Catholic Church Kilsyth

The Columban Singers
from their own website

During the bleak winter months of 1949, a group of these men, drawn from a wide range of employment and all of whom were members of a local church organisation called The Knights of St Columba in Kilsyth, decided to follow the lead of hundreds of other working men and form a Choir. Within the ranks of the members was local school teacher Pat Docherty who agreed to act as Conductor and he swiftly organised the men into the four sections of a Male Voice Choir and the first rehearsal took place on 5th February 1950. The initial practices were less than satisfactory due to the inability of the Conductor to attend regularly because of failing health. Eventually, Mr Docherty intimated it would be better if another Conductor could take over the guidance of the choristers and, by the greatest stroke of good luck, the man of the hour was to hand. As fate would have it, one of the Founder Members of the Columban Singers was James Turley who, in addition to his very busy full time occupation, was also a musician of no mean repute in his "spare time".James willingly accepted the onerous task of literally teaching music to the choir members as well as moulding their voices - in the standard four part harmony of Male Voice Choirs - into some astounding renditions of some of the classic arrangements of choral work. The initial choral arrangements tackled included: The Border Ballad, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Oft in the Stilly Night, The Long Day Closes, Comrades in Arms, The Farmers Boy, Stars of the Summer Night and The Lincolnshire Poacher. All good rousing Male Voice arrangements which were enjoyed both by the members and audiences too.

Mr Pat Docherty - Founding Conductor
Mr James Turley - Conductor for more than 20 years

Entry to numerous Festivals of Music was embarked upon under the guidance of Mr Turley and not a little success was achieved in these competitions. One of the highlights of the many Festivals was the participation in the Glasgow Music Festival of 1962 when the Choir emerged victorious with 173 points from a possible 200. What made this victory all the more praiseworthy was that the "opposition" included none other than the renowned City of Glasgow Police Choir. To edge out this marvellous Choir was indeed an achievement.

In early 1970, more than 20 years after taking the helm, ill-health prompted Mr Turley to reluctantly tender his resignation as Conductor and, although he agreed a short time later to return in the much less onerous position of sub Conductor, sadly he was unable to fulfil this wish.

The need for a musically talented replacement saw the Committee reach a unanimous decision to ask Mr James Robertson to come to the rescue and fortunately he responded positively to the request. An experienced musician and arranger, Mr Robertson had arranged some numbers previously for the Choir. He also led a close harmony group called The Four Sharps which performed on stage and radio on a regular basis at that time.The new era which dawned in 1970 with Mr Robertson taking over as Conductor heralded a departure from the previous concentration on traditional choral numbers to songs in a much lighter vein more suited to the new direction the Choir moved in. Included was the lovely Autumn Leaves, Born Free, I Can’t stop Loving You and many, many more, all of them arranged personally by Mr Robertson.

In season 1971/72, the Choir was most fortunate to obtain the services of a talented young lady called Mrs Margaret Waddell to act as accompanist and her expert playing was, and still is, an integral part of the sound of the Columban Singers.

A memorable occasion for the members was being part of the 1000 voice choir at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow during the visit of the Pope to Scotland in 1982.The choir thought this a great privilage as the membership has men from all religious denominations in the area.

James Robertson died very suddenly and unexpectedly in February 1999 having served asConductor of the Choir for 30 years. His passing posed another dilemma in that a new Conductor had to be found to ensure the continuance of the Choir.

As the season had almost ended, it was decided that sub Conductor Harry Dempsey be asked to stand in whilst efforts were made to acquire a suitable replacement for Mr Robertson.

During the close season, information was received of someone who might meet the needs of the Choir and a meeting was arranged with Mr James G McColl. An agreement was reached that Mr McColl would work with the Choir for a short period to enable him to assess the potential of the Choir and also to allow the members to ascertain if he would meet with their expectations.

Mr McColl’s musical experience began when he was a young schoolboy in his native city of Glasgow and blossomed when and he was fortunate enough to join the Army as a young bands-man.

Making good use of the expert quality tuition, ample resources and guidance available in the forces, allied to some long evenings of swatting and not a few hours practice, he swiftly gained the promotion he deserved. Following tours of duty in far off exotic places where he conducted Choirs, Bands and Orchestras, he eventually returned to command the musicians of The Life Guards who were stationed in Windsor and has had the privilege of conducting the Band when providing entertainment for Her Majesty. He acted as Musical Director for the prestigious Edinburgh Military Tattoo for three years.

Eventually, having risen to the rank of Major, he left HM Forces and returned to "Civvy Street" where he swiftly found a position suitable to one with his knowledge and experience, providing expert tuition to school children.

