Trench Road Folk Group celebrate 30 years of music, song and friendship

Father Chris Ferguson with members of Trench Road Folk Group. (0605PG79)
Father Chris Ferguson with members of Trench Road Folk Group. (0605PG79)

Anyone who attends 10.30am mass at St. Columb’s Church in the Waterside will be all too familiar with the talents of the Trench Road Folk Group.

Every Sunday morning the group, led by Catrina McFeely (nee Harkin) and Eamon Owens, provide the congregation with remarkable songs and music.

The group was formed in 1981 and in September of this year they will celebrate their 30th anniversary. It was after an approach made by a Sister Brieda to sister Catrina and Annette Harkin that the group started to meet on a weekly basis at the church’s parish hall.

“Sister Brieda knew that myself and Annette did some singing so she asked us if we would be interested in setting up a folk group. Richard Moore of the Long Tower Folk Group helped us to get started and I suppose the group has gone from strength to strength ever since then.”

For over 30 years hundreds of young people from the Waterside got involved with the local folk group. The folk group is not only associated with many young people in the area; it runs much deeper than that in the sense that many people who attended 20 or even 30 years ago are now sending their own children along.

“I suppose you could say that the folk group has a real family feel to it. Many of the young people who are part of the group today are here as a result of their parents’ involvement years ago.

“The other good thing about it is that the mothers of many of the children involved in the group help out with fundraising and organising - the Trench Road Folk Group would not be where they are today if it wasn’t for the folk group mammies.”

Maeve McLaughlin, 15, joined the group when she was 11. She heard about what was happening through her older sister Orla and since joining four years ago she has never looked back.

“I love coming along every week, it’s so much fun. Although I heard about the folk group through my sister I still made a lot of new friends. It’s really nice singing at mass every Sunday and my favourite song to sing ‘We Have A Vision’.”

Catrina said that the folk group owe a lot to the help and guidance given by the priests of the parish and in particular Fr. Michael McCaughey who helped them organise their first trip to Lourdes in 2005.

“The group is so much more about the music - we have had a great relationship with the priests who have been here throughout the years. Fr. McCaughey was brilliant and he helped us to raise money and get organised for the trip to Lourdes in 2005.”

She added: “The trip to Lourdes was a wonderful experience for the group as it was the first time that a lot us had ever been there. We sang inside one of the large basilicas in front of over 7000 people - that was probably one of the highlights for group.”

Twenty-two-year-old Kieran Connor, from Knightsbridge in the Waterside first joined the folk group a few years ago. Kieran, who plays the guitar, said that there’s a great atmosphere within the group and everyone gets on with one another.

“Myself and a friend were well known in the area as two fellas who could play the guitar. The priest at the time was Fr. Farren and he asked if we would like to join the folk group so we did and it’s been really good ever since.”

Kieran’s 18 year-old younger sister, Erin Connor, joined the folk group when she was in primary school. Erin said that after hearing her brother talk about how good the folk group was she wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

“When I first came to the group I didn’t really know anybody but some of the people I’ve met here are amongst my best friends.

“Although the main emphasis of the group is on singing at mass we also organise days out to Portrush and places like that - there’s a real social side to the group.”

The Trench Road Folk Group perform at the annual ‘Remembering Our Children’ mass at Altnagelvin Hospital. The group also performed at a special concert with Liam Lawton in St. Columb’s Church.

“Playing in that concert with Liam Lawton was certainly one of my highlights,” said co-leader and guitarist Eamon Owens.

Eamon became involved with the group when the local priest at the time heard that he could play the guitar. Eamon says that he enjoys working alongside young people and explained that four out his five children were in the group at some stage.

“I think that the folk group is not only a credit to the young people in the group but it’s also a credit to the people of this community. We are always trying to make sure that the songs we sing are up to date, modern and appeal to the congregation.

“As long as we continue to attract young people to the group and keep them interested I have no doubt that this folk group will continue to get even better.”

Some of the young people at the weekly practice on Wednesday evening said that although they enjoy singing at mass every Sunday they harbour hopes of someday singing inside Vatican City.

“I’ve been coming here since I was 11,” said 17-year-old Cathreen Henderson. “It’s a great way of making friends and I really enjoyed visiting Lourdes but I would love to someday sing in the Vatican or somewhere like it.”

Catrina finished by praising everyone, past and present, who helped the folk group and said that later in the year they are planning a mass to celebrate their 30th anniversary and urged anyone interested to get involved.

“We are going to celebrate our 30th birthday with a mass and I would encourage any past members who want to get involved to get in contact. We’d also like to express our sadness at the recent passing of Bobby O’Donnell - he was a very important member of the folk group.”

The Trench Road Folk Group meet every Wednesday at the old parish hall beside St. Columb’s Church at 6.30pm.