four members to Congress, and once again took all three shows to Ennis for Fleadh Núa. That was a fairly major undertaking requiring two coaches. The junior Pléaracha, produced by Helen Dunleavy and Dean Warner, and the senior Pléaracha, produced by Ann Duffy and Eugene Mallon, both went down very well in Ennis.

Following on from our efforts with the history presentation the previous year, it was decided that this year's Scoraíocht ("The Country of the Mind") should be set in the back streets of Leeds, in Flax Street, to be precise, on the Bank. This was our story - the story of the Irish who came to Leeds in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries.

Local historians, Helen and Danny Kennally, provided true stories on which Jo Flannery was able to base the show. We thought it was a pretty impressive production, and although it went a little bit awry in Ennis, we still managed to gain second place. The All Ireland Fleadh was held in Clonmel and Michael Tennyson won his third All Ireland medal at senior level! Not satisfied with that, Michael went on to win the senior Trio along with Liz Gaughan and Maureen Ferguson. To cap it all, this was the year that Michael also appeared on RTE's 'Late, Late Show'.

Meanwhile, there were huge efforts underway in the matter of our 25th birthday celebrations - this was the one which John Ferguson thought we might not reach! Yet again John went into organisational overdrive and the invitations went out to all our friends, former members and guests. In addition to the production of a second 'Review', John wanted to make recordings of branch members, for our archives. As many as possible of the current and former members were involved, resulting in some fine recordings being made. Eventually, a tape of selected items entitled 'Music in Exile' was produced for sale, in time for the big weekend. And what a weekend it was! According to the branch minutes "if we had to do it all over again, we wouldn't change a thing!"


Early in the New Year, a book of short stories ("....but that's another story") by senior member Bernard Dwyer RIP was launched at the Irish Centre; the book was published by another branch member, Dave Taylor. Two of our younger members were honoured by being chosen for the Tour of Britain (Liz Gaughan) and the Tour of Ireland (Helen Dunleavy).

Due to the closure of the Sheffield branch of Comhaltas, a few of their remaining members, one of whom was Miss Mary McClare, joined our branch. In recognition of her contribution to Comhaltas in Britain, we thought it only right to make her a life member of Leeds CCÉ. A Famine Commemoration Day, planned by the Irish community in Leeds, took place in April. As part of this, Jo Flannery was asked to produce a special show, in front of a packed Irish Centre, in remembrance of the victims of the Famine.

With very little rehearsal (due to scoraíocht commitments) a very moving and sombre presentation was performed. Several of our actors read testimonies from absentee landlords, members of the government, tenants, a ship's master and a reporter, who had boarded one of the coffin ships at Grosse Iles in Canada. A last minute hitch, when we lost a singer, turned into a wonderful moment when Tommy McLaughlin stepped into the breach. After racing around to find a black polo-neck sweater, so he would match the rest of the group, Tommy sang 'Skibbereen' with young Samantha Browne - a very moving duet. Tommy had been involved in some of the early productions back in the 1980s, so it was a treat to have him back in the cast one more time.

The junior Pléaracha made a good showing in Ennis, taking second place. Following her success with Geasa (1989) and Lucky in Love (1992) Maria Jackson had another shot at writing a comic story for the scoraíocht with 'Finnegan's Flyer' - and came up trumps again! The show took first place in Ennis and Jo Flannery won production. Another of our very welcome 'blow-ins' Seamus Coleman (originally from Leicester) played a very convincing 'rogue' alongside Jackie Dwyer.

As the Bradford branch was hosting the All Britain Fleadh, Leeds members were on board to help out on the day - and it was a smashing day, and a very enjoyable fleadh. Michael Hester RIP, a great friend and long-time member of the branch, sadly died in September.

Towards the end of the year, the Diocese of Leeds informed the Irish community that it was not appropriate to have Mass in the Irish Centre. Many people were very upset at this ruling. So much so, that over sixty concerned people from the wider Irish community, turned up to a swiftly organised meeting at the Irish Centre. A committee was formed and Comhaltas Chairman Jackie Dwyer, whose negotiation skills are legendary, was invited to head this group. After a certain amount of correspondence and meetings, the Diocese eventually agreed with us that it was appropriate to celebrate Mass in the Centre, much to our satisfaction. That was a good bit of team work, from the whole community.


In March, President Mary Robinson visited the Centre and many of our members were invited to the special Reception to meet her. Literally at the last minute, Jackie Dwyer was asked to step up and greet the President at her car, bringing her in to the Centre. There would be no-one better able to perform that task.

