Downpatrick Choral Society 50th Anniversary

Contributor: Matthew Campbell

Reaching your 50th anniversary is a notable milestone for any company, business or even couple, but it seems to be quite a common achievement for amateur dramatic companies in Northern Ireland, and Downpatrick Choral Society (St Patrick’s) is no exception. In 2012, the company celebrated 50 successful years of providing affordable and quality entertainment to the local community through musical theatre.

To mark this event the society staged an award winning production of Bock and Harnick’s ‘Fiddler On The Roof’. (Wednesday 21st – Saturday 24th March 2012 ​​The Great Hall, Downshire Estate). The production was a special occasion for the society as it saw the return of some past members, including Paul Kelly, who also performed with the St. Agnes Choral Society of Belfast. Even more notable was the return of Maureen Keohane, one of the last surviving founding members, who made a cameo appearance on stage as Fruma-Sara. (Keohane is also known as a national councillor for the Association of Irish Musical Societies.) The performance was also attended by several past members and dignitaries. Chairperson at the time, Anne Millar recalls the special occasion noting it to be a monumental achievement for the rural company who at the time of its formation, were unsure whether or not the society would see ten years.

The special production received recognition through two A.I.M.S awards for Best Direction (Gary Warnock) and Best Male Singer (Eugene Armstrong as Tevye) celebrated at a special award ceremony in Killarney in June of that year.

The society also held an anniversary concert on the 2nd June 2012 which I recall being a wonderful display of talent from all ages of the society and it was the perfect opportunity to invite past members back on stage for one special performance who were unable or possibly unfit to take part in a full production.

The concert was well attended by the local community and press all of whom showed grate gratitude to the work that the society do for the community.

As I reflect on the memorable milestone, it reminds me of the simple purpose of amateur theatre in any capacity, and that is the want to willingly provide entertainment to others with no expectation of financial recognition. What drives a society for 50 years and beyond is the ownership that each of the members take in ensuring that they provide a quality product, not necessarily just for the audiences’, but also for the members’, own satisfaction. As Lyn Gardner from The Guardian observes,

Most people taking part in … amateur dramatic societies … don’t think of themselves as artists; they are simply doing something they really enjoy. But that’s not to say skill levels aren’t high. It has become clear … that professionals can learn as much from amateurs as the other way round.

Downpatrick Choral Society has been a wonderful influence on my life as a musician and performer and has even been responsible for driving my ambition to carry out my current research. I am very proud that a simple hobby can bring so many opportunities and memories to many people and I am humbled that I have been able to share some of these memories with you.


Lyn Gardner – The Guardian online –


Downpatrick Choral Society in the Grand Opera House

Contributor: Matthew Campbell

The Grand Opera House, situated on Great Victoria Street Belfast, is arguably one of the most lavish theatres in Ireland, and one of the only remaining Victorian theatres still standing. The Grand Opera House was designed by Frank Matcham and opened to the public on Monday 23rd December on the old site of the Olympia Palace. (McDowell, Beyond The Footlights)

Amateur theatre companies have been performing on the stage of Belfast’s iconic Grand Opera House for several decades, however this did not suppress Downpatrick Choral Society’s (St Patrick’s) feeling of accomplishment when they were granted permission to grace this famous stage for a week in October 2015. This was arguably one of the society’s proudest achievements since its formation, and one that the late Declan McGrady would have been very proud of I am sure.

On Wednesday 7th October 2018, almost 50 members of Downpatrick Choral Society, along with an orchestra of 19 musicians and a technical crew of 37, opened The Irish amateur premiere of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’ for 5 performances on the stage of the Grand Opera House, Belfast.

It is not often that such a small rural company such as St Patrick’s would have been granted such an opportunity. Whilst the Victorian theatre does certainly promote amateur theatre in the city, it does so through a small network of well established amateur organisations known for having a high production standard and reputation, not to mention the financial capabilities to produce a production worthy of this large stage. However, this production was quite special and unique to those performed by amateur companies in the past and several key events took place in the years leading up to this monumental achievement that played an integral role in securing the contract for this small rural group.

The production was not simply an opportunity for this company to perform on a bigger stage, it was in fact to raise money for four very worthy charities in Northern Ireland. Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), Mind your Mate and Yourself (MYMY), Brain Injury Matters, and the Declan McMullan Fund. All of these charities are connected to a special young man named Declan McMullan whose family was known by many in St Patrick’s though his siblings Mark and Anna who were members for many years.

