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Early history of ‘The Wolfe Tones’ celebrated in Tralee

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The Wolfe Tones: Tommy Byrne, Noel Nagle and Brian Warfield, pictured on Monday at the unveiling of a plaque to honour a gig that they played there back in 1965 at what was then the 'Derry O'Rourke' Tavern but which is now the Castle Off License. Photo by Joe Hanley.

The Wolfe Tones: Tommy Byrne, Noel Nagle and Brian Warfield, pictured on Monday at the unveiling of a plaque to honour a gig that they played there back in 1965 at what was then the 'Derry O'Rourke' Tavern but which is now the Castle Off License. Photo by Joe Hanley.

The 1965 Rose of Tralee Therese Gillespie who had the honour of unveiling a plaque to honour the Wolfe Tones who played what was then Derry O'Rourkes Tavern and what is now the Castle Off License. From l-r: Johnny Wall (Mayor of Tralee), Therese Gillespie (1965 Rose of Tralee), Tommy Byrne, Noel Nagle and Brian Warfield (Wolfe Tones) and Eddie Barret (organiser and owner of Castle Off License). Photo by Joe Hanley

The 1965 Rose of Tralee Therese Gillespie who had the honour of unveiling a plaque to honour the Wolfe Tones who played what was then Derry O'Rourkes Tavern and what is now the Castle Off License. From l-r: Johnny Wall (Mayor of Tralee), Therese Gillespie (1965 Rose of Tralee), Tommy Byrne, Noel Nagle and Brian Warfield (Wolfe Tones) and Eddie Barret (organiser and owner of Castle Off License). Photo by Joe Hanley

The plaque that was unveiled at the Castle Off License on Castle St in Tralee on Monday.

The plaque that was unveiled at the Castle Off License on Castle St in Tralee on Monday.

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The Wolfe Tones: Tommy Byrne, Noel Nagle and Brian Warfield, pictured on Monday at the unveiling of a plaque to honour a gig that they played there back in 1965 at what was then the 'Derry O'Rourke' Tavern but which is now the Castle Off License. Photo by Joe Hanley.

kerryman

Very soon into what would go onto be a very long career for the band, ‘The Wolf Tones’ performed right here in Kerry in the mid 1960’s as part of the ‘Rose of Tralee’ festival.

It was an appearance that would help to kick start the career of this legendary band and now, thanks to the efforts of locals – lead amongst them, Eddie Barrett – this little bit of history has been etched in stone into outside the building where they performed all those years ago.

The band have long acknowledged the Rose festival as the starting point for their illustrious career and repaid that in spades over the years by returning multiple times to perform there. Their first and arguably most famous show though was performed in what was back then known as the ’Derry O’Rourke’ Tavern and which is now the Castle Off-License on Castle Street.

Back then, the four person band – made up of Brian Warfield, Noel Nagle, Liam Courtney (he was replaced by Tommy Bryne in November of 1964) and Brian’s brother Derek – were light years away from what they would go onto become and so had to make do by sleeping in two two-man tents in Derry’s back garden in Ballyard.

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Eddie Barrett, whose family have owned and run the popular off license since 2005, helped on Monday afternoon – along with the band themselves and the 1965 Rose of Tralee winner, Therese Collins (née Gillespie) – to unveil a plaque commemorating the band's famous gig there. 

Speaking to The Kerryman about the unveiling, Eddie said that he was just wanted to help celebrate a little bit of local history.

"We discovered through the grapevine and going through the records of the bar and through chatting to the O'Rourke family that ‘The Wolfe Tones’ had won their first prize there back in ‘65 I think it was and then they set out on the road to being a professional group after that and the rest, as they say, is history,” said Eddie.

“The lads were only about 17 or 18 at the time. They had more or less come together out of school, playing together and singing their few ballads and all that. They were taking part in this ‘Festival of Kerry’ folk group competition and they won the whole thing and this competition, it generated a huge amount of money in those days, £250 pounds for the winner and that’d have been worth about £10,000 today so that was huge for them to win that,” he continued.

"We’ve been wanting to do something for the last few years but with COVID and everything, we couldn't. They played at the INEC on Sunday so today was the first opportunity they’ve had to to come to Tralee. There are three of the original four still in the band and obviously it was a huge memory for them at the time because it was the kick start that they got. This is a real piece of Tralee history that we want to celebrate,” he finished.


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