The junior Plearacha again represented Britain at the Fleadh Núa, and did extremely well. Meanwhile the scoraíocht ("The Lion of Ireland") based on a novel about the life of Brian Ború, scored a magnificent 95 marks out of 100 in Ennis. Needless to say, it was a winner and Jo Flannery also brought home the Production Shield. The two music adjudicators each awarded our music (organised by Dave Taylor) an amazing 30 out of 30! We are pretty sure that this mark has never been equalled. Benefiting yet again from great musicians and singers studying in the area, we had both Verena Commins from Coventry and Breda Keville from Galway, in several of our shows around this time.

On the way to the All Ireland in August, many branch members were present when Ann Duffy married Malachy Mooney in Aghamore, Co. Mayo. And we managed a winner at the fleadh in Listowel as 13 year-old Bernadette Byrne became the All Ireland Champion 'whistler' in the 12-15 age group.

Tragically, Colin Dixon died suddenly in October. Colin had fallen in love with Irish music and came looking to us for lessons in 1990. He quickly became a major supporter and ended up running the 'circle' on a Tuesday night, encouraging all our younger musicians to play group music. Colin had also been the mainstay of the 'lighting' department for several of our shows and despite poor health, he had loved the annual trips to Ennis. We celebrated his life, and our friendship with him, by way of a 'month's mind' Mass at the Centre.


We stopped off in Roscrea for the night, on our way to Ennis, this year, at the invitation of our friends in Tipperary. The scoraíocht ("The Parting") went down very well, with a presenter of the (Irish) radio show 'Coppers and Brass' commenting on air that 'Leeds were breathtaking'. We managed to equal our previous record of three wins in a row! In June, John Gaughan RIP sadly died after a long battle with illness.

For the first time, this year we were invited by Leeds City Council to be involved with the Rhythms of the City street festival, and so on the first Saturday afternoon in August we played in the centre of Leeds, to a lot of interested shoppers!

Following on the heels of this venture, we produced and presented a show for the Lord Mayor at the Civic Hall, as the curtain raiser to the new Leeds Irish Festival, sponsored by the City Council. The festival was also heavily supported by the Leeds branch, both on the day, by helpers and musicians and in advance as Jackie Dwyer and Jo Flannery were involved in the organisation.

Great fun this year to have the Fleadh in Mayo for the first time ever. To many of our families, Ballina is as much home as Leeds is! To cap it all, our musicians had the honour of being invited to open the Overseas Concert, which was attended by President Mary Robinson.

Peter Fawcett, photographer and long-time Leeds member has attended many a celebration, branch event, fleadh and festival over the years, popping up here and there with his camera, snapping away and catching our members 'for posterity'!

This year saw the marriages of Paddy Heffron, who married Fiona Fennell in Rome, and also branch secretary Angela McMonagle, who married Michael Regan in Leeds, before leaving us to go and live in Ireland.


Leeds Irish Centre was again honoured by a visit from the President of Ireland. Many of our members were invited to the Reception, to be presented to the new President Mary McAleese. Once again Jackie Dwyer was required to do the honours, on behalf of the whole Irish community, by meeting and greeting the President.

All hands on deck this year for the Regional Fleadh, which we hosted at Cardinal Heenan High School, and we were pleased to receive some very nice compliments for the way in which it was run!

More occurrences in the 'music drain' to Ireland, in April, as Dave and Julie Taylor left us to go and live in Spancil Hill! Dave and Julie had joined the scoraiocht group back in 1989 and quickly became fully involved in the life of the branch. Dave taught at the music classes and also used his publishing skills to good effect with fleadh brochures and posters. In fact he is still helping us out on the publishing front – once a Leeds member always a Leeds member!

The junior Pléaracha was back, after a gap of a year, this time produced by Natasha Browne and Dean Warner. The youngsters did really well, but did not win, as the standard was very high in Ennis. To show they weren't too downhearted, the juniors went on to provide an impromptu street concert at the foot of the O'Connell Monument - to the delight of a very appreciative local audience!

The following night, we won the Production Shield and also made it four All Ireland scoraíocht titles in a row, by winning with 'The Conspiracy', another Maria Jackson inspired comedy. The Parish Priest's housekeeper (a part Maria wrote for herself) conspired with the curate (Chris McDonagh) to help two young people (Michael Tennyson and Natasha Browne) get together. So successful was Maria in her portrayal of 'Mrs McGee' that Labhras O'Murchu wondered whether we had brought a professional actress in - praise indeed!

