A Plaque for the late John Reilly Traditional Singer will be unveiled on Saturday the 13th of September 2014 at 3 pm at Bruno’s Bar formally Grehan’s Bar on the Cresent in Boyle. On the morning on of the unveiling Charlie McGettigan will have the Grehan Sisters and others on his Shannonside Radio Show speaking about John Reilly’s life, so tune into Shannonside Radio on Saturday Morning the 13th of September 2014 at 10 am.
On the 26th of June 2014, Christy Moore and the Grehan Sisters of Boyle played a Tribute Concert to the late great singer John Reilly in St. Joseph’s Hall in Boyle. The proceeds of this Concert went towards the creation of John’s Plaque which was commissioned
by Mr Fergus Lyons, a well – known Artist, who resides a few mile from Boyle.
John (Jacko) Reilly was born into a Travelling Family in Carrick-On-Shannon, Co. Leitrim in 1926 he had seven sisters and one brother. Both John’s parents were singers this is where John got most of his old songs from. John’s family travelled the roads of Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo, along the way John became a skilled Tinsmith selling Buckets, Billycans and other tinned vessels. During the Second World War, John moved with his family to Belfast, it was easier to get Tin in the North than the South at that time, and other provisions were more obtainable.
In 1953, John returned to Carrick-On-Shannon and then moved to Boyle in 1962, John’s mother and father died when he was young; he raised his siblings as best he could. John was a shy man, but behind that shyness was a magnificent traditional singer, who would share his talents with anybody that cared to listen. John worked around Boyle making Bread Tins for Egan’s Bakery on Green Street; he also made Buckets and Billycans which he sold. John was well respected by the people in Boyle, they were good and kind to John, he was fed in many the house, but Mrs Grehan was the main woman who kept a close eye on John’s welfare. Unfortunately, Mrs Grehan underwent a hip operation in Galway Hospital for three months in 1969, it was during this time, Tom Munnelly of U.C.D. and Professor D.K. Wilgusof the University of California, Los Angeles recorded John singing his old songs. John sang
36 songs which were recorded by Prof. D.K. Wilgus, at this time, John had a heavy cold. Tom Munnelly and Prof. Wilgus decided to record more songs from John another time when his cold lifted. This was the last time that Tom Munnelly would hear John singing, a while later Tom Munnelly returned to Boyle and found John in his house suffering from pneumonia, he took him to Roscommon Hospital, a few days later John was discharged. A week later, John collapsed in the town of Boyle and was taken to Boyle Hospital; he died shortly after this collapse. John was only 44 years old when he died. Tom Munnelly stated in his writings that John ‘Jacko’ Reilly was the best traditional singer he ever recorded. Tom Munnelly was a good friend of John’s and knew John since 1965. Tom took John to Dublin for a short holiday where John sang in the Traditional Singers Club in Slattery’s Pub of Capel Street.
The Grehan Sisters memories of John are as follows – Into our lives, came John breathing new life with the ‘Child’ Ballads which he had learned from the singing of his Mother and Father and other traveller relations and friends on many a night, sitting around the camp fire. These songs are now known to be at least two hundred years old. Helen, when she was only about eleven year’s young, began to write them down, inspired primarily by the ‘The Well Below The Valley O’ finding in its lyrics strong similarities to the story / stories she loved so much in her little school bible and never recognizing the very dark passages contained therein Then there was the tragic love song ‘The Captain’ and others like ‘The Old Town Of Tralee’ and ‘The Bonny Lass of Aughrim’ to mention but a few. There were other songs that came later on with appeal for the more mature listener like ‘Tippin’ it up to Nancy’ and ‘The Raggle Taggle Gipsy O’ to mention just a few. John was very happy and became very much part of our family, being in our kitchen most
days, so much so that when he went into hospital he gave our mother’s name as his next of kin. Unfortunately by this time we the The Grehan Sisters had moved to England and Mammy ended up in hospital for three months. It was during this time that John developed pneumonia and died as a result. Our mother always felt that had she been at home, John might have survived, because she would have missed John’s visit’s to her house, she would then have sent somebody to check up on him.
Recordings of John’s singing are held to this very day in the Folklore Section of U.C.D. Dublin and The University of California, Los Angeles, U.S.A. under Professor D.K. Wilgus Collection, not many singers in Ireland can say that. In 1978, an Album called John Reilly – The Bonny Green Tree; was released by Topic Records. On this Album John sings 14 songs,
these songs where from Tom Munnelly’s recordings of John, it’s a tragedy that John wasn’t there to witness that great day when his Album was released. Christy Moore wrote in his book One Voice – Through hearing John and The Grehan Sisters and visiting Tom Munnelly, I have a number of John’s songs from his repertoire : ‘Well Below the Valley’, ‘Raggle Taggle’, ‘Tipping it up to Nancy’, ‘Lord Baker’, ‘What Put the Blood’, and the ‘Navvy Boots’. When Christy informed the folklorists in England in 1967 that he got the song, The Well Below the Valley (Francis Child’s Ballads #21), in the West of Ireland they didn’t believe him, because it hadn’t been sung in oral tradition in over 150 years.
A part from John’s singing of old songs he was very well liked in Boyle, and speaking now to the older generation that knew John, all of them said he was a shy, kind hearted man.
The John Reilly Plaque Committee – Helen Grehan, Bernard Flaherty, Kevin Flynn, Fergus Lyons, and Gerry O’Daly, we would like to thank the following people for their help in getting this project to it’s final stage – Mr. Christy Moore, & Mr. Paddy Doherty, Christy
Moore’s Manager. The Grehan Sisters, Mr. Sean Carroll the Owner of Bruno’s Bar, Mr. Pat Conroy and Mr. Tom Egan of the Hall Committee, Mc Donagh Family of Boyle Motor Works, Mulvey’s Shop, Carrick-On-Shannonn and Casey’s Garage of Roscommon. The John Reilly Plaque will be unveiled on Saturday the 13th of September 2014 at 3 pm by the Grehan Sisters, there will be light refreshments in Bruno’s Bar after the unveiling and a few Songs will be sung and Tunes will be played by the Grehan Sisters and Friends, All welcome