Photo from about 1972 of an accordion class
Photo from about 1972 of an accordion class

The photo of the accordion class taken outside Drimoleague Church in the early 1970s confirms that those of us who are in it are definitely part of history now! The photo was taken less than 30 years after the Second World War and we always thought that that was back in history! But it’s now almost 40 years since this photo was taken!

As far as I can recall, my journey into the photo began with a chat between two women who were neighbours and good friends: my late mother Lena and Eileen O’Donoghue, Kilmore – mother of twins John and Martin – who lived across Harnedy’s bog from us. Between them, they often weighed up any new initiatives in the community and talked about whether things were a good or a bad idea. The twins and I were in the same class in school – the mothers having conspired to send us north the road together for company – and it often happened that we travelled to events together and shared many journeys on foot and on bicycle.

I’m not sure, but I think the late Fr. John Crowley PP was involved in suggesting to Vin Forbes that music could be taught in the parish. So at the end of one summer, a batch of new Martini button accordions were hung in the window of John V Collins’ shop in Drimoleague. The price tag was thirteen shillings and six pence. And, of course, it could be paid for by instalments. Other people were fortunate to find among the heritage from the previous generation that there were accordions in some houses already, waiting for the next generation to take them up.

Classes alternated between the hall in Drimoleague and Connolly’s Hall in Drinagh. So on alternate weeks, the Drimoleague gang gathered in Drimoleague to be ferried in tightly packed cars to the other side of the parish and the Drinagh gang had their ‘away’ class the week after. Vin became the music teacher, class organiser, logistics coordinator and tour manager!

It’s seems now that in a short time Fainne Geal an Lae was raised up in the key of C from the hall in Drimoleague with Vin beating the table top with a coin to help us stay in time and it rang around the villages very soon. Quickly we were into the Merry Ploughboy and Mairin from Gibberland and the prospect of going to the Feis and letting the world see the emerging talent that was on the cards.

My own time at the classes was cut short when I headed off to secondary school in Farranferris but the accordion remained on in the house and waited until I got home for the summer breaks. Others in the family had a go from time to time, too, and I eventually began to work out a few tunes by ear and finding enjoyment in the music.

It would be interesting to know how many of the people in that photo still play a bit of music. I know some who do. And I know, too, that a new generation of people are still taking to the accordion, including some of my own nephews. The class was a great idea. A debt of gratitude is owed to all those who were involved in getting it going and in making it happen. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir!

(Fr. Tom Hayes is parish priest in Enniskeane, Co Cork, and still enjoys the accordion.) {Published in the Drimoleague Newsletter, December 2011.}