As the countdown continues to the Letterkenny Reunion to be staged in August, he has been a vocal presence at every one since the first such event left the station back in 1991. And what a vocal presence.
The tenor voice of Dan McTeague has been a mainstay at so many social and religious events in his home town down the years - ever since his singing tones caught the attention of the listening ear at Feis Tir Chonaill in St. Eunan’s College.
As he busies himself in assembling the choir for the traditional opening mass of this year’s Reunion, which runs from August 5th to 10th, he does so in eager anticipation of an event that has represented the heartbeat of a community keen to keep in touch with its emigrant population.
Dan was never one of the latter - his working career spent entirely on native soil though he did concede to his loving spouse, Bernie, from Roscommon!
Born in Kilmacrenan, he was just six months old when his parents Joe and Margaret moved to Letterkenny. “My grandfather, Patrick McTeague, had bought a pub from Willie Gallagher which was known back then as the Swilly Bar and is now The Cottage.”
After completing his education at St. Eunan’s College, the young Dan took up employment at the Donegal Bacon Company factory in 1952 where he worked under then manager the late Jeff Prendergast before going on to secure a posting as replacement from Michael Mellett at the I.A.W.S. Following his stint there, he spotted an advertisement in the newspaper that drew him to a position as a rep for Jacob’s Biscuits. He spent the next thirty-four years plying his trade with the well known company.
Long before that the world of music and song entered his life when, in 1941, he joined the St. Eunan’s Cathedral choir. “The organist back then was Willie Donnelly, a big Scotsman, who used to stay in O’Donnell’s Hotel when he came to town,” Dan recalls. He goes on to note Willie’s successors on the organ seat including Anthony Clarke, Jo McGlinchey, Fr. Michael Carney and Jim Mailey.
But it was teacher Hugh Ferry who first advised Dan that his singing voice was something to share with the world. “He got me to enter Feis Tir Chonaill which was held every year in St. Eunan’s College on June 28th and 29th. I was ten years old and I remember Tucker Crampsie got first and I got second.”
Dan remembers those days in his home town with an affection that has never relented even while Letterkenny has changed beyond recognition over the years.
“The population back then was around 4,500. There weren’t more than eight to ten cars in the whole town and you could drive up or down the street and up and down the Market Square.”
Those sort of memories will invade many a discussion during the 21st year of the Letterkenny Reunion next August for which Dan is currently gathering together that choir for the opening mass in St. Eunan’s Cathedral. “I’ve been doing it for every Reunion and thoroughly enjoy it. Some of the emigrants have not heard the hymns for years. This year, for instance, we’ll be performing the beautiful ‘A Hymn to the Holy Family’ for the first time since we sung it in the opening year of the Reunion.”
A chat with Dan McTeague about his own singing successes will invariably see him quickly deflect to other notables behind the microphone including Tommy Fletcher and Tucker Crampsie but it should be noted that he, Dan, has been a stalwart on the circuit, with his rich tenor voice having scooped countless awards and accolades.
Personal highlights include singing at a concelebrated mass in Lourdes back in 1995 - “an experience I’ll never forget” - and a tour of the United States undertaken with the late Fr. Tommy Doherty in 1972. “He was collecting money for the church in Creeslough and we travelled out with Maureen Hegarty from Derry and Jo McGlinchey who was our pianist.
“James Boyle from the Market Square was living in the States then and he organised the events for us over the three weeks. There were a lot of emigrants living in Philadelphia, Boston and New York where we performed. It was a fairly hectic schedule, we were going just about every night, and Fr. Johnny Crumlish also invited us to perform in San Francisco.”
On one occasion during the trip a man approached Dan and enquired if he was the brother of Rosaleen McGovern. The individual in question turned out to be Tommy Murray from Gorteen in Sligo who recalled how well he had been treated by Dan’s sibling back in the old country. Tommy had worked as waiter in Dublin’s Gresham Hotel before venturing to the States where he made his fortune. “He took us all out for a big meal and he gave a big subscription to Fr. Tommy’s church fund. He was more than kind.”
A term that would equally apply to Fr. Tommy himself. “He was a wonderful character. I remember the old films he used to show and the stories he would tell. He’d just have you in stitches. But he was also a very holy man.”
Again a name that no doubt will surface more than once in the talk and recollections of the old Reunionites come their get-together in August.
“The Reunion committee deserve the greatest of credit for organising this every three years. Bringing so many people back home and reuniting them with relations and friends.”
And among the choir that will help provide spiritual fulfilment for everyone on the opening evening of the 2012 event, a prize winning tenor voice that has echoed over the years in Letterkenny past and present and continues to bring audiences and congregations into the realms of a musical heaven.
pictured at the his home in Letterkenny . Picture Brian McDaid 0405bd279
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Dan McTeague is busy assembling a choir for the opening mass at the Letterkenny Reunion in August. Here he reflects on his working life and of his life-long love of singing and music