A helicopter put a piano on the 150-foot roof of Blarney Castle and other stories from the Cork Jazz Festival archives

The helicopter lifts the piano towards the top of Blarney castle. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

We’ve delved into the archives to share some of our favourite stories from the last 40 years of the Cork Jazz Festival.

Helicopter helps musicians to hit the high notes in Blarney

From the Cork Examiner, October 25, 1985

THE Cork City Jazz Festival got off to a flying start yesterday when an upright piano was swung by helicopter onto the 150-foot roof of Blarney Castle.

Moments later, veteran pianist Bob Darch was tinkling the ivories — and the best of ragtime classics were wafting out over the famous little village.

There was some anxiety as 31-year-old pilot, Capt Mick Hennessy of Irish Helicopters Limited, manoeuvred the Bolkow BO105 into position above the castle turrets.

“Can you imagine someone driving down the road and seeing that,” quipped the Alaskan pianist who had just flown in from Denmark.

But skilful handling won the day and there were smiles all round as the Cork City Jazz Band drowned out the sound of the fading rotors.

The stunt was the brainchild of Cork Examiner director, Billy Crosbie, who doubled on this occasion as another “boatered” member of the band.

The event was jointly sponsored by Cork Examiner Publications and Guinness.

The trusty old upright was provided — and not without some trepidation — by Brain Forrest of The Spaniard, Kinsale.

Mr Charles Colthurst, son of the castle owner, Sir Richard Colthurst, described the stunt as “a tremendous idea”. He said: “ My reaction from the start was – if they can do it, that’s OK with me.”

Ragtime Bob Darch and the Cork City Jazz Band get proceedings under way. Picture: Eddie O’Hare
Ragtime Bob Darch and the Cork City Jazz Band get proceedings under way. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

The whole affair brought delighted cheers from the many American tourists gathered at the base of the castle. The scene at the top was recorded on video and is due to appear on US TV screens in the near future – a worthwhile advertisement for next year’s summer season.

“We’ve certainly started on high note,” commented festival director, Mr Jim Mountjoy.

Guests at the castle enjoyed a mulled wine reception, hosted by the Hotel Blarney. With crisp, sunny weather, it was a ‘Martini ad scene’.

Grappelli prefers to let his music do the talking

From the Cork Examiner, October 29, 1988

“I got fed up being asked about my age and what I did in my life,” protested jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli as he relaxed in his luxury suite at Cork’s Imperial Hotel yesterday.

This is Grappelli’s first visit to the Guinness Jazz Festival and he wanted to talk about anything but his music.

“The Guinness people have asked me to play at the festival several times before, but I have never been able to do it. Now I am here and I am going to enjoy it very much.”

Stephane is no stranger to Cork. He played in the city twice in the early 1980s, first in the Savoy Theatre and then at the Opera House.

Now freshly arrived from the Prague Festival of Jazz, the octogenarian is pleased to be associated with the Guinness celebrations.

Stephane Grappelli at the Imperial Hotel in Cork in 1988.
Stephane Grappelli at the Imperial Hotel in Cork in 1988.

“This festival is a very prestigious one. It has an international reputation and everyone of the artistes who play here is a good musician, a genuine musician. It is a great honour to be invited.”

Many of Grappelli’s friends and contemporaries are in Cork for the festival.

“Humphrey Lyttleton, whom I would call the greatest jazz journalist on earth, is here to report and to play!”

Any hopes fans might have of a musical fusion with Louis Stewart over the weekend were dashed as Stephane explained he will be flying to the Isle of Man this morning.

“I have always admired Louis as a great artist. He is what you would call a natural musician, a natural man. I will never forget my all-too-few appearances with him.”

What he wants to talk about now, however, is Ireland or rather, his love affair with Ireland.

“I can understand why de Gaulle came to visit this country, it is so beautiful.

During his last visit here in June he managed to get to Galway, where he visited the house of a very dear friend, Jean Barclay.

“I had promised Jean that I would go to see her house.

“I had been promising her for 30 years that one day I would visit Galway, and this year I finally made it. Galway is such a beautiful place, so very wild and yet so fascinating. I really love the west coast and I think Jean would have been very glad to know I got there after so long.”

But his attachment to Ireland does not stop at the scenery. “I love Irish music. It is so very lively”

His favourite instruments are the bodhrán and flute, and though he confesses, with a twinkle to some difficulty in learning Irish tunes, he as mastered ‘Farewell to Erin’, which he played in Dublin during his June visit. “Of this I am very proud!” he laughs.

Bertice’s moving experience

Bertice Reading came to Cork in 1985, just as nearby Ballinspittle was achieving world-wide attention for reports that the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the village was seen moving by those praying at the grotto. This report of the American singer’s post-gig journey to see the statue was carried in the Cork Examiner on October 28, 1985.

WORLD famous jazz star Bertice Reading made an unexpected pilgrimage in the early hours of this morning — so the “moving statue” grotto at Ballinspittle in West Cork. After watching the grotto for just over 15 minutes, Ms. Reading declared: “Did you see it? — It moved.”

However, the statue’s halo of lights was switched off by the time Ms Reading arrived, and she had to make do with the beam from a nearby street light.

Bertice Reading made an unexpected pilgrimage in from the jazz festival the ‘moving statue’ grotto at Ballinspittle in West Cork. Picture: Eddie O’Hare
Bertice Reading made an unexpected pilgrimage in from the jazz festival the ‘moving statue’ grotto at Ballinspittle in West Cork. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

Members of the grotto committee said that the timeswitch controlling the lights had not been adjusted to winter time and so they had gone out at 12.45am, an hour earlier than usual.

Thrice married Ms Reading swept into the tiny village in a chauffeur-driven limousine at an hour when even the most ardent believers in the miraculous movements at the grotto were making their way home. She had been set on making the trip since she saw and heard about the mysterious happenings at the shrine on BBC television.

“I was shocked by it, but it must be something really wonderful,” she confided.

Her reaction was immediate. “It’s a wonderful thing. You have to, I said to myself.” As Ms Reading arrived at the grotto, she remarked: “I had to come. It’s marvellous to be so close, and it would be terrrible not to be able to see it. I don’t mind the hour – I’m going to do a little meditation.” She was accompanied by two of the musicians from her band. They had discussed her plan and decided to “run out madly” after the show ended at around 1am.

Ms Reading leaves Cork on Tuesday, just a week short of the official launch of Cork Examiner reporter Tim Ryan’s book on the Ballinspittle phenomenon.

It may not be a miracle but mountains have been moved to the jazz lady presented with one of the first copies of the book at her hotel this morning.

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