Down in Kerry, Eddie Lee is the embodiment of the heart and soul of the country music spirit that has been part and parcel of rural life in Ireland for close on five decades.

The man from the small coastal town of Ballyheigue has been a proud bearer of the country torch for many years. He is the epitome of the many singers who have contributed enormously to the foundations of a style of music that resonates deep in the culture of our land.

Eddie made his debut on the country circuit back in 1972. The decade was synonymous with country music and Eddie was enthralled with the big names on the scene in Ireland and America.

“How could anyone in rural Ireland not get caught up in the magic of that decade?” says Eddie. “Big Tom and The Mainliners were the superstars of that era. My first band was Penny Arcade and I also featured with a local band called Vegas. We were always a country band and featured some of the early rock ‘n’ roll like songs from Buddy Holly and Elvis.

“My country heroes of the era were Big Tom, Gene Stuart, Johnny McEvoy and Margo while Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Tom T Hall, Gene Watson, Boxcar Willie and Don Williams were my big influences from the American scene. It truly was the golden era of real country music.”

Life in those early years was not all about country music. Eddie played hurling with Ballyheigue up to minor level and later played football with Castleisland Desmonds. “I was fortunate enough to win two county junior medals with Castleisland. They had a fine team at the time. The great Kerry goalkeeper, Charlie Nelligan, was a member of the senior team in those times and I have remained close friends with him all down the years. He has a special affinity with Ballyheigue.”

Outside of country music, Eddie was a member of the popular Kerry-based Johnny Reidy céilí band for over 20 years. Along with Catriona O’Sullivan, he also combined a career on the country circuit and they enjoyed huge popularity, especially on the Munster circuit and also with the Enjoy Travel overseas music holidays in Spain and Portugal.

These days, Eddie is performing gigs around the Munster region along with shows in places like Kildare, Carlow and Kilkenny with Mike and Paudie Coffey from Kerry. “Things are going grand for us and we are delighted with the response and the crowds. People still have a great fondness for real country music and they are familiar with the songs we feature in our nightly programme.”

Eddie has his own studio in Ballyheigue where he has recorded numerous artists over the last two decades. “The studio is in constant demand and I love having people in recording new songs and albums. I will be releasing my own new 15 track new album, Requests, in the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney on 28 August featuring some new songs and some that are popular on our regular dancing programme.

“The new albums from Paudie McAuliffe, Noreen Ashe and Paudie Coffey, recorded in my studios, will also be released on the same weekend in the Gleneagle Hotel, so I have a busy few weeks ahead in the studio.”

Eddie Lee will release his latest album, Requests, this August

Home is where the heart is and Eddie is always at ease in the heartlands. “The rural people have been my greatest supporters all down the years. I have a great affinity with the farming fraternity. They are the heart and soul of our music and I often end up talking farming matters with so many who come up to me after gigs. As John Denver said in his famous song, thank God I’m a country boy!”

Friends rally for Frank’s night in Longford

A celebration night to honour the contribution of Frank Kilbride to the music scene will be held in the Longford Arms Hotel on Thursday, 27 July. The night will feature over 20 well-known names from the country music scene and a full house is expected at the popular venue.

Frank has been synonymous with the music scene over the last few decades. After spending a while as a teenager with Pat the Baker in Granard, he soon found himself drifting to the music scene and joined Go Lucky, a local group, before going on to front The Virginians.

Frank hosted a weekly country show on Shannonside Radio for three decades. He was also synonymous with the Parkhouse Hotel in Edgeworthstown, which he ran for many years and where all the top names in the country took to the stage.

The Longford native combined those ventures with being an undertaker for almost four decades, a postmaster for 22 years and a councillor on Longford County Council for 15 years.

Two years ago, Frank was diagnosed with cancer. He has responded well to the treatment and is now out and about and enjoying life again. He is delighted to see so many friends lending support to the celebration night in his home county next Thursday night.

Among those who will perform guest spots at the dance show are Foster and Allen, Brendan Shine, Philomena Begley, Michael English, Jimmy Buckley, Trudi Lalor, TR Dallas and a host of others. Former Irish soccer players, Pat Jennings and Niall Quinn, are also expected to make guest appearances on the night. Tickets are €20 at the Longford Arms Hotel or, alternatively, attendees can pay at the door on the night itself.