A Brief History of the Branch
The branch was formed in June 1979 when Michael McGorry wanted to promote the Irish tradition and at the same time raise funds for the Holy Ghost Fathers in Carfin. With the assistance of Jimmy McHugh, Frank McArdle and several others, who willingly came to teach the music to the children of the branch, and Anne McHugh and John McKenna who taught ceili dancing, a small branch was formed. The official opening took place in St Brides Hall in Motherwell on the 18 th January 1980 , where a packed hall was entertained by a ceili, followed by the music of Catherine McAvoy and the singing of Kevin Mitchell. The following month at a seminar in Birmingham , it was decided to call the branch after Johnny Doherty the great fiddler from Donegal.
The original committee for the branch consisted of
Hugh Laverty – Chairman
James Walsh – Vice Chairman
Sean Doherty – Secretary
George McKinney – Treasurer
Thomas Gallagher – Auditor
Fr Joseph Clements – Chaplin
A few years later Willie and Liz Cowan and their family brought some new energy into the branch, and when Sean Doherty moved to England , Willie took over the position of Chairman. By this time Set Dancing had been introduced to the branch and was proving to be really successful, with the branch qualifying on several occasions to the Ballycastle competitions. A ceili band was also formed, and is still on the go at present, albeit not the same line up of players! Sean Feeney also arrived at the branch around this time, and has been coming along faithfully ever since, along with his son Tom, to keep the Irish language alive in the branch.
In 1988 Jim McKenna took over the position of Chairman, and has been ever since; while at the same time has assumed the position of Chairman of the Scottish region for several of those years. A few years later the Cowan family moved to Wales and in the following years helped to form a new branch of Comhaltas in their area (Newport) called “Amairgin the Gael”, which has been going strong since 2001.
Of the original group of about 10 pupils, when the branch formed in 1979, a few went on to play in the ceili band namely Allison Cullen (O’Rourke) and Catherine Howley (McFadden). Another of those original pupils was Anne Friel (Walsh), who sadly passed away. Anne was an active member of the branch in every way; she served as secretary, played the flute in the ceili band, and was a member of the set dance team. She also taught tin whistle and flute to the youngsters of the branch at the Wednesday evening music classes, even during her illness Anne still showed great dedication to the branch and is sorely missed by all.
The branch has shown a great deal of success over the years in hosting the Scottish Fleadh and the All Britain Fleadh as well as the Echoes of Erin Tour Concert on several occasions. We have also had success stories in our entries into these competitions, with several of our members qualifying through to the All Ireland stages in their individual competitions.
At present the branch has produced four All Ireland Champions, namely Stephen O’Neill – who won the under 18 drums in 2001, and his brother Martin O’Neill – who won senior bodhran the following year, and last but not least youngest brother Seán O’Neill won the under 15 drums in 2005, and again in 2006, and more recently came in second in the senior drums in Derry 2013.
The latest member to win gold in Ireland is Daniel McGuinness, winning the under 15 whistle slow air in 2006 and then in 2008 brought home a gold, silver and bronze for whistle, piano accordion and whistle slow air.
Our music classes have changed venue several times over the years, although we have always kept to Wednesday evenings.
We currently hold our traditional music and Irish lessons in Taylor High School New Stevenston every Wednesday, and the committee is as follows:
Jim McKenna – Chairman
Francis Hughes- Vice Chairman
Siobáin O’Neill- Secretary
Evelyn Hughes – Treasurer
Phil Westwell- PRO Officer
David Johnstone / Sinead Smith- Auditors