Little Gaelic Singers 1956 - 1963 Tours

Little Gaelic Singers Prior to Trip
1956 Tour
Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney with the Gaelic Singers 1958
1959 Tour
1956 Tour
1958 Tour
1962 Homecoming
Homecoming Party 1956
Gaelic Singers 1962
Gaelic Singers Newspaper Coverage
Gaelic Singers Newspaper Coverage
Gaelic Singers Newspaper Coverage

1959 Gaelic Singers with Vienna Boys Choir

The Tour, scheduled to begin in October, was to take in the East Coast and Mid-West and finish back in the East before Christmas. Upon arrival they discovered that their name was to be the Little Gaelic Singers; up to then they had performed as the Nazareth House Choir. James had some misgivings about this as he felt that it misrepresented the group a little. It seemed to him to imply that the children sang entirely in Gaelic. While they did sing some songs in the Irish language they learnt the words phonetically, and certainly no one in the group spoke Irish as their first language.

Within two weeks of arriving in America, on the 28th of October they were to appear on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’, which was one of the most popular shows of all time on American TV. This happened to be the first occasion that Elvis Presley appeared on coast to coast TV. Viewers, in their tens of millions, tuned in to watch the new teenage heart throb. James recorded in his diary the wild scenes outside the studio as the police tried to hold back the screaming fans.

Everyone was captivated by the delightful children form Ireland. Sullivan described them as “The darlingest little group of girls and boys I ever met”. The singers performed, “The Dandling Song” and “Endearing Young Charms” to rapturous applause. It was the ideal start to their tour which, Sullivan informed his audience, would take them from Boston to Denver to Cleveland, and to be sure to go and see them.

The following day James signed a contract with Decca to record another LP. The Little Gaelic Singers made two long play records, “The Little Gaelic Singers of County Derry” and “From Donegal to Galway with the Little Gaelic Singers”.

It is worth quoting a little from the record sleeve, “With their wonderful singing and music-making, in Gaelic or English, the fresh young voices of the Little Gaelic Singers can tug at the heart strings; yet, suddenly, the mood will change, gaiety takes over, and the children accompany their songs with lively dancing and often play their own accompaniment on violins. Wherever they sing at home or in other parts of Ireland, the children prove irresistible.

“Under the supervision of their Director, Mr James Mac Cafferty, singer, pianist, teacher and one of the distinguished figures of the Irish musical world, the children have acquired a repertoire of fascinating variety, ballads, folk, songs, choral masterworks, action songs and their own special kind of folk operetta. To help achieve its wonderful effects, the group are arranged in a way not ordinarily attempted, 26 girls and 2 boys, all of whom can dance and play instruments as well as sing.

“For their American performances, as also in this recording, the Little Gaelic Singers add a special touch which has met with great success at home. Singing with them, as the mood warrants, is a well- known Irish concert artist, Michael McWilliams. The rich baritone blends remarkably well with the young voices and achieves effects rarely heard in the concert hall.”

The pieces in these records give us a valuable insight into their repertoire:

The Dawning of the Day
The Spanish Lady
Sweet Babe, A Golden Cradle Holds Thee
The Next Market Day
My Singing Brid
Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms
Eileen Og
Let Mr Maguire Sit Down
The Bard of Armagh
Eileen Aroon
Kitty of Coleraine
Brahms’ Lullaby
The Palatine’s Daughter
Oh, Come To The Hedgerows
Hail, Glorious St Patrick

1961 Tour

In their second record other soloists besides Michael McWilliams were also featured:

Danny Boy
Dear Old Donegal
Mother Machree (soloist Sarah Callan)
Galway Bay
Rory O’Moore
The Irish Rover
Killeter Fair
The Dandlin’ Song
The Faughan Side
Baidin Feilmid
The Ninepenny Fiddle (soloist Gloria Dorrity)
Irish Marching Songs
The records reinforced the reputation which they rightly gained in America as “one of the world’s great children’s choruses”. Even today the exquisite quality of the arrangements and the voices are still there to hear.