Back in Leeds, we had a busy summer as we made long-time member Michael Hogan a life member of the branch; the senior céilí band qualified for the All Ireland in Ballina; and we were involved for the second year with both Rhythms of the City and the Irish Festival.

To add to 'the drain' in the musician's stakes, Peter Duffy followed his sisters, Ann and Margaret, and his parents John and Irene, to Aghamore, in June; Siobhan Ferguson followed her sister Noeleen to Ireland - but not to Mayo – she branched out and went to live in Galway. Fiddle player Tom Keating returned home in August; and Helen Conlon went to live in Mayo in October.

The autumn edition of the newsletter, produced by Jo Flannery, was seized by born-again computer fanatic Michael Tennyson and turned into the rather flash 'Comhaltas Chronicles'! Liz Gaughan was invited to tour both Ireland and the USA this year with the Echoes of Erin Comhaltas Concert Tour.


Over the years we had hosted the Provincial Council AGM on a fairly regular basis, but this year's event was a bit special, being the first one to start with Mass on the Saturday evening, followed by the Provincial Céilí, and then the AGM itself on Sunday. In February we bade farewell to Helen Dunleavy, who left us to go and live in Ireland. Also, the last annual St Patrick's Day Mass (sung O'Ríada Mass) was celebrated at St Anne's Cathedral, fourteen years after it was inspired.

Natasha and Samantha Browne produced the junior Pléaracha, which did really well in Ennis and took second place. Meanwhile the scoraíocht "The Prizefight" was developed from another Maria Jackson idea. This one set a new record by gaining us our fifth All Ireland in a row, along with the Production Shield for Jo Flannery.

Martin Julian RIP painted an amazing backdrop for us - the inside of Mossy O'Shea's Bar. Owen Clarke RIP made a very convincing 'Mossy' and poor Paul Dixon tried unsuccessfully to take on a fleet-footed Paddy Heffron in the prizefight. The two rogues were played, of course, by the McDonagh brothers, who else? A quick calculation here - that makes it eleven times we have brought home the Producer's Shield for Best Production and an amazing ten times that we have been All Ireland Scoraíocht Champions.

Just back home from Ennis, and we were involved with a recording for Céilí House, which seemed to go really well - unfortunately due to a programme scheduling mix-up, we never got to hear it in this country!

At the end of June, it was the All Britain Fleadh, hosted by Leeds at Trinity and All Saints College - the first-ever proper two-day fleadh, in Britain. The Provincial Council's faith in John Ferguson's organisational ability, plus the experience of his ever-willing team of helpers in Leeds, seems to be what ensured that Leeds had the privilege of hosting these 'first-ever' events. What a weekend! The atmosphere was great and although we all worked ever so hard, we seemed to have a great time while we were doing it. Great praise was given to the organising Committee, led by John Ferguson, ably supported by Peggy Sarsfield.

Less than a couple of weeks later we were making a history presentation to the Women's Institute in Ripon. Jo Flannery adapted the Famine Memorial presentation (from 1995) and it was extremely well received. It was strange really, as there were plenty of tears from the ladies in the audience at the realisation of what had happened during the famine years in Ireland. For the third year in a row we produced the Lord Mayor's Show at the Civic Hall – with Peggy Sarsfield singing a song at the end of the show, especially for the Lord Mayor – and stealing his heart into the bargain!

Again we had a major input into the Irish Festival and also entertained Sunday afternoon shoppers in Briggate, on a glorious August day during the Rhythms of the City street festival. And then it was our 30th anniversary! Another great weekend, with guests galore - even the Lord Mayor attended! Step-dancer Donncha O'Muineacháin RIP did another set-dancing workshop for us and Séamus McMathúna, singer, raconteur and flute player extraordinaire, hosted a memorable singing session.


In January, we hosted the Adjudicators' Seminar at Hinsley Hall, organised by John Ferguson, and in February, we again hosted the Provincial Council AGM, but this time the céilí was at the Spinning Wheel. The overnight guests were accommodated at the Metropole Hotel, where a session took place in the foyer, until the early hours. In February, we received a grant from the Millennium Fund, and it was brilliant to be able to replace our worn-out amplification and also obtain a good second-hand piano for sessions.

We also lost yet another local musician, as flute player Tommy Duffy went to live in Aghamore. We cheered ourselves up, however, by becoming involved with the first-ever St Patrick's Day Parade through Leeds, which turned out to be a lot of fun!

