By Jimmy Rhatigan
A LOYAL music family of over 300 loving admirers and friends stood in celebration of one of its finest sons.
Kindred spirits of music and song came from all over Ireland to mark the fantastic achievements of a brilliant entertainer who devoted over half a century to bringing pleasure and enjoyment to our community.
Now retired, after a glorious stage career, Michael ‘Mog’ O’Grady, a magnificent keyboards player and songwriter, truly is a special branch on a blooming local family tree that has made a huge contribution to life in our city and county.
On Friday at Langton’s Set Theatre, an apt tribute was paid by a colourful collection of friends, Romans perhaps and several countrymen, women too, those who could play musical instruments, and those who were happy to listen.
Emotions were raw as Michael came face to face with schoolmates from Kilkenny CBS who had sat in the same classrooms some 50-plus years ago.
Tony Cullen and George Kilbride motored from Dublin and Meath respectively to honour a man whom they have always regarded as one of their most talented friends.
There was a message of goodwill from another pal, Michael McDonnell, a High Street man now domiciled in France.
Michael’s family ran Bibby’s Drapery, now the Enable Ireland Charity Shop, High Street.
The Set was alive with conviviality and admiration as the quietly spoken but always friendly and gracious Mog was saluted by an army of aficionados who truly love his music and song.
Fever pitch: Spontaneous standing ovation
There were words of kindness for Mog and his family, wife Pronciassa and four-year-old daughter, Muirinn, as friends rambled down memory lane, recalling his sensational musical career and paid tribute to him as a loyal friend and colleague.
Pronciassa’s sisters and members of her extended family came from her native Dingle in Kerry and provided one of the great highlights of the musical extravaganza when they danced a Kerry Set as local band, Reel To Reel belted out the music.
Love for and pride in one Michael O’Grady reached fever pitch when he was accorded a spontaneous standing ovation.
It was a spine-tingling appreciation for a special one.
Yes, a few tears were shed, heart-tugging moments as Mog’s halcyon days in local bands were recalled and songs which he had written were played by a host of musicians who had come together for his tribute.
A committee of Eamon Cleere, Billy Barron and Rory Broderick had planned and choreographed what proved to be a mighty occasion.
On stage with Reel To Reel for a hectic few hours of sensational entertainment were The Backyard Band, including former members of Tweed, Contraband, along with guest artists Willie Maher, Tommy Hickey and John GI Brennan.
Recalled were Michael O’Grady’s professional years on stage with The Jim Cantwell Big Band, The Nomads, Tweed, Contraband and the 5th Degree.
Master of ceremonies was Village man Pat Holland who did a superb job keeping the show moving and providing precious gems from yesteryear, including the days when Pat and Mog shared the same music teacher as teenagers.
Boy soprano delights with Bless This House
The young guns were tutored by Frank Skilton who was then organist at St Canice’s Cathedral and lived in the shadow of the medieval house of prayer.
While awaiting his turn for a lesson, Pat told a full house at The Set, he delighted in listening to a young boy soprano who was also playing the piano and singing Bless This House.
Those were the very early days of what would prove to be a glorious career as Mog was taught by the best and from whom Pat also received his trombone tutoring.
Kind words were plentiful, goodwill flowed just as freely as the creamy pints of porter that are part and parcel of the Langton experience.
Pronciassa O’Grady summed up the occasion when she thanked the musicians and greater musical family for their amazing support.
“This is a special night that will live long in the memory,” she said.
The mood was extra special when a song called The Faith Healer, written by Mog, was played by Reel To Reel.
Another number from the O’Grady pen, Rock and Roll Woman was belted out by The Backyard Band.
A specially commissioned Jerpoint Glass Vase was presented to Mog by Eamon Cleere, acknowledging his massive contribution to music in Kilkenny.
He also received a voucher for a family holiday at a hotel owned by the Flynn Family Group which includes Newpark Hotel.
Michael is now retired from a successful career as a lecturer in industrial design at Carlow IT. He has been in indifferent health for some time.
As one who had dedicated much of his time and talent to helping local charities, he continued that trend when he gave the total proceeds of his musical evening to the Kilkenny branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association who will now receive €3,000 plus.
An evening that celebrated a class act was still being lauded as our local music family faded into the early hours of Saturday.
Michael O’Grady and his family will forever cherish the Jerpoint Glass, a reminder of the class he has always shown, on and off stage.