Declan, (from Crossgar, Co Down) suffered a cardiac arrest on the 16th March 2012 aged just 19 years old. The cardiac arrest was caused by an underlying conditioned known as Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. Declan’s father administered CPR until the paramedics arrived and was able to preserve most of Declan’s organ functions. However, brain damage was inevitable and Declan has suffered profound physical disability. His condition is called Hypoxic Ischaemic Brain Injury and this has had and will continue to have permanent effects on Declan for the rest of his life.

Declan spent over a year in hospital and as a result of his brain damage he now suffers from Locked in Syndrome which prevents him from eating, speaking, moving or seeing and he is refined to a wheelchair. He is fully cognitive and aware, and is also fully aware of what happened to him. Declan suffers from Tetraplegia, which means that he is unable to move any part of his body, however he has full feeling of every part of his body and his only form of communication is by blinking through the letters of the alphabet to form a word or sentence. (John McMullan, 2015)

The effects of Declan’s condition have been understandably devastating for all of his family, and it is still the families on-going wish to continuously raise awareness of Declan’s condition in the hope that they can prevent other families form experiencing the same situation.

Declan has always had a special bond with his brother Mark (a past member of Downpatrick Choral Society) through music, and throughout his rehabilitation found comfort in listening to Mark sing. Mark is a very gifted singer and in March 2015 a video of Mark singing to Declan went viral on YouTube. The clip saw Mark become an overnight sensation singing the classic song from Boubil and Schöenberg’s ‘Les Miserábles’, Bring Him Home. This brought instant recognition to Mark and Declan and they made appearances on the BBC’s Nolan Show as well as RTE’s the Late Late Show. The video even sparked interest from some notable celebrities including Louis Walsh, Gary Lightbody, Alfie Boe and Russell Crowe, all of whom acknowledged the touching video and reached out to meet the brothers. (Click the link to watch the viral video on YouTube )

On the back of this newly found recognition, the McMullan family approached Downpatrick Choral Society proposing that they stage a musical production in the Grand Opera House Belfast in aid of some of the charities that helped both Declan and the family on his journey to rehabilitation. The venture was by no means an easy discussion and St Patrick’s committee had a lot of deliberating to do as to whether or not this production was going to be within the capabilities of the small rural theatre group. Meetings were held between the family and representatives from both Downpatrick Choral Society and the Grand Opera House, all of whom understandably had concerns about the proposal. The Grand Opera House were reluctant to allow such a small, and relatively unheard of amateur group take to this iconic stage without being satisfied that they could produce a production to a worthy enough standard for this professional venue. Likewise St Patrick’s were concerned that they did not have the financial structure in place to support themselves should the production be unsuccessful in covering its costs. A box office with a negative percentage return would bankrupt a small society when you take into account that a show of this scale requires a minimum budget in the region of £80,000 (almost 6 times the amount of St Patrick’s usual annual budget). However after some weeks, an agreement was made and a contract signed which granted the project to go ahead.

With plans in place, excitement started to build in the local community and in the press. Members were also very excited at the prospect of performing on such a respected stage, as the majority of the cast had never before set foot on the Grand Opera House stage.

Downpatrick Choral Society on stage at the Grand Opera House. Sunset Boulevard Sitzprobe. (October 2015)

The production was rehearsed for 5 months under the direction of Gary Warnock and musical direction by Gareth McGreevy, both members of St Patrick’s Choral Society making their directorial debuts in this venue also.

The production ran very smoothly and was certainly successful in all aspects. The final box office report showed ticket sales of 64% (a total of 5,500 seats were on sale). This did not represent a sell out production, however ticket revenue was large enough to cover the production costs with a respectable profit (£8624) which was split evenly amongst the four charities. Downpatrick Choral Society did not receive any financial gain from the production.

Success of the production continued months after when the Society received some award nominations from both A.I.M.S (Association of Irish Musical Societies) and N.O.D.A (National Operatic and Dramatic Association). Award nominations were received in the following categories:

– Best Technical (Lights, Set & Sound) – Award Won
– Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Fergal White as Max) – Award Won

– Best Overall Show – Nomination
– Best Individual Performance (Fiona Keegan as Norma Desmond) – Award Won
– Best Staging – Nomination

Images by Michael Shepherd and Matthew Campbell

Mark McMullan (Joe Gillis) & Fergal White (Max) on stage during Sunset Boulevard dress rehearsal. (October 2015)
Cast members on stage during Sunset Boulevard dress rehearsal (October 2015)

Downpatrick Choral society: The Great Hall, Downshire

Contributor: Matthew Campbell

When Downpatrick Choral Society (St Patrick’s) first performed, it was on an old and highly inadequate stage in the Canon’s Hall, situated in Irish Street Downpatrick (no longer in existence). In early 1980 the musical group moved to Downpatrick Leisure Centre as this venue had a large multi-purpose hall with an equally large stage. The capacity of this hall could exceed 500 persons and hosted a variety of events from concerts, musicals and even sporting events. Both venues served their purpose adequately and certainly did not detract from the group’s success.