The juniors were very well prepared for the Pléaracha competition, in the more than capable hands of Samantha Browne and John Flaherty. And all the effort was well worthwhile, when they won the final in Ennis. This was not something we had thought would be possible, due to the very high standards in the junior competition. We were well and truly delighted! The scoraíocht ("The Caves of Keash....or how the Professor recovered his grandfather's watch") was very well received in Ennis and came second to a huge production from Camross. We reckoned that they had more dancers than we actually had people in our show!

A couple of weeks later and our Vice Chairperson Natasha Browne married Robert Kelly in Leeds. One of our long-time supporters and all round 'nice guy' Sean Dunleavy RIP died in early July after a long illness.

This year's involvement in the Irish Festival also included a Poetry Reading, which was supported by our musicians and also one or two members of the branch participated in the readings. Again we played in a street session for Rhythms of the City, and remarkably, the weather was once again kind to us.

In August we had to say farewell to Liz Gaughan, who was going to live in Ennis, but we had a great send-off session for her first! Liz was one of our home-grown musicians, who went on to become one of our strongest players - involved in virtually everything we did from the tender age of ten years. And she could dance and sing beautifully too.

The year was rounded up by Jackie Dwyer's retirement from the Chairman's office after thirty years and more, in that position. Although he was not on the original founding committee, he was co-opted on very soon after its first meeting and was very rapidly appointed Chairman after that. Presentations were made to him at the Annual Dinner and Céilí in November, by newly elected Chairman Jody Moran. The success of the branch down the years, owes much to Jackie's skill in keeping Comhaltas in Leeds on the 'straight and narrow'!


Our first event was our 'Christmas' ceili - it should probably have been called our New Year ceili, but it was a good night anyway with music by the Castlemore Ceili Band.

Again we were hosting the Provincial Council AGM, but, as this year was the 50th Anniversary of Comhaltas, this was a very special event. For the first time ever the high council of Comhaltas held one of their meetings outside Ireland. So we were involved in the full weekend event 'Convention 2001' at the Parkway Hotel, at Bramhope. Once more, a huge amount of work was carried out, inspired and organised by the amazing John Ferguson, again assisted by a brilliant team of very hard working helpers. We had a marvellous weekend, one of the highlights being the presentation to John Ferguson of a special award from the Council of Britain, in recognition of his tremendous contribution to Comhaltas since 1969.

As this was John and Maureen's last official Comhaltas function in Leeds, before they returned to live in Ireland, the Council also presented them with a farewell gift. At an extra special session a week later, the branch said our own farewell to our two much loved and much respected friends. Together they had contributed an extraordinary amount to the life of the branch from even before its inception back in October 1969. Ciarán, their son, and Maureen's father Bernard Dwyer also returned with them to their new home in Ballina.

For the first year in a very long time, we missed the Ennis trip – none of us wanted to risk carrying 'foot and mouth' disease to Ireland. Liz Gallagher co-ordinated the production of an informal plearacha to keep us occupied and out of trouble. Paul Dixon, a former secretary of the branch married Diane in June and Dean Warner married Michelle Tennyson (Michael's cousin from Tyrone) and promptly left us to go and live in Armagh. That's another one we've lost to Ireland! Garry Shannon was our guest at this year's Annual Dinner.


The branch musicians supported both the Leeds and the Huddersfield St Patrick's Day Parades in March. A memorial evening for Fr Murtagh was held in April, when we performed a version of the Plearacha from the year before. At the beginning of May we saw the start of the 'first of the month' Saturday sessions in the Games Room, at the request of the Irish Centre. These nights, hosted by the inimitable Peggy Sarsfield, and containing a healthy proportion of songs from Peggy and her husband Martin, proved so popular that they became a regular fixture. The funds provided by the Centre still go straight into a special account, which helps to fund our music classes.

Another year without a proper branch trip to Ennis, as the change in the Bank Holiday (the Queen's Jubilee) made it difficult for many to travel. However, a bunch of our musicians travelled by minibus, courtesy of Owen Clarke RIP at the wheel. Several of our 'ex-pats' - former Leeds members - made the trip from various parts of Ireland to spend the weekend with their old friends and, as ever, a great time was had by all.

In June we hosted a Ruby Jubilee celebration party to show our great appreciation for our Spiritual Director Father John O'Keeffe. Over the years he has never let us down whenever we needed a special Mass for a Comhaltas event and has always taken great care to make his 'few words' really appropriate to our events – for which we are truly grateful.

