Bowyer mourners urged to remember 'sweaty ballrooms' and 'hucklebuck shoes' at memorial mass

Bowyer mourners urged to remember 'sweaty ballrooms' and 'hucklebuck shoes' at memorial mass

Brendan Bowyer on stage during the Showband Nostalgia in Cork Opera House. Picture: Richard Mills

Mourners at a memorial mass in Waterford City for showband legend, Brendan Bowyer were told that instead of listening to the chief celebrant, Fr Brian D'arcy, they should instead drift in to their memory banks and remember a glorious time that involved “sweaty ballrooms” and “hucklebuck shoes”. 

Mr Bowyer, formerly of the Royal Showband and the Big Eight, passed away aged 81 on May 28, 2020 in Las Vegas. His biggest and most enduring hit was a cover of ‘The Hucklebuck’.

Brendan Bowyer of the Royal Showband and the Big Eight passed away in May 2020.
Brendan Bowyer of the Royal Showband and the Big Eight passed away in May 2020.

Unfortunately, his family were unable to bury him in his native Waterford when he passed away as the country was in lockdown arising out of the pandemic.

The Cathedral of Most Trinity Within in Waterford was as full as the dance halls of old for the memorial mass at noon on Wednesday. An additional 1,700 people watched the live stream of the service.

Fr D'arcy said he has so many fond memories of his friend Brendan, but he recognised that members of the congregation had their own equally fantastic reels in their heads relating to the legendary entertainer.

“Do you know what you do? Don’t listen to a word I say. Just dream on. The sweaty ballrooms, the skirts, the hucklebuck shoes, the dances. Standing in awe as Brendan sang the old ballads.

“Let your memories drift into those. The mineral bar and the fella who asked you for the last dance. Hoping that he had a car! Thank God you were lucky enough to live through the best era we ever had. Why? Because of Brendan Bowyer and the show bands.

“Particularly today, I would like to welcome the great fans of Brendan Bowyer. Because when you heard him singing ‘I walk with God’ (at the start of the mass) it brought you back to packed ballrooms, concert halls, Brendan, and the Royal Showband performing in a wonderful way.” 

Fr D'arcy said that Brendan was “always raising our spirits and bringing us happiness”. 

Sending us home sweating and sending us home happy. He did it for almost 60 years.

“So many of his friends have gone, but today I want to particularly welcome and thank his family for letting us share the beautiful man that Brendan Bowyer was.

Members of the Royal Showband publicise their new single called 'The Hucklebuck' at the Bowling Alley, Grand Parade, Cork. In the back left is lead singer Brendan Bowyer.
Members of the Royal Showband publicise their new single called 'The Hucklebuck' at the Bowling Alley, Grand Parade, Cork. In the back left is lead singer Brendan Bowyer.

“He was so proud of Waterford. So proud of Ireland. So proud of his family. So loyal to his fans. So grateful to them all.

“If he wanted one word writ large it would be ‘appreciation’.” 

Mourners were told that in 1962 the Royal Showband were supported at a gig in England by the Beatles.

Fr D'arcy said that an encouraging Brendan Bowyer told a young Paul McCartney to stick with it.

“The Beatles admired them and he gave them encouragement. He (Brendan) said, ‘I liked your show, but the songs you said you wrote yourself were the best. Keep at it.’ Six months later the Beatles were number one across the world."

Elvis (Presley) was a fan. He came to see them. He even ‘stole’ one of their songs. The hit ‘You Gave me a Mountain’.

Elvis heard Brendan sing it and asked him if he could use it, and he did and it became a big hit for him. 

Fr D'arcy said that the likes of Brendan Bowyer opened the doors for everyone else that got involved in the entertainment industry in the subsequent decades.

“There were 600 fully professional bands in Ireland after the Royal Showband became the first professional band. There were more people involved in showbands than there were in the meat industry at that time. 

“That is the big industry he started. It only takes one person to have a vision for the people to have a vision.” 

A ‘profound influence’

Fr D'arcy also read out a letter from Stella Bowyer, the widow of the late Brendan Bowyer. She said that Brendan had had a “profound influence” on her life.

“We were together for 56 years. He had a self-deprecating sense of humour. He never took himself seriously. His reaction to life’s challenges was amazing. 

“He was a wonderful travelling companion, an avid reader. A sports fanatic. He loved opera. And most of all, he was a loving father, husband, grandfather, brother, and entertainer. A man, a friend who will never be forgotten.”

Attendees at the mass included the family of the late Brendan Bowyer, including his widow Stella and his adult children Brendan, Aisling, and Clodagh, his grandchildren Liam and Nora, his sisters Olive, Pat, and Alison, brothers-in-law, extended family, relatives, neighbours, and friends.

Other attendees included the Mayor of Waterford Cllr John O’Leary, surviving members of the Royal Showband and other showband legends such as Joe Mac, Tony Kenny, and Art Supple. The Bishop of Waterford Alphonsus Cullinan sent his deepest sympathy but was unable to attend the mass because of an overseas pilgrimage.

Fr D'arcy said that the late father of Brendan Bowyer, who was named Stanley, was an organist and choir master in the cathedral.

Fr D'arcy offered prayers for Brendan’s son-in-law Elliott who died last year and also prayed for the repose of the soul of some members of the Royal Showband and the Big Eight who are no longer with us.

Particular mention was made of the late Tom Dunphy of the Royal Showband “who was such a legend — you can hardly think of one (Bowyer) without the other”. 

The memorial mass was presided over by Fr D'arcy, Fr Eamonn O'Driscoll, and Fr John Harris with musical accompaniment from soprano Caroline Reid O Brien.

Waterford City and County Council representatives formed a guard of honour as the ashes of Mr Bowyer were taken from the the Cathedral to the sound of ‘How Great Thou Art’.

The ashes of Mr Bower were interred in the grave of his parents in Dunmore East after the memorial mass.

His tombstone will read: “There is those who bring a light so great to the world that even after they are gone the light remains.”

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