The society changed venues once again in 2001 when they moved to The Great Hall auditorium situated in the Downshire Hospital Estate, Ardglass road Downpatrick.

The Downshire Hospital, or ‘County Down Lunatic Asylum’ as it was originally named, opened in 1969 and was one of the final phases of district asylums constructed in a programme that had been on-going since 1820. The design of this grand building was overseen by the Government Board of Works architect, J. H. Owen, however a second local architect, Henry Smyth, was also employed to oversee the detailed design and supervision of the building project.

The Down Recorder at the time described it as nothing less than colossal, measuring nearly one thousand feet across the main frontage. It had the capacity for 333 patients (Kelly, A Grand Old Lady, 2012).

At the heart of this grand building was the Great Hall. Originally the hall served as a multipurpose venue for patient day activities and meals as well as conferences, however the hall went through a significant period of refurbishment in 1998 with the intention of preserving it as the only interior surviving from the Victorian asylum. The regeneration scheme cost over £750,000 to complete which involved removing the suspended ceiling that had been installed in 1969, and exposing the original roof trusses which are integral to the halls iconic look now. The inclusion of a high vaulted ceiling also greatly enhanced the natural acoustics of the hall. The plan to open this hall to the public as a prime entertainment venue in the area was a complete success and the renovation has brought a variety of cultural, musical, social and educational activities to Downshire. In the past two decades the hall has hosted, pantomimes, musicals, concerts, rallies, exhibitions and even banquets. The hall is now ‘home to Downpatrick Choral Society who are continuing the strong entertainment tradition associated with the venue. (Kelly, 2012)

As the years have moved on, the hospital has closed down ward by ward (mostly due to lack of funds for the upkeep of such a large building). The construction of the new Down Hospital on an adjacent site meant that many services were transferred to the new building and the old Victorian site began to become obsolete. The building is now owned by the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust who still use it regularly to host training days and other staff organised activities. Some of the newer wards were also converted into office spaces and are still in use today.

In 2013 the Newry, Mourne & Down District Council (originally named Down District Council before a merger in 2013) moved its council buildings onto the site with the construction of a new civic centre. Shortly after this move, the local PSNI and fire services also moved to a newly built headquarters on this site revitalising the estate.

However, through a century of change and re-development, the iconic Great Hall still stands at the heart of the magnificent building and remains as just a small reminder of the history enclosed inside this once asylum.

The Great Hall Auditorium (view from back) with seating in place. (2012)
The Great Hall Auditorium (view from the stage) with seating retracted to allow for scenic builds (2018)

Photos by Matthew Campbell


Dr Sean Kelly, A Grand Old Lady, (published by South Eastern Health and Social Services Trust, Dundonald, 2012)




Downpatrick Choral Society Youth Theatre

Contributor: Matthew Campbell

When I first joined Downpatrick Choral Society (St Patrick’s), I was 8 years old and one of the youngest members on stage. I was very fortunate to receive the opportunity to perform at such a young age, granted that the productions did not always warrant young performers on stage, I was always included at some point.

I was however aware that I was only one of very few young people within the membership of the society and for some time it remained this way.

In 2004, the society decided to attempt to attract young people from the community who were interested in performing on stage by announcing open auditions for an all youth (anyone aged 18 and under) production of ‘Grease’.

If successful, this would be a two-fold situation for the society as it would have allowed them to increase the number of productions they stage from one a year, to two. It also would have helped them to increase their membership and add a new spark to the theatre group, whilst taking the pressure off some of the senior members (Diarmuid Taggart, 2018).  The society was by no means in difficulty or struggling, but it wouldn’t be unfair to imply that they were in an artistically stagnant period.

The auditions were held in June 2004 with the production being planned for that coming October. Over 40 young people aged between 8 and 18 came to the launch evening which was notably successful for the society and showed promise for the production to go ahead. ‘Grease’ ran for 6 sold out performances in The Great Hall, Downshire Estate from 5th – 9th October 2004. (The Great Hall auditorium holds a maximum capacity of 280 seats.) The production made record box office numbers for St Patrick’s, but we aren’t sure why. Presumably it was a combination of the popularity of that particular show, coupled with the large number of young children on stage, who for many were performing for the first time and therefore would have attracted a large number of family and friends to come and watch.