We held the last Saturday afternoon music classes in July - after 32 years. In the September they were moved to Tuesday nights and the changes also included the 'retiring' from teaching of Michael Tennyson and Eugene Mallon, who had both taught our youngsters, on a voluntary basis, for 14 years. Their dedication was much appreciated and tribute was paid to them at the Annual Dinner in November. Liz Jordan, our music classes 'administrator extraordinaire' also retired after 32 years' service to the branch - that's an awful lot of lists and 'subs'. Such commitment is awe-inspiring and we are deeply grateful to her for all her hard work.

Our good friend, Padraig Clarke RIP, one of our long-time members, died in July after a long illness. As always we keep an eye on our former members and we heard great news about Liz Gaughan, who not only won the All Ireland Senior Duet (with Nuala Hehir) and Trio (with Nuala Hehir and Brendan Quinn) this year but she also played with the Ennis Ceili Band in its three All Irelands in a row (2001, 2002 and 2003). We are very proud indeed of her achievements.

Instead of the Gala Day, which seemed to have run its course, we held a September fundraising night, with cake stall, white elephants and tombola. We put on the plearacha and we also had a performance from the Ceili Band (organised as usual by Michael Tennyson) which had played at the All Ireland. In October, some of our musicians (Paddy Heffron, Dominic Byrne, Michael Tennyson, Kieran O'Malley, Kevin Hurley, Theresa Coleman, Jody Moran and Natasha Kelly) were invited to join a Leeds City Council sponsored 'cultural' trip to China, where they had a brilliant time and were very well received. In November Colm Regan joined us as our special guest at the Annual Dinner.


Sadly we heard the news in May of the deaths of two of our former members – long-time supporter, Brendan Byrd (Snr.) RIP and flute-player Andy Snee RIP, who had gone back to live in Kilkelly. Andy had been in many of our shows over the years and was a lovely character.

Back on the Ennis trail and it felt like we were starting all over again, as scoraiocht rookies, after the glories of the 1990s. The five victories in a row seemed like a long way off, as well over half of the group had never seen a scoraiocht never mind been in one. 'The Cross at Carrowreagh' was a light-hearted venture and Chris McDonagh's famous encounter with the banshee left everyone laughing at the end of the show. We were beaten by a team from Rahan, but fortunately no-one felt at all second-best!

Martin Julian, musician, branch committee member and former PRO, died suddenly in September. Martin was a man of many parts, but, for us, he made an enormous contribution to the way our shows looked, by his amazing talent as a scenery painter. His major efforts included the inside of Brian Boru's castle (1996) the seascape of Clew Bay (1997) the 'bridge below the town' (1998) the inside of Mossy O' Shea's pub (1999) and the Caves of Keash (2000).

Camross CCE visited Leeds in September and we had a great night's entertainment.


A special Mass, on St Patrick's Eve, marked the start of the Centenary Year of St Anne's Cathedral in Leeds and Comhaltas was invited by the Diocese to provide the music and the singing - in the presence of the Bishop and the Irish Ambassador, no less! We dusted off the Sean O'Riada Mass, trained up a few new singers and musicians, and did the branch proud. With no Ennis trip to work toward, we still needed a 'focus' so we put a Seisiún together, with an emigration theme, and performed it on a 'gig rig' at the Caistor Irish Festival, in Lincolnshire, in July. We had a smashing branch day out and it made up a little bit, for missing Ennis again this year!

There were quite a few Comhaltas weddings in 2004 – in January, Liz Gallagher married John Duffy in County Sligo, then, shortly afterwards, Brian Aylward married Elaine Sarsfield, in Leeds. Sarah and Shay Allen were married in May; and Helen Dunleavy married Noel Ryan in Ennis in November.

Step-dancer Liz and button-box player John Duffy moved to Northern Ireland in May, and John and Brenda O'Malley returned to Mayo in October – yet more people to add to the ever-increasing list of former Leeds members we have lost to Ireland. We celebrated our 35th Anniversary in October 2004 and apart from having a good weekend of celebrations in honour of that achievement we also decided to record a CD of our current musicians and singers. Michael Tennyson and his helpers spent a lot of time organising this project during the autumn and into the following year.

Ryan Molloy was our guest at the Annual Dinner, when Natasha Kelly stood up to make her first speech as Branch Chairperson – and very well she did too! In December we heard the news of Michael Fean's death in Limerick. Former long-term Committee member and branch officer, Michael RIP was synonymous with Leeds Comhaltas in the 1970s and 1980s, hosting many a branch event.


