Delahunty, Michael (‘Mick’; ‘Mick Del’)

by Lawrence William White

Delahunty, Michael (‘Mick’; ‘Mick Del’) (1915–92), musician and bandleader, was born 11 November 1915 at 13 Raheen Road, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, son of Michael Delahunty, private in the Royal Irish Regt, and Mary Delahunty (née Ahearne). Reared in Clonmel at 7 Glenagad Road, Old Bridge, in a family of at least three sons and one daughter, he was educated locally by the Christian Brothers, and for a short time attended the High School. After performing during his school days in the Old Bridge fife and drum band, he played cornet with various bands at dances and other functions, while working as a shop assistant on Main Street, Clonmel. He first headed a band in 1933 when on short notice he put together a six-piece combination for an Easter-Sunday-night, 1916 commemoration dance in Cahir, replacing an established band that withdrew from the engagement. Shortly thereafter, owing to a dental problem that made playing the cornet uncomfortable, he changed to the alto saxophone. Heading his own Harmony band, he steadily extended his reputation throughout Munster and beyond. Giving up his day job and turning fully professional in 1942, Delahunty augmented the band’s line-up to include twelve to sixteen musicians, and introduced the innovation of playing orchestral arrangements. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the Mick Del orchestra was Ireland’s most popular dance band, playing their version of American big-band jazz, modelled especially on the style and tunes of Glenn Miller, to capacity audiences throughout Ireland. Standards of his repertoire included ‘In the mood’, ‘Cool, clear water’, and his signature tune, ‘American patrol’. Delahunty’s style exemplified the ‘ballroom of romance’ era of Irish mainstream entertainment: dancing accompanied by a sit-down orchestra, attired in formal dress and playing from sheet music, at engagements in commercial ballrooms, town and parochial halls, carnivals, and marquees. Devotees described the capacity of Delahunty’s music to transform a dingy provincial hall into a wonderland of magic and romance.

During the 1950s Delahunty regularly toured Britain during Lent, when the Irish dancehalls closed; his North American tours, commencing in 1954, included a sell-out performance in Carnegie Hall, NY. His annual summer residencies at the Showboat ballroom in the seaside resort of Youghal, Co. Cork, were highlighted by the weekly Saturday night Showboat Express train from Cork city; meeting the train at the station, the band would parade the hundreds of punters through the town to the ballroom. In the late 1950s, when the embryonic showbands threatened the preeminence of the sit-down dance orchestras, Delahunty, rather than shunning the new phenomenon, encouraged and supported the Royal Showband, employing them as a relief act. From the 1960s onwards, despite shifting musical trends, he retained a devoted following in Ireland and abroad, continuing to lead his orchestra until his death. His younger brothers Paddy and Jackie were both long-serving band members. In 1965 he played at a charity ball in Powerscourt House, Co. Wicklow, which was attended by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco. Disdaining stage gimmickry, Delahunty was modest, generous, and gentlemanly, qualities that enhanced his appeal to his public. He married first (date unknown) Bridie Fitzgerald (d. 1973), of Old Bridge, Clonmel. He was survived by his second wife, Margaret – with whom he lived on O’Rahilly Avenue, Clonmel – and by two sons and one daughter. After announcing his retirement owing to ill health, and a period in hospital, he did not play at the band’s farewell performance on 29 February 1992 in the Greenwood Inn, Ardpatrick, Co. Limerick – where for the previous fifteen years he had appeared fortnightly – but addressed the audience at its conclusion. Moments after descending from the stage he collapsed and died. A biography, The Delahunty story (1958) by journalist Mick Strappe, was published on his silver jubilee as a bandleader. To mark the tenth anniversary of his death in 2002 a square in Clonmel, designated by a commemorative plaque, was named after him, and a CD of his music, digitally remastered from a live ballroom recording of c.1960, was issued.

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