(Note: no official box-office records still exist to indicate the final number of tickets sold, however a financial report from that year shows evidence of a significant return in profit, largely contributed to by this production). 

With such a successful ‘inaugural’ production for the Downpatrick Youth Theatre, it was agreed that the society would continue to encourage and promote a youth theatre that would stage one production in the autumn of each year, allowing the senior company to stage a production in the spring of each year. Both sections of the society would then join once a year to produce a variety concert. (The dates of this concert vary from year to year, sometimes falling in December and other times in June).

The youth theatre became very popular, largely through word of mouth and by 2010, not only did it boast almost 50 members, but it was also run entirely by a youth production team, all of whom were under 25 years of age.

It was also in 2010 that the society introduced their ever popular Summer Workshops which continue to run for 2 weeks in August allowing the youth members to audition, rehearse and stage a musical production in a short space of time. These workshops are aimed at educating youth members in key skills used in the professional musical theatre industry, but also admittedly act as a much needed financial aid to the society as the workshops are inexpensive to run, however enrolment fees provide a sizable return for the society. Notable summer productions have included ‘Aladdin’, ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Hairspray’.

What possibly remains the greatest testament to the strength and talent within the youth theatre was their production of the ever popular Les Miserables by Boubil and Schöenberg in October 2010. This notoriously difficult score was performed by a cast of 47 and once again played to sell out audiences, including an additional Sunday performance which is rather unusual for amateur theatre companies. The production was noted as one of the Downpatrick Youth Theatre’s most successful and memorable performances since its inauguration and the production received an A.I.MS award nomination:

– Best Male Singer (Matthew Campbell as Marius) – making Matthew the youngest person to be nominated in that particular category.

In more recent years, the demographic of the youth membership has depleted with numbers currently in the 30s and the oldest youth member being 16 years old, however the society still continues to promote the work that the youth do and proudly remains one of only four musical societies in Northern Ireland to still have an active youth section. (The others being Fortwilliam Musical Society, Lisnagarvey Operatic Society and Ballywillan Drama Group). *

*Note: there are several specific youth theatre companies in Northern Ireland dedicated entirely to youth theatre, however there are only four amateur musical theatre groups who have both an active youth and adult company.


Members of Downpatrick Choral Society


Downpatrick Choral Society: The early years

Contributor: Mathew Campbell

Just like any new company or indeed business, the beginning can be a bumpy process and indeed sometimes slow to take flight. Speaking with some past members of Downpatrick Choral Society (St Patrick’s), they never fail to remind me that it was those early years that produced some of the most wonderful stories and memories. Nothing was as uniform as it might seem today and the term “rough and ready” may have been thrown into conversation now and then, however this did not stop a dedicated group producing some wonderfully memorable productions.

Downpatrick Choral Society held its inaugural concert in 1962 in the beautiful surroundings of The Great Hall auditorium situated in the Downshire Estate. I find this quite apt as The Great Hall is now, and has been, the home of Downpatrick Choral society since the late ‘90s.

Founding member Maureen Keohane recalls how “a small group of people with a common interest in singing, came together in the front room of Mrs Kathleen Rafferty’s house in Irish Street to prepare for the debut”. Those rehearsals around the fire are quite a juxtaposition to how rehearsals currently run in the local parish hall. I’ve heard many times how those initial weeks of rehearsal during cold winter Tuesday and Thursday evenings were responsible for some lifelong memories. (Kelly, Keohane, 40th Anniversary Concert Programme) 

After the success of a series of concerts from 1962-63, the society embarked on their first musical production ‘The Bohemian Girl’, an opera by Alfred Bunn and Michael Balfe. Bunn was a well known English theatre manager who held managerial positions at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, and also the Theatre Royal in Birmingham between 1823 – 1830. Balfe on the other hand was an Irish composer, violinist and opera singer. He also notably spent some seven years directing Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. In total, Balfe has composed over 29 operas from a career spanning 40 years. Their most famous work ‘The Bohemian Girl‘ may be remembered by us now for producing the haunting aria ‘I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls’ sung many times by another founding member and respected local singer Anne Quinn. ‘The Bohemian Girl’ ran from Monday 2nd – Wednesday 4th March 1964 in The Canon’s Hall, Downpatrick (now the site of the Patrician Youth Centre). The leading roles were played by Oliver McGrady (Devilshoof), Bernard McDevitt (Florestein) and Maureen Keohane (Queen of the Gypsies). I also found it quite interesting to note the price of a programme in 1964 which was 6 pence (equivalent to £1.16 in 2018) compared to today’s price of £3.

