50 years ago this January 7th saw the death of one of the town's must cultural important characters – that of Lavina Sheridan or “ Brezzie “ as she was more colloquially known.
Since her arrival to the town in 1924 until the early sixties as organist to St. Michaels and Professor of Music at Garbally College – there was not a note or quaver sounded that did not have her imprimatur or legacy.
As well as her Church and College duties, she was a professional music teacher of both piano and violin – generations of middle aged and not so, around these parts owe their grounding in musicianship and singing to her!
As if that wasn’t enough, she also along with others, formed the basis for Christmas time and Annual live Musical Performance traditions that have been sadly lacking these past 24 months.
In 1923, together with five others, she produced the first opera ever in the town hall . As well as producing and being musical director, she also painted the scenery for this first presentation, " Trial by Jury." Then, in 1925, she staged “The Mikado " in the local Town Hall, and in 1927 produced the first opera, "H.M.S. Pinafore " in St. Joseph's College, where she was the musical director until 1960.
She was one of nine children born to William and Mary (nee Armstrong) in Ellison Street, Castlebar, and was a relation of Margaret Bourke-Sheridan. Her father was a commercial traveller for William Hogg Co Ltd.
Damin Mac Con Uladh researched that she was in boarding school in Sligo with his great-grandmother's sister. His Great -Grandmother was from Fohanagh/Caltra a Cahill lady. Their names appear next to one another on the census.
“In 1901, she and her sister were boarders at the Ursuline College, Sligo. Mamie is no 57 on the form and "Breezie" is no 58. It's important to note that she was "Breezie" then, so all the Ballinasloe folklore about how she got her name locally erroneous. She was known as “Breezie “ as a 12-year-old girl. “, reports Damian.
No 55 on the form is Marion Cahill. She was a grandaunt of Michael Mc Cullagh. Her brother AD Cahill had a business on Society Street, so the working assumption is that there may have been some link between Marian and the Sheridans and that may have led “Breezie” to Ballinasloe in the first place.
Damian’s father in his memoirs recalls being a pupil of her Dunlo Hill Conservatoire (where the late Packie Clarke’s house was) at 11 years of age and being requested to attend the Choir to help with the bellows of the wind organ in St. Michaels Church where allegedly in seeking more oomph for the drone and notes she would shout “more wind more wind!”
Lavinia spent time teaching music in Germany and Portugal before moving back to London after the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. She worked as a musical instructress to the children of a German Baron in Frankfort on Main.
On the death of her father in 1918, she returned to Ireland and secured a position with the Diocese of Clonfert to teach music in Garbally.
In 1960 she won the trophy for the best musical director at the Waterford Musical Festival with the Ballinasloe Group’s presentation of " Oklahoma" (the Late Liam Kelly Church St, Johnny Furey and Joe Hill – were all involved).
Jn 1970 she was honoured Bene Morenti the Medal which was given to her by Pope Paul V and presented to her at a special function in her honour in St. Joseph's College.
Even though we only see her as an Organist , teacher and Conductress - Breezy was a multi-instrumentalist. A niece Rowena Kilkelly’s memories are mainly of her playing the piano at family gatherings, but there are archival accounts of concerts at which Breezy sang or played the violin or harp.
In 1911, the Connaght Telegraph on the 4th of Feb ; reports “Breezie” sang the rallying song of the Gaelic League and later played the piano at a concert in aid of the Mayo County Infirmary . In 1914, she performed at a fundraiser in Castlebar for the local branch of the National Volunteers: "Miss Lavinia Sheridan, The Marsh, gave further proof of her claims to be an accomplished instrumentalist by the exquisite manner in which she rendered a charming violin solo." (Connaught Telegraph, 3 October 1914).
Past Pupil Oliver Whyte ( Retired GP Wesport ) recalls “Lavinia was a prominent person in Garbally during my term (1957 to 1962). She auditioned all new entrants to the College. She informed me that my voice was breaking, and to come back the next year. She definitely was a treasure. My voice never improved”.
Corkonian Gerry Keating in his late 80s who was an accountant in Paddy Lambs factory took part in the Student Prince in 1957 remembers her forming his raw vocal talent “When I had finished a serenade 'Overhead the moon' she pointed to me with her baton & said you are a diamond & I shaped you'. Within 2 weeks of the show, my job in Lynch's Abatoir finished but Breezy gave him a room for a few weeks before I left town “ states Gerry.
CLICK HERE to read the Latest Ballinasloe News Articles