Before I begin.  I came across a fascinating article a few nights ago, about Dreenan School (Dreenan is the townland that borders Eden).  The school house, which was situated about a mile from our house, was empty and unused by the time of my first memories.  But here are some great memories of an old master at the school. 

Patsy Breen was principal of Dreenan Primary School between 1958 and 1963. He recalls “My time as principal of Dreenan began in January 1958. I remember coming to Dreenan on my first day in a small Ford car.” You can read the full article at the link above.

Colette Diamond attended the school between 1963 and 1969, and shares her beautiful memories here.

OK, on with the post at hand.

At the beginning of this year, I discovered a video of a 1974 episode of the BBC show Nationwide. The TV show aired in the early evening, each weeknight, between 1969 and 1983.  Frank Bough hosted it between 1972 and 1982.

The 1974 show that I refer to, had a short segment on Portglenone.  It focused primarily on Irish music playing inside the Wild Duck Inn and also had some footage taken inside chemist Colm O’Brien‘s home. 

Despite best efforts to clean up the small and badly pixelated old 1970s footage, it proved impossible.  So I ended up instead taking screenshots of important moments in the video, enlarging each image, and cleaning up each still image, and then putting the final results into the montage below.

I sent the finished montage to a couple of the local facebook groups, earlier this year. Not being a participant in facebook, I am unsure if the photo montage was posted in the groups.

Just in case that it wasn’t, here it is below.  I would love to discover the names of the people in the images.

Ann O’Brien, Colm O’Brien, Brian Quinn and Willis Patton are easily identifiable.  Do you know any of the others?

ann o'brien willis patton irish music

BBC Nationwide, Wild Duck Inn, Portglenone, 1974, Copyright Fair Use.

Willis Patton, Cullybackey

Born in the mid 40’s, Willis Patton’s talents are mentioned in local newspapers as early as the late 1950s.

For example, on 21st March 1958, at the annual social and prize distribution for the
children at Cuningham Memorial Church, the local community heard
an excellent programme given by the young people (trained by Miss M. Megaw and Miss S. Hall).

The Ballymena Observer noted that: “the biggest round of applause was, as usual, for Willis Patton, whose items on the recorder and the tin whistle are special favourites with his young colleagues.  Willis came in for further rounds of applause when it was announced that had secured three first prizes — one in the League of Church Loyalty, one for gaining top marks in the Scripture examination, and one for full attendance.”

Tin whistle on local radio

By the autumn of 1961, Willis is featured on local BBC radio, on a show called Children’s Hour.  As the Belfast Telegraph, from the 2nd October 1961, noted:

Also from Children’s Hour comes another promising young performer. Willis Patton (16), from Cullybackey; he is a farmer’s son and has a collection of tin whistles which he plays skillfully.

By the mid 1970s, his musical abilities, on the tin whistle, had achieved recognition and awards across the entire island. He had put Cullybackey on the music map.

Speaking in the late 1970’s, Willis said that he had made many friends locally through the music, that he would otherwise never have made.

As he pointed out “the O’Briens live six miles away (from me) in Portglenone.  Yet we both had to go 280 miles to Listowel, in County Kerry, before we met. We met outside a pub door on a Saturday night. We played our instruments till two o’clock in the morning, and gathered a crowd on the pavement, listening to us!”

They became very good friends.  Subsequently, they would meet up. 

Willis says “there’s nothing better” when they met up for a “Big Night” (as the locals call it) every three or four months, in either Portglenone or Cullybackey.  “Half a dozen of us will get together and play until three or four in the morning.”

Ann O’Brien

When I can gather enough resources, I intend to do a tribute article on Ann, Willis and the other great musical talents that we were lucky enough to have in our local area.  We were blessed with so much local talent. To indicate the depth of musical talent, in one year in the mid 1970s, the area had three all-Ireland winners – i.e. Ann O’Brien, Willis Patton and Jim McKillop.

By the way, in perusing old newspapers, I encountered a lovely letter from 1976, from Ann O’Brien. She had written it in tribute to violin teacher Keem Perry who had passed away.

Tribute to a great lady

It was with great sadness that I read of the death of Mrs. Keem Perry in your paper.

This great lady was well-known in Belfast circles, but it is not as a public figure that her memory will live on. She was a most wonderful violin teacher. When she imparted technique, it was not merely mechanical, for she managed to get across a great feeling of love for music.

When she met my young son (and pupil) at Belfast Festival some years ago, she simply said “My grandson.”

This is why I say her influence will never die. What she has imparted will seep through to future generations, and with it, I hope, some of her warmth of personalty.

May I extend through your paper my deepest sympathy to her daughter.

Ann O’Brien, Portglenone, Co. Antrim.

Local media, October 1976


Wondering if anyone can help with the names of the people in the photo montage above?

Many thanks to Ed P., for the following:

“In the bottom right photo, of the kids crossing the road – Bronagh McAleese is the girl on right, with the white headband.

Behind her, to her right (partially blocked wearing a cream colored sweater), is her brother Pearse McAleese.

I am their 3rd cousin, and live in the U.S.