Newspaper advertisement, Down Recorder (1964)


This production was very much a local effort with many members turning a hand to scenic design, costume gathering and various other ‘behind the scenes’ jobs, a factor of the society that I can proudly say is still very much the same today.

Scenery was for many years the creation of award winning set designer Mr Francie Morgan. I have had the pleasure of training under Francie and can endorse that even today he is still a master at his craft. Sadly many of his lavish sets were destroyed some years later when the Canon’s hall caught fire.

(Keohane, 40th Anniversary Concert Programme)

The years which followed saw the society begin to explore the world of light operetta and notably works by Gilbert & Sullivan. It wasn’t until 1982 that the society staged what we class today as a pure musical theatre piece, that was indeed a production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma’. The society had wonderful success staging productions of ‘The Mikado’ (1970) and ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ (1973) and in the 15 years since its inauguration, consolidated itself as a thriving music society.

The early years of Downpatrick Choral Society were by all accounts a very special time. I am very privileged to still perform with some of the founding members of the company and also humbled to discover that my late grandfather Mr Brendan Rice was a member of the gentleman’s chorus of that first production in 1964.

Past Productions (1962 – 1980)

1962    Inaugural Concert

1963    Series Of Concerts

1964    The Bohemian Girl

1965    Maritana

1966    Carmen (Concert Version)

1968    Trial By Jury

1969    The Gondoliers

1970    The Mikado

1971    HMS Pinafore/Trial By Jury

1972    Concert

1973    The Pirates Of Penzance

1974    Iolanthe

1975    The Mikado

1976    Waltzes From Vienna

1977    Concerts

1978    The Arcadians

1979    The Merry Widow

1980    Gypsy Love


Letters written to St Patrick’s Choral Society by Gerry Kelly & Maureen Keohane for publication in the 40th Anniversary Concert Programme (2002)

List of previous productions

Image courtesy of Downpatrick Choral Society archive

Downpatrick Choral Society: A new kind of musical theatre

Contributor: Matthew Campbell

Many people today tend to disregard the light operetta as a form of musical theatre, or even forget that it is in fact an early form of musical theatre rather than a different genre. It cannot be classed as purely opera if we are to compare it to say Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ for example, and William Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan) once remarked during a rehearsal for ‘HMS Pinafore’ that “unfortunately this is not Italian Opera, but only a burlesque of the worst possible kind” (Gilbert, Gilbert & Sullivan; A Biography, 1935) however there is no doubt that the early works of Gilbert & Sullivan do indeed resemble an operatic style even if they are not to be considered so.

What we are subsequently faced with is a new genre under the title ‘Musical Theatre’ that many regard to have begun in 1927 with the publishing of Jerome Kerne’s ‘Showboat’. This new era of music theatre seemed to be much more appealing to a wider audience of both spectators and performers and indeed the volume of works that have emerged since is quite remarkable if compared to those under the genre of light operetta. This genre within itself appears to be uncapped as even today new musicals are written and categorised as musical theatre meaning that the genre spans almost a century with no sign of it slowing down.

Why do I mention this? Well as I was examining a list of past productions by Downpatrick Choral Society, I noticed something rather strange along the timeline. From 1964 – 1981, all of the productions staged were of an early music theatre or light operetta genre (works such as The Mikado, Iolanthe & The Gondoliers). However, in 1982 the society staged a production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, a musical planted quite firmly in a sub-genre that is now know as ‘The Golden Age’ of musical theatre (works written between 1943 – 1959).
See for more information on ‘The Golden Age’ of musical theatre,

I found this abrupt shift in genres quite surprising and indeed the timeline that followed did provoke some questions.

1982 – Oklahoma
1983 – The Pirates of Penzance
1984 – Patience
1985 – Waltzes from Vienna
1986 – The Gondoliers
1987 – Fiddler On The Roof
1988 – Carousel
1989 – Ham
1990 – The Sound of Music

Notice how after Oklahoma in 1982, the society returned to older, more familiar repertoire of an earlier genre for the following four years and I am intrigued as to why. Was it that the audience reaction did not agree with a new genre of work and therefore they retreated to a safer option, or perhaps the performers themselves did not like the new style of work and preferred to return to what they were more comfortable with. Either way it seems rather strange that after one production they company then retired the idea for at least four years before attempting something ‘different’ again.

