Cattle-Dealer Played Host To All-Ireland Ministers

A PROUD occasion for the people of the Poyntzpass area came when local resident, Tom Canavan, as Mayor of Armagh city and district, played host to Government ministers from North and South, for an historic Millennium session at the former Archbishop’s Palace.

Popular cattle-dealer and former footballer with Carrickcruppen and Armagh, Tom welcomed the distinguished guests, led by Taoiseach, Bertie Ahearn and Secretary of State, John Reid, to the first-ever All-Ireland meeting of Government ministers. He later performed a similar function for President Mary McAleese.

However, tragedy has also affected the Canavan family, with the murder of two local young men, Damien Treanor and Philip Allen, at the public house in the Poyntzpass, owned by Tom’s brother, Desmond.

Meanwhile, the official launch of the new community centre in the village, with facilities on a cross-community basis, is further evidence of the excellent relationships in the area. Spear-headed by Cllrs Tom Canavan and Robert Turner, with chairman John Morrow and secretary John Waddell, the project would cost £600,000, catering for the range from pre-school to senior citizens, as well as local organisations.

Son of a cattle-exporter, Tom was one of five brothers and four sisters. As a supporter of civil rights and democratic politics, he was an early member of the S.D.L.P., and took over Seamus Mallon’s seat on Armagh city and district council in 1989. He is the only nationalist member out of six councillors, representing the Cusher Ward.

Married to Roisin O’Hanlon from Eshwary near Camlough, Tom played for the great `Cruppney side of the 60’s, along with his brothers-in-law, Patsy and Charlie O’Hanlon. They won 58 trophies, including the Senior County and League tittles. Tom also wore the county jersey, as did his surveyor son, Declan who, with his banking brother Cathal, won Sigerson Cup medals. Another brother, Micheal, is a building engineer.

Other sportsmen in the `Pass have included Tom’s nephew, Brian Canavan, former county player and joint senior county team-manager, who helped to build the Sam Maguire Cup-winning squad; also All-Ireland champion athletes, Paddy, Ivor and Frank Monaghan. Incidentally, the local Redmond O’Hanlon G.F.C. have just won promotion, and their new football grounds could produce lots of talent in the future.

As a pupil at the local St Joseph’s primary school, where Master Magee was in charge, young Canavan’s fellow pupils included Patsy Lennon, Maurice McSherry, Gerry Gillen, Pat Loughran, Mick Gribben, Frank McCourt, Teresa Magill and Tommy Morrow.

Tom recalled that there was plenty of work for young fellow on the farms in the 40’s, especially looking after cattle and at harvest-time, but little pay. However, there was lots of craic, especially at the old St Patrick’s Hall in the village, with dances and snooker tables, etc, while the Handball Alley was a great attraction.

There had been dances in Tom Porter’s Loft, during the 30’s, when Peter Murtagh and Artie O’Hare would entertain a mixed gathering from the Farmers’ Union. Among the fine musicians were Pat Joe McEvoy, James Savage, Stanley and Alex Irwin, Paddy McSherry, James Kelso, Pat and John Lynch, Bill Harvey, Fred Denny, Pat Bagnall and Bill Crothers.

Later, Fred Hanna and the Modernaires would play in the `Pass Legion Hall, which was the scene of many dances and socials. Phil Watters, Jackie Hearst and George O’Hare played the accordion, while Terry Murray sang and performed on the mouth-organ. Boys and girls would also cycle to dances at Glenn, Whitecross, Ballyvarley and Laurencetown.

There had been a marching band in the `Pass since the 19th century, the earliest being a silver band, which practiced in a room at Church Street. This was followed by a flute band in the early 1900’s, which was re-formed in the 20’s. Then, in 1933, a new band appeared, its members including Tommy and Jim Pat McSherry, Noel Hudson, John Carson, Henry Burns, Hugh and Paddy Convery, Harry Loy, Francie Lennon. Joe and Jim McSherry, with bandmaster Denny McAneaney from Newry.

This was disbanded in 1940, and a new flute band was formed in 1945 by Fr Pat Gallagher, its conductor being the legendary Tommy Mulligan. He was a member of the renowned Newry band, Independent and St Joseph’s, which won the British and Irish Championships. Following a drop-off in members, it amalgamated with Laurencetown Flute Band.

Then, in 1951, St Patrick’s Accordion Band was founded, as Tommy Mulligan adapted the flute marches to the new instruments. On the march were Frank and Phil Watters, Owen McManus, Eugene Burns, Tommy, Paddy, Frank, Eiver and Ciaran McSherry, Artie O’Hare, Seamus McGrath, John Morgan, Denis O’Meara, Mickey and Joe Daly, Noel and Billy Grant, John and Pat Campbell, Seamus McVeigh and Harry Loy.

Finally, a Youth Accordion Band was formed in 1960, the conductor being Sean McAleenan, from the famous Wolfe Tone Band in Newry. Of course, that decade was the era of the showbands; and Mrs Sodilva Murphy, nee McVeigh, described how bus-loads of patrons would dance to the music of bands like the Melody Aces, organised by Fr Treacy in the Parochial Hall.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008