My wife Sylvia and I stayed in Mullingar in County Westmeath while having a bit of a tour around the Republic of Ireland in July 2017. Having had a meal in Mullingar town on the first Saturday evening, we were passing the Market House on our way back to the car when we came across an intriguing statue. My perception was that most people who are honoured in this way are likely to have been deceased for a very long time, but this person was holding what looked like a modern microphone. Also, I couldn’t help thinking that the face looked familiar. Turned out, it did!
The bronze statue was in memory of an Irish singing star, Joe Dolan. I actually had the pleasure of meeting this man back in the 1980’s when I was working on a BBC documentary about Irish Showbands. As a prominent showband singer, Joe was an obvious choice to be featured. A plaque beside the statue revealed that Joe passed away ten years ago, on Boxing Day 2007, aged 68. It also stated that “His unique voice touched the hearts of many worldwide”.
Joe dolan was the only Irish singer to reach number one in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. He was a constant presence on the hit parade in Ireland and overseas and was considered to be one of the most successful vocalists in Ireland.
Joe was the son of a bicycle shop owner, the youngest of eight children, born in Mullingar on 16th October 1939, into a musical family. Sadly, he lost his father at the age of eight, and his mother when he was 15, after which he left home and served an apprenticeship as a newspaper compositor for the Westmeath Examiner.
On completion of his apprenticeship in 1964, he formed ‘the Drifter’s’ showband with his saxophone-playing brother, Ben. Thus began a successful career as an entertainer and singer which lasted until 2004, when he had a hip replacement and some other health issues which meant that he was out of action for almost a year. He returned to the stage, however, and continued to perform and record until Autumn 2007, when he was forced to cancel some engagements due to ill health. It was just a few weeks later that he passed away on Boxing Day from a suspected brain haemorrhage.
When news emerged of his death, his fans were devastated. It had been known that he was ill, but it wasn’t thought that his condition was that serious. His official biography states that, “The outpouring of grief that followed the death of Joe Dolan on St Stephen’s Day was extraordinary. Huge crowds from all over Ireland and abroad attended his funeral, confirming his place as the most popular singer in the country.”
Perhaps a measure of the esteem in which Joe is held in Mullingar, was demonstrated by a local man when I was snapping these photos. As he passed by he simply said to me, “That’s our Joe”.