Now in 1987 when they staged ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, there appears to be a more consistent trail of the works which followed as they at this point had taken to performing several works from the new ‘Golden Age’ of musical theatre. I can only assume by this stage that the reception of these newer genre style pieces was more welcoming as from that moment moving forward there appeared to be a turning point in the types of work being staged, all of which was newer more commercial material that wouldn’t be out of place on the West End of Broadway stage today.

I must point out that in 1989 the company were months into rehearsals for a production of ‘South Pacific’ when the licensing company withdrew the performance rights to the production without warning. At this point the director at the time, Peter Kennedy, produced a script for a piece called ‘Ham’ which he had written himself. With three weeks to go until opening night, the company took to learning this brand new piece which by all accounts went down very well with the local audience.

Basil Kelly (L) & Brian Trainor (R) in OKLAHOMA! (1994)

Image courtesy of Downpatrick Choral Society archive

Hesketh, Pearson, Gilbert & Sullivan; A Biography (Hamish Hamilton LTD. 1935)
Fiddler on The Roof – 50th Anniversary production programme (2012)

Downpatrick Choral Society: Welcome and Introduction

Contributor: Matthew Campbell

In my first blog of this research project, it is my intention to introduce you to my topic and outline my intentions for this area of study. As an MRes student at Queen’s University Belfast I am about to embark on my final dissertation which will look at the history of amateur musical theatre in Northern Ireland and potentially the south of Ireland also. As part of this research, I have chosen to create this blog which will take you on a historical exploration of an amateur musical theatre company that I have been involved with for some 15 years, Downpatrick Choral Society..

Downpatrick is a small town located approximately 21 miles south of Belfast. Traditional music has always flourished in the town, especially with the establishment of the old ‘folk club’ in Pillerwell Lane (no longer in existence), however in 1962 a new musical group formed which would broaden the variety of musical genres performed in the town.

The late Declan P. McGrady B.A founded St Patrick’s Choral Society in 1962. Not only was Declan the founder of the society, but also the first musical director. The intention of forming the society was not for the purpose of performing musical productions initially, however that is how the repertoire naturally developed.

Declan McGrady B.A

McGrady had quite a long and illustrious musical background having joined St Patrick’s Church Choir in the 1950s. From there he was persuaded to “give the organ a go” by the then organist Sister Patrick (later known as Sr. Dorothy). After studying the organ, McGrady began to travel to Belfast each Saturday night in the late ‘50s to study composition as it was his intention to consider arranging some choral pieces himself. After a few short years McGrady had built up a reasonable collection of material which he had composed (sometimes under the name of Patrick Dancel) and subsequently in 1962 with the support of the then Parish Priest Very Rev. Canon Connolly and Right Rev. Monsignor Joseph Maguire, he proposed the conception of a choral group who would perform some of these pieces, amongst others.

It has never been documented or recorded however I can only assume that the name ‘St Patrick’s Choral Society’ (as it is also referred to) was a derivative of the already existing St Patrick’s church choir which was of course based in St Patrick’s Church Downpatrick.

McGrady did admit that he was always more interested in four part choral arrangements, and it was these choral arrangements which made up much of the programme for the societies inaugural concerts in 1962/63, however he remembered with pride the society’s first two full musical productions, ‘The Bohemian Girl’ (1964) and ‘Maritana’ (1965). Whilst the society still to this day produce concerts from time to time the focus has very much shifted to full musical works which inevitably was a natural transition.

McGrady gave up the society a number of years later when they refused to even consider attempting a production of Rossini’s ‘Stabat Mater’. This would have been an overly ambitious task for the still considerably new company and McGrady’s abrupt departure only consolidated his interest in traditional choral material rather than the light operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan which were becoming more popular within the town.

Original production of Bohemian Girl (1964)

Images courtesy of Downpatrick Choral Society archive

Welcome to the Music Projects blog

Welcome to the new Music blog established by SARC at Queen’s University Belfast. This blog, which will appear at irregular intervals, will highlight student work at different levels of study (BMus, M-Res, PhD); it may feature one-off blogs on individual projects, or a series of blogs on a particular theme.


Readers can expect a series of blogs this spring on the history of the Downpatrick Choral Society, written by M-Res student Matthew Campbell.

Dr Sarah McCleave, editor

School of Arts, English and Languages

22nd March 2018