The vibrant Irish showband scene was robbed of some of its most illustrious stars in two tragic incidents that occurred within two days of each other forty years ago this month. Francis Kaye recalls the events which would have a lasting effect on the Irish music scene

On an Autumn evening in 1970, Stephen Travers, the then 19-year-old bass player with country band, The Cowboys, was enjoying an evening off at the cinema in his hometown, Carrick-on-Suir, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. “T. J. Byrne wants to see you” his friend Martin Hennessey whispered.

Mr. Byrne was the legendary manager of first The Royal Showband from Waterford and then, The Big 8 Showband which featured Brendan Bowyer and Tom Dunphy.
T. J. got straight to the point. Tom Dunphy had taken ill and he needed to find a bass-player to stand in with The Big 8 who were playing that night in Cahir, a few miles down the road.

“I got into my Fiat 124 and drove the 10 miles to Cahir, thinking along the way that this was all too surreal”, Stephen recalls. “As I walked across the stage to pick up Tom Dunphy’s Fender bass, I looked out on a sea of adoring fans and was totally taken aback. Brendan Bowyer glanced over at me, winked and turned his collar up. This was a signal to the band to launch into am electrifying medley of Elvis Presley hits. A shudder went down my spine. I will remember it for the rest of my life.”

Five years later, in the last week of July 1975, the names of Tom Dunphy and Stephen Travers would be linked again. This time, the link would not be a happy one. Tom Dunphy died in a car crash only two days before Stephen Travers was shot and critically injured in an incident in which three of his friends were murdered. We remember Tom Dunphy, Fran O’Toole, Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty.

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