Local Faces: Vincent Dolan
After 37-years, Vincent Dolan will be handing over the reins as Director of Clondalkin Youth Band on St Patrick’s Day.
“I’m handing over director of the band on St Patrick’s Day after the Clondalkin parade, to Neal Christopher,” Vincent tells The Echo.
“I will still be involved, teaching and that, but after all these years, I will be retiring from the band.
“I feel very sad but I’m delighted it will continue on in very-good hands.
“It’s a life-time commitment and the time now is just right to allow it to keep going with new blood and a younger person to take charge of all the different departments of the organisation.
“Neal is with us over 20-years, so he knows what the story is.
“I feel comfortable handing over to a guy like Neal, somebody who really gets on well with all of the band members.”
Originally from Mullingar, Vincent grew up in a family of seven children to parents Caroline and Paddy Dolan.
Vincent’s dad Paddy comes from a musically rich family, with his brothers Ben and Joe Dolan dominating the showband industry from the 1960s on – when he was growing up.
“They were on the road as Joe Dolan and the Difters at the time,” he recounts.
“I wouldn’t have seen them all the time. Joe lived in our house in Mullingar for the first couple of years of his music career, but there wouldn’t have always been music going.
“Joe and the band would have been away gigging every single night of the week so there wouldn’t always have been music in the house you know?
“I trained classically, reading music and stuff like that because I wasn’t really interested in going into the showband business, it was just too difficult a life.
“I felt it wasn’t for me. I preferred the more classical route.”
Vincent went in a slightly different direction, taking up a particular interest in the classical side to music – despite living in a house with superstars.
A go-getter by nature, Vincent has found great success when listening to that little voice inside you.
“It’s some inner feeling or something inside you that you know what you want,” says Vincent.
“When I was probably about eight- or nine-years-of-age, I saw the Mullingar Band parading up through the street and I looked in awe at them.
“I knew straight away and I thought, that’s what I want to do. I knew at that stage.
“It wasn’t that I’d just give it a go. I knew in my own heart and soul, that’s what I wanted to do.
“It was always within me that I wanted to do music and do it in a classical way.”
However, the influence of his uncles, Joe and Ben, never wore off, even when Vincent was paving his own path.
“My uncle Ben played the saxophone and he gave me my first saxophone,” Vincent remembers.
“Ben gave me it to start off with and then they had one in the band. I learned how to play that first. I started my musical career with the Mullingar Town Band when I was 10-years-old.
“I started on the saxophone. The band owned the saxophone, it was a big tenor saxophone and I used to carry it on the back of my bike going to band practice.
“It would be on the carrier of the bike and the bike would sway all over the place on the way. Those were the days, no getting lifts.”
In 1975, aged 18-years-old, Vincent got full-time work with the Army Band after seeing them performing a recital in Athlone – having originally started studying quantity surveying.
This kickstarted a whirlwind 41 years playing for Presidents of Ireland, dignitaries, military parades, schools, and in the National Concert Hall among other things.
Perhaps the biggest crowd he performed for was when over one million people spilled into the Phoenix Park during Pope John Paul II’s visit.
“When I joined the army band, I changed to bass clarinet and b-flat clarinet,” Vincent explains.
“We did a lot of state occasions, so I would have played at the Pope’s mass in 1979.
“That would have been one of the biggest audiences. To be up on the stage playing at that level was an experience.
“I wasn’t nervous because we were professional musicians but when the Pope arrived in the helicopter and circled around the Phoenix Park, that was the most exciting moment.
“Other than that it was just a long day.”
After joining the Army Band, Vincent studied clarinet, flute and saxophone at the College of Music.
Within a few years, he was teaching music in Kylemore College and Newpark Comprehensive School and he started his own music school in Palmerstown.
Outside of that, Vincent set up a small band in Palmerstown, which ran for around eight-years and in tandem with a new endeavour, which later grew into Clondalkin Youth Band.
In early 1985, Principal of St Joseph’s Boys National School at the time, Finbarr Brady, approached Vincent about teaching some music in the school – but that didn’t quite fit what he had in mind.
“He came out to Palmerstown and asked if I’d start doing music in the School, and I said no,” Vincent recalls.
“I had a lot on, had to say I was really, really busy and he goes ‘alright’ and went away.
“But a few weeks later he came back and says ‘look, we need you, the school needs you’.
“I just told him the only way I would is if it was on my own terms and I could form a community band.
“And he says ‘right, you’re on’.”
But it wasn’t quite that straight forward.
Vincent had this elaborate “American” recruitment process that involved completing a big musical survey in schools and compiling results before the commencement of classes.
“The Board of Management thought this was way, way beyond what they would be thinking of.
“Finbar Brady overruled them, came out to me and said ‘you’re in, you’re in, that’s grand’.”
The group started off with some 30 pupils on the recorder, fundraised for 100 second-hand orange, white and blue uniforms and instruments, which cost some £20,000, and performed for the first time in 1989.
By then, the community band had amassed 100 members.
“I felt elated and I felt it was the greatest thing ever to happen in Clondalkin,”
“This big marching band [coming] out, the sort they had never seen before, and I felt so proud of the achievement in the four years.
“Going from teaching the classes, I was able to produce this big group of musicians.
“I had trained them how to march, play their instruments and I even trained the majorettes with their pom-poms at the time.
“It was a great achievement, thanks to the fundraising committee at the time as well, it wouldn’t have been possible without them.”
Over the years, the students continued to hone their skills under the tutelage of Vincent and many completed their music grade examinations with the associated board of the Royal School of Music in London initially and later the Royal Irish Academy of Music.
A parade and concert band, Clondalkin Youth Band performed at a lot of the President’s garden parties since, on the Late Late Show as well as in the St Patrick’s Day Parade both at home and in the United States.
Today, while Vincent is still at the helm, he gets a lot of help from drum Instructor and colour-guard instructor Neal Christopher and Tara O’Flaherty with the day-to-day operations.
At the moment, the group is doing their utmost to pull together a routine for the St Patrick’s Day Parade.
“We’re one of the only Irish bands that perform in the St Patrick’s Day parade,” Vincent says.
“We’re the only community Irish band that have been parading in Dublin since they changed the format of the Dublin parade.
“We’re over 30 years parading in the Dublin parade.
“Preparations are going okay but unfortunately Covid has hit us badly, we’ve lost a number of members. It’s only the last few weeks have we been back rehearsing.
“Because of woodwind instruments, we haven’t been able to rehearse at all.
“Our numbers are a bit smaller than they have been over the years, because we haven’t been able to recruit in three-years, but we are looking forward to getting back.”
Recently, St Joseph’s Boys National School proposed plans for a new autism unit on the premises of the school, which will incorporate the area used by the band.
This means that the band have been left without a home and finding a new premises is no easy feat.
However, they do have a working group that are actively working on sourcing a new premises to ensure the group can continue to operate and thrive in the future.
What will Vincent do when he steps aside as director of the band? Enjoy his many other hobbies.
The Palmerstown resident hopes to spend a lot more time with his wife Éilish alongside attempting to get his golf handicap down, cycling and taking to waters in his kayak.