Monday 16 September 2019

Dermot was Ardee's best

Louth 1957 captain Dermot O'Brien spent a lifetime in music. Hubert Murphy looks back on the genius with the golden fingers...

Louth has produced many great musicians - but surely none more famous than the Turfman from Ardee himself, Dermot O'Brien.

The famed captain of the Louth side that won the All-Ireland in 1957, he went on to enjoy worldwide renown as a singer, accordion player and all round performer. When they created Dermot, they broke the mould.

Known as the man with the golden fingers, he epitiinised the spirit of 1957.

Born and bred in Ardee, the centre forward was selected as captain for the day and it was with a proud heart that the 24 year old clerical worker with Meath County Council walked up those steps to accept the 1957 All Ireland title, watched by GAA President, Seamus McFerran from Antrim. But O'Brien nearly never made the final.

Having suffered an injury in the semi final, he went to a doctor in Navan on the morning of the match for a pain killing injection on his shoulder. He was delayed and arrived at Croke Park barely an hour before the game to find it locked up. He finally got in at the Hogan Stand and then had a mighty dash to make the dressing room before kick off.

But he did and all the rest is history. And just to show his luck, he remained captain for the day on the toss of a coin. In training prior to the game, he offered to step down from the role after former skipper Patsy Coleman returned from injury. But a throw of the coin was deemed fair and Dermot came up trumps - or heads as the case might have been.

Dermot, like the rest of his Ardee colleagues, began his football career in the De La Salle in Ardee and won his first medal in 1946 when playing with the mid Louth under 16 team in the divisional championship. In the town's street leagues he always had Louth's star forward Jim Roe on his side.

His first county championship medal came in 1949 when Ardee won the minor title. The following year he played with the St.Marys 2nd Division side and figured on the Louth minors in 1949, 50 and 51 and made his St.Marys senior debut against Stabannon in the Cardinal O'Donnell series.

Dermot long remembered May 11, 1952 for that was the day when he was selected on the Louth senior team against Meath at Kingscourt...and Louth won.

He had signaled his intention to retire from the inter county scene which he did until early 1957 when he came back against Dublin at centre half forward and scored two goals.

It seemed only natural that he should become such an accomplished footballer as his father Paddy was a well known ball player and handballer while his uncle Tom Dowdall was a member of the Louth team that won the All Ireland junior title in 1934.

O'Brien was to later become one of the most respected accordionists the country has ever produced.

Making his name with the St Malachy's Ceili Band, he worked for a spell in the States from late 1958 to March 1959 and went on to record a scries of programmes on RTE, 'County Style and Jamboree' as wel! as the Dermot O'Brien Show.

His 1966 recording of the 'Merry Ploughboy' went straight in at No.l in the charts.

In 1982 he decided to pack his bags and with his family headed to a new life in Long Island, USA. Dermot was a fluent Irish speaker and a great ambassador for Ireland abroad, particularly in the US. He appeared on American television with Bing Crosby and Ed Sullivan. His mother passed away in late 1989, and an abiding memory of her was a song written for her - "Neansai". It won the Pan Celtic Song Contest held in Killarney in 1980.

Dermot often returned home for a trip called "A Musical Tour of Ireland with Dermot O'Brien". Dermot hosted the tour every two years and it was orgánised by Aer Lingus. The Americans travelling with him came mainly from New York, New Jersey, Boston, Washington DC and Nebraska and for most of them this was to be their first trip to "the old sod".

Dermot travelled all over the States and further afield, including Bermuda where he entertained the American troops.

When the space shuttle 'Discovery' was launched in October 1990 - US astronaut Bill Shepherd played a tape of Irish foík music, featuring Dermot.

Dermot and Rosemarie returned home to Ardee and Dermot sadly passed away in 2007. During the funeral mass, RTE's sports legend and fellow Louth man Jimmy Magee, gave a lovely speech about the song-writer and musician.

'When I visited Dermot in hospital a few weeks ago, he asked me to speak at his funeral. I said I would but only if he promised to speak at mine if I went first,' Jimmy told the packed church.

Among the many famous faces at the mass was Ronnie Drew from The Dubliners.

As the hearse left the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady, the Ardee Concert Band played the well-known march 'Old Comrades' as the cortege headed up the Drogheda Road, past St. Mary's GFC ground, to Ballapousta graveyard.

This march was a particular favourite of Dermot's and he especially asked that the band played it as he went on his fjnal journey.

The O'Brien connection with the band went back to Dermot's father, Paddy O'Brien, know locally as 'OB,' who was the bandmaster of the Ardee Concert Band, which was known then as Ardee Brass & Reed Band.

Dermot started in the band playing the triangle and then became an accomplished trombone player. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Argus