Charlie McGettigan’s Bundoran
Many internationally renowned artists have started their careers in Bundoran with many claiming the town to be a huge influence in their lives. Tourism Officer Shane Smyth recently sat down with singer songwriter Charlie McGettigan to get his memories of playing in the town in the 60s.
Shane: Alright. We’re here with Charlie McGettigan. Charlie, of course, you’ll know from Rock N’ Roll Kids, I suppose, would be more one of your more things that you’re well known for. A lot of people might not have known that you grew up in Ballyshannon, and you played a lot of gigs here in Bundoran.
Charlie M.: I did. I grew up in Ballyshannon in the 1950s and 60s. And the first connection I remember with Bundoran, we were at a school concert in the rock hall in Ballyshannon. This guy came on with an electric guitar, and sang beautiful songs. And it was Liam Travers was his name. I said … that song with this guitar, it was a real shiny guitar, and a lovely amplifier, and he would have been about maybe 16 at the time. And I said, “Jeepers, I want to do that.” He was one of my very early inspirations.
Shane: Any inkling before that?
Charlie M.: Oh, yeah. I was interested in music. But when I saw Liam, I realized somebody could do it. That it wasn’t just the Everly Brothers that could do it or Elvis Presley that could do it, somebody could actually get up and sing and play guitar. And I kinda thought, “Jeepers, I could do that, give us a job.” You remember that play, the Boys and the Blackstuff. Give us a job. I persuaded my dad the following Christmas, I was about 13 at the time, to buy me an electric guitar, and of course I didn’t know I needed an amp as well.
Charlie M.: But anyway, I had a guitar and that was it. And the next connection with Bundoran would’ve been as we got older, you know 14, 15. And we began to form little bands. And we had a littler band in Ballyshannon and we had no bass player, we knew of a player from Bundoran called Jimmy Gallagher. Jimmy goes out as Thin On Top – You know who he is. He was Sean Gallagher’s brother. Sean was actually playing with the Richard Fitzgerald Ceili Band at the time. He was the guitar player in that band. Which is kind of unusual, because ceili bands didn’t normally have guitars in those days. We got to know Jimmy and we needed a bass player and Jimmy fitted in. And I remember well, we used to rehearse in Ballyshannon, and Jimmy would take a lift, with his bass under his arm, and his little amplifier from Bundoran into Ballyshannon, then we’d sort of practice. And we were so bad nobody would book us.
Charlie M.: So eventually one of the first gigs we got was at the Danby Horseshow, the show dance. And we sneaked in under the canvas at the back, where the bands were. There was a man called Paddy McCafferty, his band were playing, and we said, “Can we do something?” And we proceeded to make a total mess of things and we did it. But anyway, it was a start.
Shane: Your first gig.
Charlie M.: Our first gig. And Jimmy was a great asset because Jimmy had access to Sean, as well as Sean had great experience, he was a well bit older than we were, and had a lot of experience. But we played at all kinds of little hops and dances and stuff like that. But then one summer, I think it was the summer of 1966, this fellow called on the phone in Ballyshannon, who’s name was Sean Byrne. And he was after a lease in the pub where The Chasing Bull is now. That was known as a long lounge, and there’s two long lounges in Bundoran; people forget that, there was a long lounge-
Shane: Where The Kicking Donkey is now.
Charlie M.: There was one up where The Chasin Bull was. It’s gas how the two of them have animals in the name, after all this time. He said, “I’m out for leasing this pub, and I have a busload of Belfast people after arriving in, and I have no music for them.” This was now in the afternoon. So he said, “I heard you had band.” “Oh, we have. We need a pub.” I thought pub bands were all ballad groups. So I went on to Paddy O’Neill’s and Ballyshannon, and bought The Guinness Book of Irish Ballads. Myself, and a friend of mine, Neil McBride, went out to Bundoran and we called Jimmy, and Jimmy said yeah.
Charlie M.: So we went in and we played for these Belfast… Oh we must’ve been dreadful because we had no slew what we were doing. But whatever it was, Sean liked us. And he gave us the summer season. So from then on we played for three months that year, every single night of the week, for about four hours every night. So it was one of the most fantastic learning experience you could possibly want, because in those days if you were playing in the pub, the whole idea was that you would get people, customers, to come up and sing. And they loved to get up and sing. So you get people coming up and singing Frank Sinatra songs, or they’ll be singing Dubliner songs, or The Clancy Brothers, or it could be anything. So you had to learn to back these people. As well as that, a lot of them would get up and sing in several different keys at the same time, so you were literally shifting around. So we learned so much, that particular year.
