Thursday 18 January 2018

Friends pay tribute to showband drummer

Mickey O'Neill back row, second from left with Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight
Mickey O'Neill back row, second from left with Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight
Mickey O'Neill on the drums in Las Vegas in 1972

Ken Sweeney Entertainment Reporter

CABARET star Brendan Bowyer has led tributes to his legendary showband drummer Mickey O'Neill -- who counted Elvis Presley among his fans.

Regarded as the best showband drummer of all time, the musician was at Bowyer's side for 30 years performing in Las Vegas.

"I would only blink at him and he would know exactly what to play. He is absolutely irreplaceable but I will miss him as much from the heart as on drums," Bowyer told the Irish Independent.

The drummer (61) died unexpectedly in the US on June 15 following a routine operation.

Due to a post-mortem and other delays in bringing the body home, his funeral will take place in his home town of Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, next Thursday, and is expected to be attended by Irish showband stars including Big Tom, Paddy Cole and Twink.

Fr Brian D'Arcy, who knew O'Neill for over 30 years, will officiate at the funeral Mass in St Mary's Church, Castleblayney.


"Mickey O'Neill was the best drummer in any showband," said Fr D'Arcy.

"He played with Brendan Bowyer, The Capitol Showband and The Swarbriggs. Everybody knew and loved Mickey."

It was with local outfit The Maurice Lynch Band that he began drumming, before his talent for the sticks saw him graduate through some of the biggest showbands of the era.

In 1972 he got the chance of a lifetime to join the Big Eight performing in Las Vegas with stars including Bowyer, Cole and Twink.

Those attending their shows, on the town's famous Sunset Strip, included Elvis Presley and film star Raquel Welch.

"I remember Mickey saying he was struck dumb when Elvis came up and shook his hand. All Mickey could say was 'Howya Elvis'," recounted his brother-in-law Gerry Black.

"It was some experience for a young lad from Castleblayney."

Mickey O'Neill is survived by partner Mary Schwartz and sons Alan and Mark, as well as his brothers Danny, Johnny and Gregory and sister Mary.

Irish Independent

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