Happily, the result of the deliberations of Mr McColl and the Choir members as to the suitability of "him for us" and "us for him" proved to be satisfactory and in October 1999, he agreed to become the Conductor of the Columban Singers.

Traditional choral music is again gradually being introduced to the repertoire and this, with the evergreen arrangements of James Robertson still available, provides a much wider spectrum. The members took part in the Glasgow Festival of Music in March 2001, marking a return to this type of competition for the first time in almost 30 years.

In February 2010 a celebration Mass of thanksgiving to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the singers was gracioucly attended in St Patrick's Church Kilsyth by His Eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O’Brien, Metropolitan Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who, as an assistant priest in Kilsyth starting in 1972 had first come into contact with the Columban Singers and has since benefited from their musical talents at events in Kilsyth and around Scotland.


A Note from Harry Dempsey

The Columban Singers in 1950 after their first month or so in Mansfield House used St Patrick's Hall extensively as a rehearsal premises; to organise concerts in, and enjoy social evenings including male only 'smokers' and then also the very popular Dinner Dances and Children’s Christmas Parties.

In the early years we used the small upstairs hall and then the lesser hall and by 1964, the main hall. This continued for years, at times we were confined to the stage area. We procured a piano for use in each of these rehearsal places.Due to the demands on the halls by the many Parish organisations, we moved next door to the old St Patrick's Primary School. All of these places were used by us as required.

Since about 1973 the Columban Singers have rehearsed in Shuttle Street in the Kilsyth Academy - in the main building and in the music room in the original old building. We have also rehearsed in the Balmalloch High School up until about the year 2000 and since then in the Old Library in the Burngreen.

Our gratitude to and memories of all these premises will last forever.

Harry Dempsey P.R.O.
Columban Singers
July 2012

On the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Columban Singers February 2010

Key to 60th Anniversary of the Columban Singers February 2010

1. Jim McColl - Musical Director. 2. John Dynes. 3. Houston Wright. 4. Pat Higney. 5 Eddie Scullion. 6. Joe Modica. 7. Pat McCann. 8. Billy McAtee. 9. James Millar. 10. Sam Fulton. 11. Pat Devine. 12. Charlie Waddell. 13. Walter Watson. 14. Hugh McAdam. 15. John Lundy. 16. John Bryden. 17. Matt Millar. 18. Graham Campbell. 19. Jackie Cantwell. 20. Harry Dempsey. 21. Peter Escott. 22. Harry Coyle. 23. Donald McPhee. 24. Joe Hendren. 25. John Graham. 26. Michael O’Hara. 27. John Whyte – secretary. 28. Willie Muir. 29. Campbell Sturrock. 30. Gerry Dailly - President. 31. Andy Muldoon. 32. George Reynolds. 33. Margaret Waddell – Accompanist since 1971. 34. Rev. Fr. James Tracy, P.P. St Patrick’s Kilsyth. 35. His Eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O’Brien, Metropolitan Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. K.M., G.C.H.S., B.Sc., Dip. Ed., D.D., LL.D.

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Columban Singers Dance in 1969

The Choir Dance in 1969.

The Columban Singers in St Patrick's Hall

In St Patrick's hall 1990's.

The Columban Singers at Rosewell

At Rosewell in the late 1970's.

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Columban Singers in St Patrick's Lesser Hall in 1964

Columban Singers in St Patrick's Lesser Hall in 1964

Photograph by kind permission of Anne McAteer.

Back Row 1. James McCluskey. 2. Pat Hackett. 3. Pat McCann. 4. unknown. 5. unknown. 6. Pat Devine. 7. unknown. 8. Tommy Turley. 9 ? Mellon. 10. ? Deerin. 11. Dan Murphy. 12. Joe McCluskey. 13. Harry Dempsey. 14.Rab Pender.

Middle Row 15.unknown. 16. Charlie Kennedy. 17. James Connor. 18. unknown. Pat Drain. 20. ? McMahon. 21. Tommy Turley jnr. 22. Tommy Lang. 23. Eddie Maley. 24. ? Pender. 25. ? McWilliams. 26. Willie Dempsey. 27. Joe McMahon. 28. Ronald Scullion.

Front Row 29. Tommy McCluskey. 30. Bert Cox. 31 Eddie Scullion. 32. unknown. 33. Rab McCluckie. 34 James Millar. 35. unknown. 36. James Turley. 37. John White. 38. Dick O'Raw. 39. Johnny Deerin. 40. John Scullion.

Key to the above photo of the Columban Singers in St Patrick's Lesser hall in 1964. If you can help us to identify any unknown, contact us.

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Columban Singers in the mid 1950's

Columban Singers in the mid 1950's

Photograph by kind permission of Anne McAteer.

Key to Columban Singers in the mid 1950's

Names will be provided here

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God BlessYou!