The size of the crowd Arklow band ‘Boru’ played to at a festival in Coney Island, New York, in the
THE curtain went down on Arklow band Boru for the final time last Thursday night after an illustrious 29-year history.
Formed in 1985 by four Arklow musicians – Tommy Breen, John Hogan, Johnny Byrne and Christy Murphy – three of the original members remain, with Courtown's Noel Dunbar having taken over the reins from Christy in the late 1980s.
The group, which was the youngest ballad group in Ireland at the time, gigged extensively in Wicklow and Dublin in a bid to build up a solid reputation. Through this they came to the notice of music manager Jim Hand, who also managed The Fureys, Paddy Reilly and The Dubliners.
From there their career really took off and before long they were touring with legendary comedian Brendan Grace. Their first album ‘About Folk N Time' was released to coincide with this nationwide tour.
A missed opportunity for another band turned into a golden opportunity for Boru when they were asked to perform on the Late Late Show with Gay Byrne after another band, travelling to Ireland for the show, couldn't make the slot.
‘ That was a huge boost for us,’ said Tommy Breen. ‘It was great exposure for us and people really liked us.'
In addition to appear- ing on the Late Late Show, Boru also performed six times on Live at Three and on one occasion brought up a bus load of students from Arklow Girls National School to act as backing singers.
In 1987, a meeting with Shay Healy led to their first single, Carry On, which was a tribute to U2 written by Dublin man Bill Bonner. The song was to enter the top 30 chart list but its chart success was short-lived.
‘ The song entered the charts at 29; it lasted a week and was never seen again after that!’ laughed Tommy.
However their single Freemantle Bay had much more success, and was 14 weeks in the charts, even becoming a Top Ten hit.
Albums such as ‘ Just for the Folk N'Craic' and ‘Sentimental Songs' were released and a four-track single released for the Mayo GAA in 1989 marking the county's All Ireland appearance saw newspapers in Connacht hailing Boru as the best ballad band in the west of Ireland!
‘ Then we got the chance to tour America,’ said Tommy. ‘ We played our first gig there at a festival to 50,000 which was a massive break. We've had a lot of luck along the way.
‘ We played Hunter Mountain three years running which was a big achievement because the organisers usually change bands each year.
‘We played to a crowd of 120,000 in Coney Island and in the early 1990s, August 23 was declared Boru Day in Brooklyn.
‘We also did a festival in Chicago and did a radio interview there on a show that has five million listeners, then in 1994, when we wrote a song for the World Cup, we sent it to the show and it got a lot of airplay there.'
Tommy said the band also played every Sunday night in the Olympia Threatre for the hit Brendan Grace show, ‘Sunday Night at the Olympia’.
‘Brendan Grace was a pure gentleman,’ said Tommy. ‘He always made a point of introducing us and it was great.
‘Finbar Furey is another great buddy of ours and I remember on one occasion when we were doing support for the Fureys he told the sound men to ‘give us a good mix or you'll be mixing cement in the morning!' That really meant a lot to us because if our sound check wasn't done properly we would be three or four songs into the set before we got the balance right.
‘I remember one night meeting Liam Reilly after hours in a Mayo hotel and asking him would he not write a song for us. He later left The Flight of the Earls into Jim Hand's office for us because we were a young band starting out.
‘But he'd also given it to the Dublin City Ramblers and to the Wolfe Tones and they both wanted to record it as did Paddy Reilly.
‘ The Dublin City Ramblers got it (the song) but after the song had come out the Wolfe Tones quickly released their own version of it and both songs were in the charts at the same time. The Wolfe Tones were at Number 2 and the Dublin City Ramblers at Number 3. Neither of them ever got to Number 1 with it.
‘But the following year Paddy Reilly released it and got to Number 1,’ said Tommy.
Albums such as Down Through the Year, From Arklow to Dublin, Boru 2003 and Rebel Heart were released in the noughties.
The band rarely play together now for various reasons sand Tommy said the decision to hold the farewell concert was ‘ to go out on a high'.
‘People were always asking if we were going to do something locally and we said then we would.
‘ This is it for us and Boru won't be the same again. We don't want to dilute the name and this will be the last time the four of us perform on stage as Boru.'
Tommy Breen and John Hogan of Boru at their farewell gig in Sally O'Brien's, Arklow.
The lads from Boru in a recent photo (above left) ... and as they were in their 1980s heyday (above right, right).