John (Jack) Feeney

Tenor

J.Feeney
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Swinford.
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Olympia Theatre, Dublin
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Theatre Royal Dublin.
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Philadelphia Academy of Music
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Metropolitan Opera House
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Boston Symphony Hall
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Carnegie Hall
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Tenor

Mayo’s famous tenor the ‘Mayo Nightingale’  impressed his audiences within the United States.  His singing career spanned over thirty years: ‘ his tenor voice got deeper, almost baritone-like as he got older.’ (Declan McCormack 23rd September 2003) [i]

John Feeney (Jack) was born on the 9th August 1903.  He was the fourth of seven children, (five boys plus two girls) in the family.  His father was Patrick.  His  mother Mary was from Swinford, Co. Mayo. (Reilly Terry Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina) [ii]

Family Business

His parents operated a grocery business from their house on Main Street.  They were Landowners of a local pub.  Following his father’s demise he assisted his mother with the family business aged just eleven years old. (Reilly Terry Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina) [iii]

Musical Education

John Feeney received his early musical instruction at the Marist Brother’s School Choir when he was a student at Swinford National School. (Reilly Terry Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina) [iv]

Farm

He worked on his father’s farm in Dunmore, Co. Galway but had a ‘dream’ of singing at Carnegie Hall in the U.S. (Reilly Terry Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina) [v]

Emigration

In England John Feeney was employed in construction work: one of his jobs was on the building of Wembley Stadium in London.  He returned to Dublin in 1926 to work on a service tunnel under the river Liffey. (Reilly Terry Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina) [vi]

U.S.A.

He emigrated to the United States during 1928 on the SS Samaria he is listed on ship’s manifest of  ‘Alien Passengers’ as a clerk, six ft. tall, dark complexion with brown hair, blue eyes, with fifty dollars in cash.”  His first job was with Western Electric in New Jersey but it folded during the Great Depression.  He produced articles titled ‘Irish Social Circle’ for ‘The Irish Echo.’  During the war he volunteered for service but continued with his singing. (16th February 2011) [vii]

Marriage

Feeney married Maura Reilly during February 1932 in Brooklyn New York. Maura was from Ballina, Co. Mayo, her family owned The Mineral Water Company.  (Later following her father’s demise she inherited the business Hugh Ruddy and Co)  On their return to Ireland she operated the business while John Feeney acted as its P.R. Officer. (Reilly Terry Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina) [viii]

Singing Career

He performed his repertoire at numerous social occasions i.e. local school ceremonies, weddings also social functions.  He participate in minor attendances on T.V also in Films.  Bohola’s William Casey & Bill O’ Dwyer secured a place for Feeney with a voice coach at the New York Metropolitan Opera Company.[ix]

John Feeney performed numerous times on the Shaefer Radio Show.  His voice was described as “easy, warm and relaxed.’  His repertoire included Irish favourites with classical recitals of Mozart, Handel also Schubert. [x]

Amongst his famous numbers with the Decca Label, recorded on 78 rpm’s was ‘Moonlight in Mayo’ plus ‘Galway Bay.’  He sang at the occasion of the 1947 All-Ireland Final between Cavan & Kerry at New York’s Polo Grounds.  During his thirty year Professional career John Feeney recorded fifty 78rpm records.  He performed in concerts also at numerous social occasions.  He performed & entertained on several radio programmes. (Henry McGlade 13th May 2014) [xi]

He performed at the Boston Symphony Hall, Philadelphia Academy of Music.  Among his Irish Tours he performed at The Olympia and Theatre Royal in Dublin, The Cork Opera House plus The Savoy Theatre Limerick.  He also performed for his own people at St. Murdoch’s Cathedral in Ballina.[xii]

Retirement

John Feeney retired to Ireland during 1964. (Reilly Terry Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina) [xiii]

Demise

Unfortunately Jack Feeney’s demise occurred following a road accident in Mayo during 1967.  He was buried in the Ruddy Family grave in Ballina on Christmas Eve 1967.[xiv]

Tributes

Maura Feeney was contacted by Harry Bradshaw when he was compiling a show.  He met her in South County Dublin (prior to her demise during 1987 in the U.S.)  She trusted him to take John Feeney’s work that contained in all five boxes of tapes, discs, files, phonogram albums also scripts to honour her husband.  Bradshaw at first refused but she suggested she would bin the material.  He then collected all Feeney’s materials.  Harry Bradshaw produced a Double C.D. collection called ‘When it’s Moonlight in Mayo’ on the occasion of the Centenary of Feeney’s death during 1986.  According to ‘The Irish Times’ he was ‘The Other Tenor’ or ‘The Mayo Nightingale.’ (20th August 2005) [xv]

These remarks by a critic at Feeney’s Homecoming Concert in Swinford portray his greatness; “many years ago I heard John McCormack sing in Dublin before he became world famous.  … It may seem an extravagant declaration, but I have never heard a truer tenor, or a voice with a greater range or compass or sweetness than that of Jack Feeney, save McCormack.  Townland’s – ‘Love Old Sweet Song’ was produced by Roy Esmonde of Media Nua for RTE Television.  (13th May 2014) [xvi]

On the 23rd September 2016 an evening of story & song of Feeney’s repertoire was held in Swinford Cultural Centre. [xvii]

Swinford annually hosts the Feile na Samha, John Feeney Musical Festival.  The Gateway Hotel in Swinford remembers him with the Jack Feeney Lounge.  A Commemorative Plaque was unveiled in his honour in Swinford during September 2016. (NBC)

Footnote

Johnny Mee mentioned John Feeney in his ‘Auld Stock’ column in ‘The Connaught Telegraph’ of 30th March 2021 on page26.

Bibliography

[i] https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/saving-mayos-lost-tenor-from-obscurity-26235438.html

[ii]Amazing Mayo Stories’ 2012

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v]  Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] https://www.irishecho.com/2011/02/irelands-lost-tenor-2/

[viii]Amazing Mayo Stories’ 2012

[ix] https://www.irishecho.com/2011/02/irelands-lost-tenor-2/

[x] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Feeney_(tenor)

[xi] https://www.mayonews.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19902:music-bradshaw-pays-tribute-to-mayo-tenor

[xii]Amazing Mayo Stories’ 2012

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] https://www.irishecho.com/ june 2003

[xv] https://presspack.rte.ie/2005/08/24/townlands-loves-old-sweet-song/

[xvi] https://www.mayonews.ie/

[xvii] https://www.con-telegraph.ie/2016/09/22/jack-feeney-celebration-in-swinford-cultural-centre/

 

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