During the mid to late 1970s the music buzz in Irish Milwaukee centered on a handful of local Irish Pubs: Derry’s, The Irish Village, O’Donoghues, Hegarty’s Glocca Morra, Nash's Irish Castle, and Jim Hegarty’s. After Bernie McCartan and I joined the Shamrock Club in 1974, we found this small Irish corner bar on 54th and Bluemound called Derry’s. Jeremiah (Derry) Hegarty immigrated to the U.S. from Drinagh, County Cork with his brother Joe in 1965. He had a degree from the University of College Cork in dairy farming, managed a dairy farm in Ireland, and had done accounting work in London.
What drew him to the dairy state were not dairy cows but the fact that his older sister Margaret and Uncle Jim lived in Milwaukee. After working as a purchasing manager for a local manufacturing company for seven years, Derry found his true calling – an Irish Barman. He opened his bar in 1972. It quickly became a social, cultural, political, and sports community center for the Irish in Milwaukee.
Before I returned to study law at MU, I had lived and worked for several years in Washington D.C. In my leisure time I would frequent local Irish bars – Matt Kane’s, the Dubliner, Ireland’s Four Provinces and E.J. O’Reilly’s. All of them featured live Irish folk music. Returning to Milwaukee, I did not find a lot going on musically. The Irish Rovers appeared occasionally at the PAC and in August, 1975 the St. James Choir and Orchestra from Ireland appeared at the PAC. Earlier in the decade Nina Nash (Monahan) daughter of Kit and Josie Nash, formed the Shamrock Club Irish Dancers. A few years later local dancer Mary Eileen Geary was awarded a Shamrock Club scholarship to go to Ireland to train and test for her T.C.R.G., the official Irish dance certification. Mary Eileen passed her dance tests in Ireland and came home as a certified Irish dance instructor and took over the Shamrock Club dancers. She and her friends pulled together a group of local musicians who played jigs, reels and hornpipes for the dancers’ many local appearances. This group came to be referred to as Feiseanna and included John Maher, Martin Dowling, Jeff Keeling, Pat Williams, Terry Leahy, Dennis Abere, Dan Hosmanek and Mary McWilliams among others.
Derry decided in 1975 that Milwaukee needed real Irish folk music and hired a Boston-based, four person group to appear in his pub in February, 1975. The Bards, originally from Belfast, became a big hit on the local Irish scene. They were a very good band – and fun, and became so popular at Derry’s pub, that he sponsored a show in March of 1976 at the PAC with the Bards and the husband/wife team Butch & Maeve. The Bards and Butch & Maeve continued to be frequent visitors to Milwaukee over the next few years. Guitars, fiddles, banjos, and songs and dance brought the spirit of good fun and happiness to the Milwaukee Irish.
A press photo of The Bards from the Irish Fest Collection
The Bards LP cover from the Michael and Mary Comer Collection in the Ward Irish Music Archives