There was a change of format to this year's concert tour – the group from Ireland performed the second half of the concert and we put on a version of our 2004 Seisiún as the first half of the show. We received very appreciative feedback, when you consider the talent that followed us! Mass was offered for Michael Fean RIP on St Patrick's Eve, by Father Nigel Polland at the Holy Rosary Church, with music from the O'Riada Mass played by Michael Tennyson and Helen Flaherty and sung by the remnants of our former choir.

Our CD 'The Music Makers' was duly launched in April, with a tremendous night at the Irish Centre. Kieran Hanrahan and Ceili House once again came to Leeds to record a show. Unfortunately, we were once more unlucky with the scheduling, as the programme was not broadcast in the UK. We did get pretty good feedback from our former members now resident in Ireland, so we contented ourselves with that! The CD itself was accorded five stars from the Irish World newspaper and was described as an absolute bargain at £10 for 28 tracks. Much to our relief, it sold really well and paid for itself in only three weeks.

This year's Seisiún was 'The Kerry Dances' as we took a bit of a nostalgic look back at some of the old ballads. We discovered a rising young star into the bargain as James Forde 'danced' into the limelight with Ciaran Houton to our version of Phil the Fluter's Ball! We had yet another blow-in to the Leeds scene – this time from Japan – when we were joined for over a year by Hiroyuki Yamada, a PhD student at Leeds University and a super flute player.

'Hero' was a big hit with everyone in the branch and took great delight at being the first Japanese player to be involved in our productions. He even managed (eventually) to understand Jackie Dwyer's sense of humour! It seemed like there was definitely something in the water, when there was yet another bunch of Comhaltas weddings in 2005 - Kevin and Sarah Reape in January; Brian and Nicola Reape in April; Liz Gaughan and Brendan Quinn in May; Michael Tennyson and Collette Warner in July; Kevin Brown was married in Italy, in August; and Anna married Jody Moran (former branch chairman) in October.

Sadly, long-time branch member, Tommy Mulkeen RIP died in July. Tommy was a quiet 'gentle' man, who was well known for his lilting, which we were fortunate to be able to record on the 'Music in Exile' tape produced for our 25th anniversary back in 1994. Technically no longer a Leeds member, as he now lives in Northern Ireland (but we'll always claim him as one of ours) Dean Warner (former scoraíocht stalwart!) won the senior All Ireland Piano Accordion competition – following in the footsteps of John Ferguson and Michael Tennyson. And so, we were delighted to welcome him back to Leeds, as our special guest at the Annual Dinner & Ceili in November. This year's dinner and ceili was no exception to the general rule that these are the nicest nights in our calendar!


Father Nigel Polland at the Holy Rosary Church offered a St Patrick's Vigil Mass for us again this year and we played and sang part of the O'Riada Mass again – it's good to keep our hand in! Flute player and founder member of Rotherham branch of Comhaltas, Tommy Boyle RIP, died in May 2006 – Tommy was often in Leeds at sessions in the '70s and '80s and is fondly remembered.

There were a couple of Duffy Family (Aghamore) weddings this year – Peter married Deirdre Cassidy in July and Margaret married Declan Keadin in December.

Our 2006 Seisiún was 'The Old Lammas Fair' – the banner being made for this show by prisoners at Wakefield Prison, courtesy of Leeds member and prison officer Ted Toon. Our first performance was at the beginning of May, to coincide with the trip to Leeds by Brosna branch from County Offaly – when we welcomed back our former members Leo Reddy and Andrew Hurley. We were also invited back to Caistor for their 'Celtic Festival' in May and performed in a marquee to a spellbound audience.

The bit of the show relating to 'horse trading' went down a treat, Jackie Dwyer was fine but Jim Mulhern's and James Forde's hands became a bit sore during practices! The show got a final outing at Sheepscar WMC in November, as part of the Leeds Gathering Festival, organised by the Irish Arts Foundation. Irish Arts is run by two former branch members, Des Hurley and Chris O'Malley and we were very pleased to share the bill that night with ace performers Nollaig Casey and Arty McGlyn.

Deirdre Scanlon was our guest artiste at this year's dinner and ceili in November – a beautiful singer and very talented fiddle-player, she was a joy to have with us. Once again we had top quality music from our friends from Coventry Comhaltas - Carmel and John Burke and friends.


At the end of January, a stalwart and much-loved member of our committee passed away after a long and bravely fought illness. Owen Clarke RIP had been involved in lots of our shows with the props and lighting, but also as an actor and set-dancer. He had also been our Regional delegate for many years - he is greatly missed. Dean Warner was on this year's UK Concert Tour and we all went along to Bradford to see him perform, and very proud of him we were too!