Charlie M.: There’s a photograph somewhere, I showed it on a TV show I was on recently, of Jimmy and myself and Neil McBride, who was the other fella and we played for the whole summer. So the next year, Neal was gone, and Paddy Brady had a pub up in the West End, Brady’s Cavan House. Paddy was stuck for somebody, and Jimmy had heard about it. So myself and Jimmy ended up getting the summer season there, the following year, and the year after that. So you can imagine how polished we were; like The Beatles going to Hamburg. The fact that you were playing so much, non-stop. So that was my main connection.
Charlie M.: At the time, when we were playing there, down here, in the Hollywood where we’re talking from now, Brian McEniff was the main act, and a fella called Cormac McCready who was from Ballyshannon. He was a ballad singer; could sing anything really. And, believe it or not, Paul Brady. Now, I didn’t know who Paul Brady was at the time, but I remember we were playing in St. Patrick’s Hall out here one night, in the tree band session. At that time, there were three rock n’ roll bands, we all thought we were going to change the world.
Charlie M.: But there were three; a band in Bundoran called Federal Aviation, great name, Federal Aviation. Lawrence was the lead singer and he was a big Van Morrison fan. And I was the lead part in our band. I can’t remember what we were… we changed our name by the week. Then another band from Ballyshannon called The Erratics. They were kind of a play on The Rolling Stones, because geologically an erratic is a rolling stone. Great, clever names.
Shane: Did anybody get it?
Charlie M.: I don’t know. I didn’t get it until I was in second year in school. Wonderful band, three band session. We were all strutting our stuff and thought we were great. And the next thing, this tousle haired, ginger haired fella came out of nowhere, and he come out with a Fender Mustang which is really posh. With a Fender guitar, you’re really doing well. And he go up on the stage and he sang One Night With You, the old Elvis song. And we were gobsmacked. Everybody suddenly shrunk, because this was Paul Brady and we had never heard of him before.
Charlie M.: He was the crème de la crème. He was wonderful. Even then, he was a rock n’ roller at those days, he didn’t really play acoustic guitar at all. But then I found out that he was playing up here in the Hollyrood. So we were all in a position. And those times I remember in Cavan House, there was also the Royal Hotel on the other side, there was music there. There was music virtually in every pub in the town. The whole trick was, when we would be playing in Paddy Brady’s, they always had a speaker outside, to let you know there was music, and you could hear. So we used to go over and disconnect the speaker from The Royal Hotel, so nobody would know, then we’d get all the crowds then.
Charlie M.: But Brady’s was an after hours pub at that time. There was still the police calling, and all that. We’d be playing until two or three in the morning. There was a special watchman that came in at night and he would watch out for the police and everybody would have to scurry. At the back of Brady’s there were steps down that led right down to the shore. And I remember one particular night there was a raid, and nobody wanted to get caught. Two or three people tripped over each other and fell into the water and it was chaos, all together.
Charlie M.: It was an innocent time, Bundoran was a lovely, lovely place then. Some wonderful musicians around the place. Phil Coulter at the time was playing up in The Great Northern, which was then called The Great Southern, for some reason. I don’t know why they changed. Brady in here; it was just music everywhere. I remember people like John Campbell, and Liam Travers, of course, would’ve been playing the scene at the time. It was just music everywhere. There was just a lovely attitude.
Charlie M.: We finished that year, it was 1968, I remember. I went to work in Dublin with the ESB, 1969 I come back from my holidays, and the troubles had started. Bundoran had changed. Nobody wanted to hear anything but rebel songs. I knew lots of rebel songs, but; I remember Paddy asked me, would I go out, one night. It was on my holiday break, but doing it because somebody couldn’t turn up. And I was gobsmacked. They didn’t want to hear any kind of other music except rebel songs and pro-IRA songs, and stuff like that. Not that I’m anti-Republican or anything, but it just changed the whole atmosphere around here. And for that whole 30 years during that trouble, Bundoran was a very much Republican town, and there was a lot of problems…
Charlie M.: I forgot to mention also that Brian McEniff used to play here in the bar, with Paul Brady, at the time. He was a great piano player. And of course, the Hollyrood was completely different. No there was kind of a lobby, like there is now, there. It was much less sophisticated then it is now.
