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Memories of Val Vousden by Mike Connolly

Article by Mike Connolly ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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I grew up in an era when ‘home entertainment’ really meant home entertainment, no computer games, no video streaming no cell phones; instead we had a gathering of family members at ‘grannies’ sitting around an out of tune piano, while a half tight uncle tried to coax some sort of a tune out of the box. If by chance we recognised the tune there would be a chorus where we all joined in as it would be some old ‘ come all ye’s’ and usually referred to as “gob music”.

A few of the more staid uncles would not be inclined to join in the singing, so they would opt to do a recitation. These usually consisted of such epics as ‘Gunga Din’- ‘The Green eye of the Little Yellow God’ – ‘The Cremation of Sam Mc Gee’ or ‘Robert Emmet’s Speech from the Dock and a particular favourite ‘The Man From God Knows Where’. As you can see very ‘eclectic’ in the choice of material; but they all had an idol in a favourite elocutionist or ‘reciter’ known as Val Vousden.

How many people who listened to the early broadcasts from Radio Eireann on a Sunday night will ever forget the mellow voice of Val Vousden?

Val whose real name was Bill Mc Nevin or to give him his full title, William Francis Maher Mc Nevin; was born in College Street Carlow in 1886. He attended the local CBS school before continuing his education at Mungret College Limerick He was always interested in drama and the theatre and joined a “fit up” company and toured Ireland and England using the stage name of Bartley Hynes. He returned to his hometown of Carlow for a short time and produced some sketches, which were staged in the local Town Hall.

Wanting a life of adventure, he joined the British Army in 1914 and saw service in France rising in the ranks to become a Regimental Sergeant Major in a Welsh Regiment. Surviving the war he returned to Ireland, joined a touring company and did a season at the Queen’s Theatre in Dublin. By this time he was known as Val Vousden and worked with some of the leading lights of the Irish stage such as May Craig, P.J Bourke and Peader Kearney and he frequently graced the boards of the Abbey Theatre.

I believe it was in Radio broadcasting he found his true home and he presented the very first light entertainment show on the infant Radio Eireann. He continued to be a regular contributor to the station until he passed away in 1951. He also appeared in a number of films including “Captain Boycott”, “Uncle Nick” and “Odd Man Out” filmed in 1947 which starred James Mason and F.J. Mc Cormack among others and it was very popular film at the time.
Val gave lessons in elocution in many schools and colleges and it was for his poems and recitations on radio he will be mostly remembered. Which brings me to a poem called “Said Hanrahan” which was one of many I remember from Val’s repertoire. With the current uncertainty of weather patterns around the world, I think you’ll find the sentiments appropriate.


“We’ll all be rooned ,” said Hanrahan
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops and drought,
As it had done for years.

“It’s dry, all right,” said young O Neill,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
“It’s keepin’ dry no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned” said Hanrahan
“Before the year is out.”

“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back o’ Burkes
They’re singing out for rain.

“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan
And cleared his throat to speak-
“We’ll all be rooned “ said Hanrahan
If rain don’t come this week.

There are over twenty verses in the complete poem so I’ve pruned it but hope to give you the essence of it. As it continues for a number of verses, the rain does come in abundance and – you guessed it:

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned” said Hanrahan
If this rain doesn’t stop.

Farmers: sure, there’s no pleasing them.

(c) Mike Connolly

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Michael Connolly was born, raised and educated in Dublin, Ireland. Following a varied sales career which included selling printing and office equipment, he came to Johannesburg thirty years ago. He has travelled extensively in Europe, the Middle East and North America; interests include writing, art, travel, literature, history, architecture, sailing and walking. Read more about Mike at : www.connollyscomments.com
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