Elvis, Bing Crosby and the Derry singers

It's almost 60 years since a group of young Derry singers took to the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show - and shared a conversation with a little known singer called Elvis Presley - who was about to take the world by storm.

Friday, 11th March 2016, 3:12 pm
Updated Friday, 11th March 2016, 4:16 pm
The Little Gaelic Singers tour bus during coast to coast tour bus in the States.

The man would be become known as ‘The King’ took the time to tell Derry’s very own James MacCafferty, who led the choir known as ‘The Little Gaelic Singers,’ that he had Irish ancestry himself - before wearing a green jacket for his appearance in their honour.

It’s hard to fathom that some of those singers - who travelled from coast to coast in America playing iconic venues including the world famous Carnegie Hall - were all children from Derry, and a number of them from the Nazareth House Children’s Home.

Their achievement - and their remarkable success on the other side of the world - will be marked with a special short film to be screened on BBC One as part of ‘The One Show’ on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Little Gaelic Singers and James meet Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.

The film has been put together by local production company Alleycats TV - whose producer, Niamh O’Donnell, is herself a past pupil of the MacCafferty School of Music.

Niamh, who had worked with James’ daughter Una O’Somachain during the City of Culture Year, said she had been wanting to make the film for a few years.

“I really wanted to do something about The Little Gaelic Singers and we pitched to a few places - and the ‘The One Show’ came back to us showing an interest.

“We had four minutes to tell the story of these singers who travelled from coast to coast in the US in 1956 and enjoyed great success.

James MacCafferty and the Little Gaelic Singers pictured during a rehearsal.

“But obviously condensing such a story into just four minutes isn’t easy. We had to be very selective about what we could use. Reuben McNaught edited the film together - and he had to be ruthless but we think we got to the herat of the story.”

Una O’Somachain, the daughter of James MacCafferty who has carried on his legacy with the MacCafferty School of Music, was just 10 when she left Derry with her father and the rest of the singers to travel from coast to coast singing.

She describes it as “an amazing time.”

“Going to America, it was just something else. Everything seemed so grey here - landing in America was like stepping into the movies.”

The Little Gaelic Singers and James meet Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.

She says she was not the only one of the young singers to fall for the charms of Elvis Presley when they met. “He was so very handsome, and I think we all fell in love with him a little bit.”

Mixing with huge stars such as Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney was something that the singers would never forget.

And they made such a big impression that James MacCafferty himself was offered a number of high profile teaching posts in the likes of Harvard and Notre Dame.

“But daddy was always passionate about Derry and about teaching in Derry - giving people the opportunity to learn music at very little cost.

James MacCafferty and the Little Gaelic Singers pictured during a rehearsal.

“He could never have left here.”

James MacCafferty’s legacy is one which is famous throughout the city - and even now, 60 years after that famous tour and 20 years after the great man himself passed away his school of music continues to flourish.

The Alleycats short film on The Little Gaelic Singers will be screened as part of The One Show on Thursday, at 7 pm.