Charlie M.: But that was Bundoran for me and I always, if anybody ever asked me, “What was the biggest influence in your life?” That has to be Bundoran because we learned so much. And we had so much fun learning. It was just wonderful. At this point, I would like to thank people like Liam Travers, because Liam was… people were very generous. He would lend us an amplifier here, or a guitar there, or a mic. Sean Gallagher lent me his Gibson guitar for the summer one year. It couldn’t get better than that. Everybody supported everybody, except us. We pulled the speakers out of it.
Shane: You’d notice some change, I’d imagine, now, in the town.
Charlie M.: Yeah, of course it is. It’s more an all year round town now. And I remember those days, I think 16th of September was the Harvest Fair Day in Ballyshannon, and Bundoran closed then. It was gone for the summer. And you would literally walk the streets of Bundoran and not meet one person. And it was leaves and bits of debris be blowing up through the town. It was like one of those tumbleweeds. It was just the end was a season.
Charlie M.: And I remember particularly in Bundoran as well, there was what’s known as Scotch Fortnight. That was the last week in July, and the first week in August. All these people came from Scotland. Loads, I mean hundreds of people would come here. For the first week they would be down in the drink like nobody’s business. Second week, there’d be three fellas sitting around one pint, with three straws. They literally knew how to enjoy themselves. We got to know a lot of people from Scotland.
Charlie M.: I’d imagine, when I look back, Richard Fitzgerald Ceili Band, they were a fully professional ceili band. They toured in Scotland, as did The Assaroe Ceili Band in Ballyshannon. It was always kind of a rivalry between the two of them. Bundoran was full of music. I don’t know whether it is now, but I suppose it’s even more now, I’d imagine, with these holiday weekends.
Shane: Did you sing Beautiful Bundoran?
Charlie M.: I didn’t. But I know the song. Kathleen Fitzgerald I think had it out here, but Eileen Donaghy released it as well. She was a sister of Plunkett Donaghy, the football player, the blonde hair… you’re too young. Eileen Donaghy was a wonderful singer. And of course, Bridie Gallagher would’ve been a regular here. And I tell you who came quite a bit was a woman called Maisie McDaniels, who was a big TV star at the time. She was from Sligo. She has a daughter now, can’t think of her name… Lisa Stanley. But Maisie was a regular visitor here. In those days, she would’ve been playing maybe somewhere else, and on her way back she’d come into Cavan House. I remember seeing Luke Kelly in Cavan House, for example. Luke would be-
Shane: Phil Coulter told a story, that he came down and he invited Luke Kelly down, thinking nonetheless of it. And the next thing he landed.
Charlie M.: Yeah, and he landed in Brady’s. We had a fellow called Hugo Quinn who was a trumpet player with the Clipper Carlton’s Show Band, and he used to come to stay at Brady’s. Brady’s was a guesthouse as well as a pub. So he had a fortnight holiday, but he’s played every night with us, and that brought Brady up. The sesh went on for nights, all over the morning. Great music. Absolutely everybody having a jam session. But then I hear, even down Leitrim now, I hear about some great music in Bundoran at the moment. Lots of new music.
Shane: Different bands, of course, Sea Sessions obviously helps, as well-
Charlie M.: I mean, where would leave Johnny Gallagher? Funny, I was just looking at him last night on a YouTube video; he’s just fantastic. Of course, Sean Gallagher’s son.
Charlie M.: But, yeah. That was Bundoran.
Shane: You’re still doing a bit of music as well?
Charlie M.: I am. I’m 67 now, and I just do what I like. If somebody calls up and I like the sound of it, I do it. I don’t really need the money anymore.
Shane: Well as we talk, it’s culture night, so you’re heading on Lifford tonight.
Charlie M.: Lifford, yeah, they wouldn’t have me anywhere down in Leitrim. They have me up in Lifford. I’m kind of looking forward to seeing Lifford jail. Which is a club that’s been converted… I’ll know when I get there, could be a complete disaster. Should we see what happens?
Charlie M.: But Bundoran continues. They have a lovely winter festival as well, winter school here, that I’ve been at a few times and contributed to that. It’s a good place.
Shane: Great, Charlie. Thanks very much for your time.
Watch a video of this interview here