There was a deep sense of sadness throughout Co Longford and the entire country last week when news emerged of the death, of one of the showband era’s greatest legends, the great Larry Cunningham (74), Cloughernal, Granard, Co Longford.
Larry passed away at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin on Friday, September 28 with his wife Beatrice by his side.
Regarded as a showband legend, a hero to Irish emigrants and a gentleman to the core, Larry Cunningham’s 50 year career in the music business enabled him to become a true ambassador for Ireland.
A native of Mullinalaghta, Larry was born in the townsland of Clooneen in February 1938. He was destined for great things and before his singing career kicked off, he had become a noted Gaelic footballer, having secured an U18 Championship Medal with Granard and was already a talented carpenter. He was also a gifted musician and remarkable fiddle player.
Larry Cunningham was the first Irish performer to break the UK charts after ‘A Tribute to Jim Reeves’ became a chart-topping success in 1964. Larry and his band The Mighty Avons were the first Irish Showband to play at Carnegie Hall, in New York. Indeed it is fair to say that Larry Cunningham entertained packed crowds from the Granada in Granard to the The Royal Albert Hall and Galtymore Ballroom in London to the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York. “Larry’s hits like ‘Lovely Leitrim’, ‘The Rolling, Misty Midlands’ and ‘A Pretty Little Girl from Omagh’, brought a little piece of home, back to the Irish emigrants in London and New York and they just loved him,” Declan Nerney said. “He brought his music to them and brought them a little closer to home.”
Throughout his career, the late Larry Cunningham performed with numerous legends including Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr and Loretta Lynn. His character, wit and ability to tell a story were also admired by all those who knew and loved him, and he has also been credited with carrying out numerous charitable acts and deeds throughout his lifetime.
For Larry thought, despite his love for performing and entertaining, he was most at home with his wife Beatrice and their four children, Regina, Sinéad, Lorcan and Barry and in more recent years with his adored grand-children Molly and Peter.
One of Larry’s proudest moments was the publication in 2009 of his autobiography ‘Larry Cunningham – A Showband Legend’ which was written by Tuam Herald journalist, Tom Gilmore. The book was a great success and brought great joy to Larry’s fans.
In fact in the run up to the publication of the book, the late Larry Cunningham spoke to the Longford Leader in what was to be one of his final interviews with the publication. When asked if he had any regrets, after a career that spanned the best part of fifty years, he smiled and said, “I just have the one”.
“For the first 10 years of my musical career – from about 1960-1971 – we were drawing crowds from all over,” Larry Cunningham explained. “We had a manager and I suppose the band was a sort of greedy and for me to take time off was sacrilege. I often did 14 or 15 nights in a row and then maybe get one night off to record – it was crazy and I do regret that I did that.” In the final pages of his book, Larry stated, “When no one comes to our live shows, I will have no option but to quit. But that has not happened yet. So I’m still playing and I will be as long as the good Lord spares me”. And true to his word, the great Larry Cunningham continued singing and performing right to the end.
Larry Cunningham was laid to rest following Funeral Mass at St Columba’s Church, Mullinalaghta on October 2 last. Among those who attended the Funeral were Daniel O’Donnell, Big Tom McBride, Mike Denver, Philomena Begley and Brendan Bowyer. He is survived by his wife Beatrice, daughters Sinéad and Regina; sons, Lorcan and Barry; grandchildren Molly and Peter; sisters Shelia, Breda and Kathleen, his extended family, relatives and many, many friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a H-anam dílis.