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Audio: The Real MacNamara's Band

Many Irish Americans are familiar with the song "MacNamara's Band" written by Shamus O'Connor and John J. Stamford and popularized by the likes of Bing Crosby. The jovial song was inspired by four Limerick brothers who founded a prize winning band before immigrating to the US and recording for a number of labels.

Patrick and Michael McNamara helped create the St. Mary's Band Fife and Drum Band in 1885. They shared a row with their brothers, Jack and Thomas. Patrick was the band's leader when St. Mary's Prize Band brought home the Ireland championship in 1895. The band continues to this day, having won the All-Ireland championship for flute and drum bands 17 times in its history and playing for dignitaries such as John F. Kennedy during his visit in 1963.

After Patrick and Thomas immigrated to the US in the early 1900s, they brought their musical traditions with them. Their group, along with fellow St. Mary's founder Patsy Salmon, became known as "McNamara's Band." The popularity of the band eventually inspired a Tin Pan Alley composer who created the well-known song in 1917. The American version of the lyrics are credited to The Three Jesters (Red Latham, Wamp Carlson, and Guy Bonham) and are modified to sound more "Irish."

In later years, the brothers along with Eileen, Patrick's daughter, on piano recorded as the McNamara Trio for the Victor, Vocalion, Columbia, and Beltona labels. This recording from a digitized 78 rpm disc is an example of the trio recorded in April 1925 for the Columbia label. The first tune appears to be what is called "Mouse in the Cupboard" today, followed by "Kerrigan's," a version of "The Kesh."

The McNamara brothers lead remarkable lives during pivotal moments in Irish and world history. Michael served in the Boer War and moved to Devon, England where he passed away in 1962. In 1915, John was killed in action at the Battle of Aubers Ridge in France during World War I. Thomas returned to Ireland at the outbreak of the Great War and served in the British Army before returning the United States. He was among the group who smuggled Eamon de Valera from Liverpool to the United States in 1920. Thomas also served in the Merchant Marines for 23 years and later worked on the New York City Fire Department boats.

McNamara's Band was certainly a credit to old Ireland and the Irish in America.

More info:

From the David Giovannoni Collection, item DG 78 00-038.

From The Irish Sheet Music Archives:

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