Sunday 22 September 2019

Obituary: Robert McLoughlin

The co-founder of Jomac Productions put on thousands of variety shows for children in hospital, writes Sean Ryan

SHOWMAN: Robert McLoughlin (left) with Ronan Hayes at the 2008 People of the Year awards. Photo: Robbie Reynolds‘
SHOWMAN: Robert McLoughlin (left) with Ronan Hayes at the 2008 People of the Year awards. Photo: Robbie Reynolds‘

Robert McLoughlin, whose funeral took place last Saturday, was one of the group of Dublin altar boys who got together in 1952 to entertain the children in Temple Street hospital, little realising that their variety show would still be going strong over 60 years later. In that time, Jomac Productions presented more than 2,000 shows, mainly to children and the elderly, all over Ireland and in the USA.

"It was Joe Maguire's idea," explained McLoughlin, "and the title comes from his name. We were altar boys in the Jesuit church in Gardiner Street, there were about 35 of us, and 12 of us started what we thought would be a one-off show to entertain the children in Temple Street, but it snowballed from there."

That first season they presented seven shows, the following year 14. At one stage, they averaged 40 a year, but cut back to 25 because the demands on people were so great. Back in the 1950s, visits to TB sanatoriums were a big part of the schedule, and they also visited the orthopaedic hospital in Cappagh, where children were often long-stay patients.

In the early days, variety was thriving in Dublin, and many famous artistes cut their teeth performing with Jomac, including the Bachelors, who were then called the Harmonichords. Butch Moore, who went on to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest, was also a Jomac graduate. Signs of the times were present in the audiences they played to. Robert recalled a performance for the girls in a Magdalene Home: "Afterwards, a girl came up to me for a chat and a nun called me aside and said, 'Don't speak to those girls. They're doing penance for their sins'."

He had a happier memory from a visit to an orphanage playing Santa Claus when a little girl came up and asked him where he lived. "I said I lived in heaven and she said, 'Then you must know my mother'. 'Would she have glasses and black hair?' I responded, and she said, 'Yeah', and I never saw a girl go away so happy in all my life. That always stands out in my mind."

Jomac were ahead of their time in another way. "We didn't restrict our work to Catholic charities," explained Robert. "We entertained Church of Ireland and Jewish charities, and we had Church of Ireland and Jewish members also. You could say we were ecumenical before the Church."

There were many special moments for Robert in his life-long involvement with the group. He was presented with a People of the Year award in 2008, and was presented to President Mary McAleese on another occasion, but presenting the show in Maynooth College to athletes from 13 countries during the Special Olympics in 2002, he said, "was a really special night for us".

Jomac presented their mix of Irish and pop music, Irish dancing, magic, instrumentalists, singers and child prodigies on a voluntary basis, and, while most shows were presented to entertain the sick and the elderly, they also helped fundraise on occasion, helping get special treatment for a boy with leukemia, helping the Little Sisters of the Poor and the victims of the Chernobyl disaster, to give just three examples.

Robert, who was retired from the Irish Press, was pre-deceased by his brother Adrian.

Sunday Independent

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