In the heyday of the showbands – dating roughly from the mid-1950s to the late 70s – an estimated 1,500 bands of various musical genres travelled the length and breadth of the country.
With that level of travel, accidents were inevitable. This week Francis K. Beirne reflects on the singers, musicians and band people who paid the ultimate price in pursuit of their chosen career.

One of the dangers of travelling thousands of kilometres throughout Ireland, often in bad weather and in darkness, was the awful possibility of a motor crash. Some people call those incidents ‘accidents’ but most of them have a cause whether it be hazardous driving conditions, badly-maintained roads, drowsiness or something else. Not many hard-working showbands avoided minor collisions during the 1960s but sadly, some of them had more serious consequences.

In the early hours of Saturday morning on 21st November 1964, the Statesiders Showband’s minibus was crushed in a collision with an articulated lorry claiming the lives of six young men. The crash happened around 2.15 a.m. on a sharp bend just one mile from Cloughmills, County Antrim.

Four of the dead were band-members, three brothers, James, Bill and Jeremiah Mallett and William Harrison from Derry’s Waterside. Another brother Jackie Mallett and Daniel McLoughlin, who were former members of the band, also died. The driver of the lorry told later how he had braked hard and his brakes locked.

In November 1967, national newspapers reported as follows: “The world of show-business mourns the death of Paul Williams. The young Dubliner who gave up a science career to make music, died tragically in a road crash near Limerick last week. The Greenbeats were travelling to a gig in Waterford when their bandwagon left the road and hit a wall. 23 year old Paul was killed and two other band-members, Keith Donald and Eddie Campbell were seriously injured and rushed to Limerick Regional Hospital.”

Podge Kavanagh, formerly of the Crackaways Showband told Ireland’s Own: “On my way to work one morning, I passed a wrecked car. I recognised the car as that of Mick Brien, guitarist with The Fairways from Edenderry”. Mick died instantly when his car hit a stone wall on his way from Tullamore to Geashill. He was also a songwriter, co-writing some of the Fairways’ hit records with Gary Street, including ‘Flippedy Flop’, ‘Invisible Reilly’ and ‘Yoko Ono’.

In July 1975, Big 8 bass-player and vocalist Tom Dunphy was driving his Mercedes saloon to Dungloe, Co. Donegal when he lost control of his car and died instantly as it left the road at Drumsna, County Leitrim.
Only two days later on their way home from a gig in Banbridge, County Down, three members of the Miami Showband, Fran O’Toole, Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy, were murdered by UVF terrorists. Their colleagues Stephen Travers and Des McAlea were critically injured in the attack.

Ivan McConville, a singer known as Big Ivan, from Newry, was killed in a head-on crash on the way home from a gig near Banbridge in County Co. Down on the 11th of June 1978. Prior to fronting his on band, Ivan had been lead singer with the Clippertones Showband, Newry, County Down.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own