The Ten Columbians (1946-57)

(LtoR) Mick McWilliams, Leo O'Donnell, Phil Hegarty, Tony Black, Michael Cutliffe,John Cowley, Leonard Callan, Don MacCafferty, John McCabe, James MacCafferty (at the piano)
The Ten Columbians in Concert
Letter from the BBC
The Ten Columbians
The Ten Columbians


“Not because I had the forming of it or anything, but I thought that was the greatest concert party that ever existed.” This was how James recalled one of the most popular acts to come out of Derry. Inspired by the success of The James McCafferty Quintette James decided to form a larger group. This time he used two first and second tenors, two baritone voices and two basses singing behind a soloist and, of course, James on the piano. The Ten Columbians were an all - male ensemble utilising some of the best known vocal, musical and comic talent in the city. And  all the arrangements were by James.

Typically, a programme would consist of anything up to a dozen choral pieces interspersed with solos, duets, sketches, instrumental performances and stand up comic routines and gags. It made for a slick show. James would include a female act such as Hester McLucas, Betty and Kay or The O’Leary Sisters, Eva and Nora. The group enjoyed instant and enduring success and were soon appearing regularly on B.B.C. radio programmes. Indeed , in some ways The Columbians were victims of their own success and found themselves performing several nights every week right across the country. James recollected, “We travelled a terrible lot - in fact, we could have done a lot more only we had two or three teachers and everybody had a job and they had to rise in the morning to work.” Finally, due to the pressure of work there were changes of personnel, and singers like Paddy MacCafferty,Walter Scott and Dennis Heaney came in to replace members who could no longer make a commitment.

The comedy was chiefly provided by Leo O’ Donnell and John Cowley who would sing songs such as Mick Maguire and Thady Quill and deliver monologues like The Four Farrellys along with funny yarns and topical jokes. The principal soloists were Mick McWilliams, Leonard Callan and Mickey Cutliffe with favourites of the time.-Lark in the clear air, Cameron Men and Off to Philadelphia and so on.

Along with James there was Tony Black, the noted fiddle player, Don MacCafferty, the double bass player. Dennis Heaney played guitar, Paddy MacCafferty the fiddle, and various members could pass themselves on a variety of instruments.