They were in the mid-west in the throes of their busy schedule when they received an invitation to appear on Ed Sullivan’s Christmas Show. This was a rare distinction which, coincidentally, they shared with Elvis who also was invited back on the same series. Having established that Kate Smith, the star guest of the show, might sing the Christmas carols which the children knew, James set about teaching new Christmas hymns on the coach as they travelled between concerts.

On the 9th of December The Little Gaelic Singers were treated to a special show which included skating bears, the Finnish gymnastic team and a stunning exhibition of the Lionel model trains. Their rendition of ‘Noel’ featured Ann Quigley as soloist. Kate Smith finally agreed to sing Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ – and mixed up her words!

Ed Sullivan, as open-hearted and generous as so many Americans were to the Singers, paid to have the train set sent to the Nazareth House in Derry. The train occupied pride of place there for many years.

The Little Gaelic Singers returned home to a rapturous reception; news of their phenomenal success had been picked up by the local press. Their well-deserved break was all too short, and 1957 ushered in an avalanche of requests for concerts from every corner of Ireland. From January of 1957 the choir was busy fulfilling various charity commitments; some of it, but by no means all, for the Nazareth House. It seemed that almost every diocese in Northern Ireland had a building fund to provide much needed schools and churches at that time. The Little Gaelic Singers, like so many of James’s groups, were just the thing to pack the halls.

Mr Morini, too, wished to exploit the success of the first tour and was already planning their next schedule. It soon became clear that many of the children from the Nazareth House would be unable, for a variety of reasons, to embark on another tour. James and Brendan now had to set about the business of producing a brand new choir. Of course, it gave them the scope to select the best young singers and dancers from Derry and environs, rather than primarily from the orphanage. There was further bad news when Michael McWilliams decided that he could not make another tour. This was something which greatly exercised Morini because McWilliams had been immensely popular with audiences everywhere.

McWilliams was always going to be a hard act to follow, but his replacement Neil Carlin, another local baritone, was a fine replacement. An increase in salary had already been negotiated for McWilliams, but Albert Morini, was reluctant to honour the same offer to Neil. However, he finally sanctioned the new soloist in November 1957.

Neil was just as popular in his own way, and was to be the soloist for the next two tours in 1958 and 1959. James decided to bring along a few of his tried and tested singers from the first tour to assist the new recruits: - Cherie Callan, Ann Quigley and Gloria Dorrity. He also brought in another two boys, Damien Parlour and Patrick O’Donnell to extend the musical range of the group. De Glin was always going to re-invite his two champion dancers, Gerry McCafferty and Ron Plummer.

A brand new programme of songs and dances had to be selected, arranged, staged and rehearsed for the next tour which was due to commence in the first months of 1958. Their farewell concert in St. Columb’s Hall was recorded by Neal Carlin on his reel - to - reel tape recorder and, remarkably, it sounds as fresh and new today as when it was recorded.

Gaelic Singers 25 Years Renunion

The 1958 group travelled to the States by ship, which was the dream start for James. He loved the sea, even though he couldn’t swim a stroke. The first tour had entailed a 12 - hour flight from Shannon to Gander in Newfoundland which everyone had found an ordeal. But the six-day cruise out of Cobh meant that all the youngsters were nicely rested for an even more gruelling schedule which took the group from coast to coast, and from Mexico to Canada. As with all the tours, it was a daunting logistical exercise.

While it fair to say that the Little Gaelic Singers appealed initially to Irish America, as their popularity grew, thanks especially to Ed Sullivan, they acquired many new fans and admirers right across the country. On their second tour Mr Morini received an increasing number of requests from communities, schools and colleges with little or no connection to the traditional Catholic Irish bases. The musicianship of Patrick O’Donnell, or PV as he was known, added greatly to the dance routines. Damien Parlour’s soprano solos had a very wistful charm, but his comic duets with Patricia McLucas brought gales of laughter from audiences of all ages. Along with the delicacy and beauty of the children’s performances James’s engaging personality was another essential element in the popularity of the group. One critic summed it all up rather well:-“In him, as in Ireland, song and laughter are mingled”.