IN THE 3rd. OF A FORTNIGHTLY SERIES THAT LOOKS
BACK TO THE SHOWBANDS, THAT PLAYED IN LOCAL AND POPULAR DONEGAL VENUES,
JOHN BAIRD FEATURES THE WILLIAM PONSONBY DANCE BAND FROM LETTERKENNY.
The William Ponsonby Showband
Back L-R Ted Ponsonby, Willie Ponsonby
Middle, L-R. Eamonn Ponsonby. Hugh Mc Lean. Terry Ponsonby,
Front. L-R..Enda Walsh and her mother Ina Walsh (nee Ponsonby)
Mention the name “Ponsonby” anywhere in Donegal, and other Irish Counties north and South, and parts of England , Scotland and Wales,where Irish people danced, and you will get a favourable reaction regarding one of the best known bands who pioneered the Dancing Scene here in Donegal. I,ve got to thank Eamonn Ponsonby. And Willie.s son Michael who,s information was invaluable in the preparation of this article.
It all started in the 1940.s when the Ponsonby Brothers Willie and Jimmy and their sister Ina, cycled from Letterkenny to Raphoe to play at dances with their instruments tied on “the back of the bike”. I, ts not surprising ,that at a young age they had this great musical ability, as their parents, John and Sarah , were noted traditional musicians, and they both often played at concerts organised by the band during the Lenten period. Eamonn joined the band about 1948. Already in the band was his brother Terry who had been drummer with a local band called The Orphelian, and in whose ranks were the Doherty Bros. Curly and Jack, who were once the owners of the Railway Tavern. Eamonn took over from Terry as drummer, and the band comprised of the brothers Eamonn. Terry, Willie and Jimmy (who was the Bandleader), their sister Ina and Willie Mc Manus on Violin. The band alco had a policy of including someone from outside the family in it,s ranks, and well known local musicians Paddy Mc Graorty, Patsy Mc Laughlin from Milford , Hugh Mc Lean. And on a few occasions , Victor Fleming before he joined the Clipper Carlton would bring along his trombone and sit in for a few sessions and on a couple of occasions played with them at dances in Ramelton run by Swilly Rovers F,C. in conjunction with their summer Cup Competitions.
Jimmy decided to give up the bad as he had a good “day job” with Shell . and felt he was holding the others back from taking on more bookings each week , so Willie took over the leadership of this popular band. More bookings were undertaken and this invariably involved more travelling, Eamonn recalls “We had a booking in Easkey, Co Sligo, which at that time was to them a long way away, We played until 3 am, packed the gear, had tea in a local hotel, set off for home at 4 am. Driving on pitch black roads in a Volkswagen mini-bus with a 6v. lighting supply. The same applied when they played in the Bocan Hall , Culdaff, it also seemed a long journey on terrible roads “ he said.
It was not only the local
venues ie. Foxhall. Kerrykeel. Creeslough , The Devlin Hall etc. that this
band was well known, but during Lent , they played at venues in Glasgow
, Oban , all the West of Scotland , Derby, Coventry, Birmingham and London,
and dates in Wales. At many of the local dances they played ,. local
talent augmented the line up and many people started their musical careers
in this way . May Sybil from Dromore sang with the band on a few occasions
as did Hugh Mc Lean..
Another Ponsonby brother, Dinny who resided in Coventry came back and played double Bass with the band for a few months. Ina.s son Billy Walsh, his cousin Ted Ponsonby , Terry,s Son (Later to form the brilliant Pop Band
The Rascals) also did stints with the band . It was a real family affair, just like other bands in Ireland . Jack Ruane , Brose Walsh. The Rhythm Stars etc, they kept up the family music tradition..
In 1963 , Willie decided to hand over the band to Eamonn as he wanted to involve his Sons Charles , Liam and Michael in a new band. Eamonn subsequently formed a Showband called the Blueglows and Ina and her Family formed the Denver Showband , both of which will be the subject of forthcoming articles.
When Liam and Charles left their father to form a band called the Scripto . they were replaced by the brothers Billy and Alec Black , Frankie Vaughan and Gerry McGarrigle. The Black Bros. Left to concentrate on the lounge –bar circuit ,. so Wille was joined again by his sons Charles and Michael, Dessie McGarrigle and drummer
Johnny Cullen ,( later to play with the Keynotes Showband ). This was the last line up of a once famous local Showband that entertained dancers both locally and abroad for many Happy Years,
Willie Ponsonby, sadly passed away on 1st April1975 He is survived by his widow Annie,……….. and his sons Charles , Liam and Michael, who are all still involved in the local music scene. Also deceased are brothers Jimmy and Dinny and their sister Ina, Paddy McGroarty, Patsy McLaughlin, and Willie McManus. Thankfully, Terry and Eamonn are stll with us , as reminders of the great days of The Wm Ponsonby Band.
In 2 weeks
time we will be looking at the Paddy McCafferty
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