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Louis Walsh is Mayo Person of the Year


Louis Walsh is Mayo Person of Year for 2009

Siamsa Sráide festival committee honoured with Meitheal award

Michael Commins

SHOWBIZ maestro Louis Walsh from Kiltimagh is the Mayo Person of the Year for 2009. He will be the guest of honour at the annual dinner dance of the Mayo Association in Dublin on Friday night, February 13, in the City West Hotel. He was nominated by Kiltimagh IRD for the prestigious accolade.
The official announcement was made at a ceremony in Dublin last night (Monday), hosted by the Mayo Association in the city. The citation read: “After protracted discussions, the judges finally decided on a man who has reached the pinnacle of his chosen career. A man who has conquered the tough world of show business and has introduced a veritable who’s who of music stars, from Eurovision winners Johnny Logan and Linda Martin in the ‘80s to Boyzone, Westlife and Girls Aloud.
“His acts have sold hundreds of millions of euro worth of CDs and tickets and are recognised across the globe. He is a son of Kiltimagh and retains strong roots in the area through his mother and siblings and he is a regular contributor to numerous charities, albeit quietly. He’s extremely proud of where he comes from and will make a wonderful ambassador for Mayo.”
The Meitheal of the Year award has gone to Siamsa Sráide Street Festival, Swinford committee. Under the guidance of Bríd O’Connell and Francis Brennan and some other dedicated members, Siamsa Sráide will this year celebrate its silver jubilee.
The citation reads: “From its inaugural one-day event way back in 1984, the movement (it’s more than just a festival) is now enlarged to a full, fun-filled five-day event. If ever a community captured the heart and ethos of ‘meitheal’, it must surely be the Siamsa Sráide committee, and, by extension, the entire community of Swinford. Everyone plays their part. The true spirit of volunteerism shines through everything they do.”

The Kiltimagh kid who never forgot his roots

He may have amassed 28 number one hits with various artists, but Louis Walsh is still as hard-working as ever

Michael Commins

IT was the early 1970s and Louis had just arrived in the town. “Lithe and wiry with a crop of copper curls skimming his forehead, casual in corded jacket and elephant flairs,” was how Julie Boyd described him in New Spotlight magazine, the bible of the showbiz circuit back then, under the headline ‘The kid from Kiltimagh’. It was his first introduction at national level to the Irish showbiz scene.
This week, Louis has been honoured by his home county with the accolade of Mayo Person of the Year. Few can begrudge the honour to one of Mayo’s most famous sons.
One of a family of ten born to Maureen (nee Healy) and the late Frank Walsh, Michael Louis Walsh grew up in a family that had roots in both the town and country. His father Frank supplied milk from the farm to neighbours in Kiltimagh while the family also knew tragedy and heartbreak at an early age with the death of their daughter Catherine at the age of three and half.
Louis got his first taste for the music from Pete Browne who lived across the road. Pete had his own band which was popular in the western circuit. A number of the band went on to form the Royal Blues and Louis was later to become very friendly with Andy Creighton, their manager in Claremorris, and Frank and Vincent Gill from nearby Murneen who were part of the original band.
During the time the Gill brothers operated the Blues Inn pub in D’Alton Street, Claremorris, Louis helped out there during the summer holidays, clearly in awe of the showband scene of the era. The first group he took under his wing while still a teenager in Kiltimagh was local pop outfit, Time Machine.
He was 19 when he headed off to Dublin where he got his first break in the city with Tommy Hayden Enterprises. Tommy Hayden’s office had four bands at the time, The Nevada, Buckshot, Lyttle People and The Ventures. Louis was quick to learn the ropes.
In an interview back then, Louis recalled how he had been road manager with the New Blues which featured a number of Mayo musicians. “I was responsible for their welfare on the road, transportation and equipment. I set up their gear before a gig and dismantled it afterwards, packing the wagon. I travelled to nearly every town in Ireland as their aide.”
He came to major prominence when he took over the diary for Eurovision winner Johnny Logan in 1980 and also for Linda Martin and Chips. By now, Louis was making his mark. But not everything was working out for him and he had some major failures as well as big success. That’s showbiz.
It was perhaps his role in promoting Boyzone to the top of the UK charts and turning them into a major international boy band act in the 1990s that copper-fastened his growing reputation on the circuit. He spotted a niche in the market, originally created by the Bay City Rollers in the 1970s, and he went after it. Later came Westlife and the rest is history.
These days, apart from guiding Westlife, Louis is synonymous with The X Factor, the British music talent contest for aspiring singers. He serves as one of the three adjudicators. It goes out on the ITV network in the UK and TV3 here in Ireland and is the biggest television talent show in Europe. The final of the series attracted in the region of 13 million viewers.
The submission by Kiltimagh IRD, under the guidance of former Mayo Person of the Year, Brian Mooney, states: “Louis is the most famous of all Mayo people of modern times. Known internationally, particularly among the younger generations who revere the very ground he walks on, Louis Walsh has put Mayo and indeed his native Kiltimagh on the world map.
“He has always been proud to acknowledge his roots and his family, his native village and county and this has served to heighten the profile of the county of his birth in a very positive way.
“Even in good times, his profession is difficult. You are always in the public eye. You are always in the eye of a predatory media who wait eagerly for you to trip up. Then they pounce and make a mockery of you. There is always the fear of being taken out of context even when you utter something with the best intentions possible. This is considerable pressure to live your life under. But Louis has done so for many years, constantly in the public eye.
“Louis is intensely private in his dealings with families and in his support of charities and community organisations.
“Louis Walsh is the undisputed king of the Irish pop scene. He is the man behind some of the most successful bands in pop history, masterminding the careers of Boyzone, Westlife, Samantha Mumba, Girls Aloud and Shayne Ward. The fact that he has achieved a staggering 28 number one hits is a testament to his success and is one of the reasons why Louis Walsh is one of the most respected names in the music industry today.
“Fame and success have raised his profile to that of an international star but it hasn’t changed his life. Beneath it all, Louis is still the same hard-working Kiltimagh and Mayo man he always has been. We genuinely feel that it is time that Louis Walsh was honoured in his native place. We also feel that he will be a very acceptable and popular winner and that he will be an excellent ambassador for the Mayo Association and for his native county during his tenure as Mayo Person of the Year.”
He is the fifth winner of the title from the general Kiltimagh area. The first recipient of the honour was the late William (Liam) O’Hora (a brother of Vinnie in Treenagleragh). He was followed in the 1970s by Tom Jordan, while Brian Mooney was the next to be honoured with the title in the 1990s. In more recent years, Mary Davis (nee Rooney) was presented with the award for her role as the head of the World Special Olympics which was hosted by Ireland five years ago.
The kid from Kiltimagh has indeed come a long way. Well done, Louis.