In March we were asked to organise the Mass (said by Fr Eugene McGillycuddy) at the Cathedral in conjunction with the St Patrick's Day Parade. It was a real tribute to our team-working as everything was covered, music and singing, offertory procession, bidding prayers, ministers - and we had many compliments paid to our organisation, as the Mass went off beautifully.

Our scoraiocht 'Kate Srihorn and the Corrageenroes' competed at the Fleadh Nua. We had a brilliant time in Ennis, as always, and it was great to be back after a gap of four years. Our story was about a hurling team who had a run of really bad luck and to change it the team decided to visit a 'wise woman'. Many comic possibilities there, when you consider we had both David and Chris McDonagh, as well as James Forde. The dancers looked great in their blue and gold team strip, waving their hurleys around - and this year's banner ('Go, Go, Corrageenroe!') was made by inmates of Durham Jail!

Our show was very well received by our audiences both in Leeds and Ennis – the adjudicators scoring us a magnificent 91 out of 100 - unfortunately there was no competition for us, but as we were adjudicated, we can still claim the All Ireland title, even if we didn't get either medals or the Trophies! Ryan Sarsfield (Peggy & Martin's son) married Gemma in July and Debbie Howley (one of our brilliant music teachers) married Paul Gilroy in September.

We lost some good friends this summer – Jackie Walsh RIP, wife of former committee member Bill Walsh, died in June; Reuben Sykes RIP passed away in August – his connection and support for the branch goes back many years - and also Terry McNamara RIP, a good supporter.

Committee members John & Teresa Reape left Leeds for Lahardane, Co. Mayo at the end of August. Teresa has made many a costume for our shows - not to mention stitching huge, enormous rolls of material into a backdrop for us, on more than one occasion. She was also an organiser (along with Mary Dwyer) of our Annual Dinner for many years. And John – 'Mr Reliable' - the vice-chair to Jackie Dwyer for many a year, and also a brilliant 'props' person, was involved in all our shows. Before we let them go, we just had to award them with life membership in recognition of their amazing dedication to Leeds Comhaltas over many years.

Another award, this time to Kathleen Lunny-Walsh - in recognition of her mighty efforts for the Keighley branch of Comhaltas. She not only founded the Keighley branch, teaching music, set and ceili dancing and producing shows, but she also kept Keighley going through thick and thin, almost single-handedly, until the branch was forced to close. At her 80th birthday celebration in Yeadon, at the end of September, we joined her friends in paying tribute to her and we were delighted to present her with her life membership certificate of Leeds branch.

One of our favourite former members, flute and piano accordion-player Peter Duffy (now living in Aghamore, Co. Mayo) came back as our 'extra' special guest from Ireland, for the Annual Dinner & Ceili. It was a real treat to have him back. We were also able to surprise Brenda O'Malley, back in Leeds for the Dinner, when we presented her with a life membership certificate of Leeds Branch in recognition of years of hard work on behalf of the branch. The Ivy Leaf Ceili band did us proud once more and a great time was had by all!


At the end of February Bernard Dwyer RIP passed away after a short illness, in Co. Mayo. Bernard not only published a book of short stories, but he also kept us supplied over the years with stories for scoraiochts. Due to his many letters and articles, he became the voice of Leeds CCE in Treoir magazine. In March we had our beautiful shamrock-decorated float for the St Patrick’s Day Parade and our musicians and singers also performed on the gig rig in Millennium Square - on a gloriously warm and sunny day - amazing weather!

Our scoraiocht 'Meet me tonight on the shore' (written and produced by Jo Flannery) was performed in Leeds in May, just a week before we took it to Ennis and the Fleadh Nua. We had brilliant weather, and ran our last rehearsal outside Glór, in the sunshine, in front of an appreciative audience. Due to lack of competition again this year, we were invited to perform instead at the Celebrity Concert at the Glór Theatre, on the Sunday night. This was a magnificent venue, which really showed off our talented crew. The show was a bit of a 'play within a play' and we highlighted the talents of our storyteller Jackie Dwyer, who told the tale of the young fisherman, who falls in love with a Sea Maiden. We had a tremendous response from the audience – many of whom waited to chat to us after the show. And then we had a fantastic, never-to-be-forgotten after-show party – thanks, in no short measure, firstly to Seamus MacMathúna and then to Jody Moran, Sean Deane and Dave Oldroyd!

