Showbiz legend's final gig brings tears and laughter
MOURNERS from the world of showbiz said a final goodbye to an old friend yesterday as legendary showband drummer Mickey O'Neill was laid to rest .
Relatives and friends were among the 200 who packed the service for the Big Eight showband drummer in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan.
The 61-year-old musician had been living in Las Vegas for the past 38 years until his sudden death following a routine surgery in the US on June 14.
Poignantly, his ashes, along with those of his son Michael, who died in a car crash in 2005 along with Mickey's first wife Catherine, were carried to their final resting place in the adjoining graveyard of St Mary's Church.
Mickey's son Alan and his sister Mary Black carried Mickey and Michael's ashes into the church.
In an emotive eulogy, celebrity priest Fr Brian D'Arcy had the congregation crying and laughing at stories of the good-humoured drummer.
Fr D'Arcy warned mourners not to rush the Our Father "or they would be buying everybody a pint afterwards".
He also told everyone to "give each other a dirty big hug" instead of shaking hands. In 1972 Mickey 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 Raquel Welch.
"All Mickey could say when he met both stars was 'Howya Elvis', 'Howya Ms Welch'," Fr D'Arcy told the congregation.
"Brendan Hughes, the undertaker here, said to me, 'I was his roadie one time'," the priest continued. "Only in Castleblaney could it happen that the man who was your roadie was also your roadie on your last journey. So Brendan is Mickey's roadie on the biggest gig he has ever had."
"Everything I associate with Mickey is craic. He was never the leader of a showband but was often more popular than the band leaders and was known by people in the business as well as anyone who was ever in show business."
Fellow Big Eight showband members Brendan Bowyer and Marjorie Delaney were in attendance, as was Tom 'Big Tom' McBride, Joe Dolan's brother Ben, former Dublin senior inter-county football star Jimmy Keaveney and Longford/Westmeath senator Donie Cassidy, who knew the musician from when he lived in Mullingar.
Connie Lynch, who managed the Royal Irish showband, as the Big Eight was known in the US, also paid his last respects to the drummer yesterday.
There wasn't a dry eye in the church when Capitol showband pianist Eamonn Monahan played 'The Dying Swan' -- an adaptation of Camille Saint-Saens' cello solo 'Le Cygne' -- during the offertory procession. Mr Monahan said he had requested the song to be played at his funeral.
Family members brought up photos, a pair of drum sticks and a snare drum in a case covered in partially worn airline baggage stickers from the musician's many years of touring.
Big Eight frontman Brendan Bowyer sang a moving 'Going Home' accompanied by Andy O' Callaghan.
Marjorie Delaney, who sang with the Royal Irish showband in Las Vegas, described her former bandmate fondly.
"He had a great sense of humour and kept it all together, as a drummer always does. He was devilment with a capital D," said Ms Delaney.
Mickey O'Neill is survived by his sons Mark and Alan, long-time companion Mary Schwartz, grandsons Dyllin and Devyn and his siblings Mary, Daniel 'Yank', Gregory and John ('Johnny').
His family ran a licensed premises in Castleblaney for more than 50 years.