An honour long overdue

Michael Commins

SINCE my days in national school in Cuiltybo, I’ve known the Walsh family from Chapel Street, Kiltimagh. Part of my summer holidays were spent in nearby Kiltimagh where my two aunts, Kathleen Commins and Julia McTigue, had small pubs in the town.
Even though we were in the parish of Claremorris, Kiltimagh was our town back then. It was just over three miles down to Kiltimagh, across the Yellow River bridge and on by Henry King’s and McNicholas’s. (Mai McNicholas is mother of Westlife star, Shane Filan in Sligo). I even helped my father walk the cattle along that road to the fair in Kiltimagh in those far-off days.
I can hardly remember a time that I did not know Frank and Maureen Walsh in Chapel Street. They were lovely people and you always felt at home in their company. Down at Mike Keane’s garage, Frank would ramble in for a chat. How many were the times we talked there over the years, easy talk about innocent times. Louis was away in Dublin at that stage, involved with the bands. “Some day he’ll get a right job!” his mother and father would often say!
My days after secondary school were spent with the Bank of Ireland but I too loved the world of music and the bands. After leaving the bank, I edited Entertainment News for some time, a showbiz magazine owned by Tony Loughman from Castleblayney. It involved a good many trips to Dublin and I often met Louis Walsh in Tommy Hayden’s office in those times.
He was a typical Walsh, always smiling and asking about some of the characters from back home in Kiltimagh. Must admit, I never though back then that Louis would scale the heights that fate had in store for him. But he stuck at it and never got above his station.
Louis has his critics and detractors, but I will say one thing without fear or favour ... there has never been a mean streak in the Walsh family of Chapel Street. Salt of the earth Mayo people with roots in Kiltimagh and Knock, a door that I never need knock on, just walk in and make myself at home with the lovely Maureen (Louis’ mother), surely one of the nicest people you will ever meet on life’s journey. Grandeur is a word that does not exist in her dictionary. She is so rooted in the rural ethos of Mayo and so are her family.
And while the limelight will be on Louis on February 13 in Dublin, one of the biggest cheers of the night should be reserved for his outstanding mother, the one and only Maureen. And if her late husband Frank is watching from on high, he too can take a bow. I, for one, am proud to call the Walsh family of Kiltimagh friends since my schooldays. Well done, Louis, on an honour long overdue.

Locals loud in their praise for Swinford committee


Michael Commins

THE Meitheal of the Year award for 2009 has gone to the committee of the Siamsa Sráide Street Festival in Swinford. The festival will celebrate its silver jubilee this summer and the award is just recognition for the huge effort put in by a small group of people since 1984.
News of the award has been warmly received throughout the Swinford region. Bríd O’Connell and Francis Brennan have been especially synonymous with the festival for many years and have put a huge effort behind the popular east Mayo festival which is held around the end of July every year.
Yesterday, local people throughout the Swinford area were loud in their praise of Bríd and Francis and their dedicated team who have worked so tirelessly for Siamsa Sráide down the years. Many of the country’s top entertainers have performed at the free open-air concerts while the Heritage Day always attracts a great crowd to Swinford.
The citation reads: “From its inaugural one-day event way back in 1984, the movement (it’s more than just a festival) is now enlarged to a full, fun-filled five-day event. If ever a community captured the heart and ethos of ‘meitheal’ it must surely be the Siamsa Sráide committee, and, by extension, the entire community of Swinford. Everyone plays their part. The true spirit of volunteerism shines through everything they do.”
Among the aims of the festival are the stimulation of tourism in the town and region, providing free fun on the streets and highlighting the history, culture, archaeology and heritage of the area.
The independent panel of adjudicators for the Mayo awards this year were Aidan Cooney (Ireland’s am TV3 Presenter), Paddy Cullen (former Dublin GAA footballer), and John Glynn (hotelier/entrepreneur/Galway person of the year). The awards will be presented at the Muintir Mhaigh Eo Átha Cliath gala banquet on Friday, February 13.
It is expected that well over 1,000 guests will attend the 2009 banquet.