We were hardly back from Ireland, in early June, when we heard the tragic news of the untimely death of Ian Gaughan RIP, killed in a road accident in Leeds. Ian had been a member well into his teens, playing with the junior groups, and still kept in touch with us, through his sister Liz, after he stopped playing. Two more Comhaltas weddings this summer – Jackie Quinn married Colin Dickinson at the beginning of August and David Sarsfield married Lisa Goldie early in September.

Martin Jordan was around at the very start of Comhaltas in Leeds, back in 1969, and for many years was a redoubtable member of the branch. We wanted him to know that his contribution was not forgotten and so we decided this year to make him a life member of the branch in recognition of all his hard work over the years. Former Chairman, musician, singer and set-dancer Jody Moran left us to move to Australia in October, with wife Anna and daughter Ailish. Jody left a big hole in our branch and is much missed.

The October fundraiser was a great night – enough money was raised to keep us going another year. We have some brilliant workers who are always there to help out – Angie Browne is a real example, running raffles for us over so many years, with help from ever-present members such as Anna Quinn and also Hugh O'Malley, who regularly volunteers to sit 'on the door' for us. Also regulars at this fixture are Mary McGinty and Maureen Boland who organise the Tombola.

Long time branch member and supporter Eugene Mallon (Snr) RIP passed away in October after a long and bravely fought illness. The Annual Dinner & Ceili, in November, was a really nice night - our guests were Aoife and Sinead Kinsella from Co. Offaly and our friends from over the Pennines - the Castlemore Ceili Band - kept the floor full with their great dance music.

We hosted a Regional Comhaltas Concert at the end of November and it was a real pleasure to see former Leeds musician Paul Ruane bring his group of youngsters from Tyneside CCE to entertain us with some excellent music. As the music classes finished at the end of term, Brian Aylward retired after several years teaching the whistle and the flute. Another annual fixture we have established is our Christmas party in December where we are entertained by our junior musicians. They get to show off their hard won skills, and we have a great time - this year was no exception!


On the first of the musicians' session nights (not to be confused with the first Saturday of the month) in January, we had a great turn out from local musicians – over thirty at one point! On the 30th January we did both a concert and the scoraiocht at the Seven Arts Centre, in Chapel Allerton. As we had hoped, we reached a different audience and they seemed to really enjoy what we did!

The following week the 2008 Scoraiocht had its final performance when we took it out to the Huddersfield Irish Centre for their 10th Anniversary weekend. It turned out to be a brilliant night, despite the heavy snow. We followed the show with what was really first-class entertainment. The Huddersfield crowd, though fairly thin on the ground due to the weather, claimed they had never seen such talent!

We were informed early in February that there would be no scoraiocht competition, so, as we still wanted our trip to Ennis, we decided to put a plearacha together. We entered the Fleadh Nua, coming second to a very talented group from Templeglantine. We had a lovely time in Ennis - and the Sunday night party in May Kearney's was a wonderful family celebration – with the added bonus that we were all back together again after Joe Simpson's short stay in Ennis Hospital.

However, as soon as we were back in Leeds we started working on a scoraiocht for the 40th anniversary. We had decided that there was no way we could have such a celebration without a scoraiocht! It's definitely our trademark – this one will be our 23rd – and that's not counting all the other shows, plearachas, siamsas, seisiuns, concerts and history presentations that we have put together over the last forty years.

Thinking about all the shows brings rehearsals to mind and raises the question, what would we have done without the benefit of the facilities at the Irish Centre? Not to mention the goodwill and co-operation shown to us by the staff and management over the years. And here is where we just have to single out our own Christy Power, who has been there for us through good times and bad, always on hand to help resolve difficulties, going the extra mile - a real star.

As the music classes finished for the summer, Peggy Sarsfield retired after seven years of Tuesday nights, taking names, collecting 'subs', making sure the teachers are looked after and undertaking all the other administrative chores involved in running the classes – not always a rewarding task! Her dedication has been outstanding as often times she has had to go out to work a night shift at the hospital, straight after the end of the classes. We are truly fortunate in Leeds to have such committed workers.

John Joe Faughnan's contribution to the life of the branch has been not just outstanding, but indeed immeasurable – he has been the most meticulous of treasurers for almost the whole of our forty years, apart from the first few months. John Joe retired at the branch AGM in October and we cannot thank him enough for the dedication, commitment and sheer hard work that he has given to the branch. John Joe we salute you.

Meanwhile our 40th anniversary team are also hard at work with all their preparations for what is going to be a great weekend……

To be continued…