The official opening of the First Irish Association of Barbershop Singers Convention was held in the DIning Room of Birr Castle Demesne, Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland in August of 1989.
The Irish Association of Barbershop Singers
In the Beginning
In July 1988, Baz Millar and Leo Larivee were among more than 10,000 Barbershoppers in attendance at the 50th annual International Convention of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) in San Antonio, Texas. What are the odds that the two of us would just happen to sit next to each other?
Baz Millar was in San Antonio representing Shannon Development Corporation (the board of tourism for the Shannon Region of Ireland) and was the key person in the organization of the Irish Association of Barbershop Singers (IABS). I was there as a convention-goer and was the Musical Director of a relatively new Barbershop Chapter, in Wellesley, MA called Sound Assembly Chorus.
As a side note, sitting directly in front of Leo Larivee at the 1988 International Convention San Antonio, was a young kid who won a music writing award. His name? Jim Henry! – Now it’s "Doctor" Jim Henry, the multi-gold medal winning quartet bass (Gashouse Gang and Crossroads) and International Champion Chorus Director of the great Ambassadors of Harmony from St. Charles, N
An offer to help soon led to an invitation for Sound Assembly Chorus to be the featured guest performers at the first-ever convention of Irish Association of Barbershop Singers.
Sound Assembly Chorus accepted IABS' invitation and, in August 1989, they traveled to Ireland. Of the group of 80 or so travelers, only a couple of them had been to the Emerald Isle.
We arrived in Birr, County Offaly, on Friday afternoon just in time to register at the County Arms Hotel. The Opening Reception took place at Birr Castle, on August 18, 1989, hosted by Lord and Lady Rosse who live on the property. This magnificent castle is known for its telescope which, was the largest in the world before Palomar Observatory in California.
After opening remarks by IABS Executive Director, Barrie Brown and Baz Millar of Shannon Development Corporation, Lord Rosse welcomed guests into the dining room at Birr Castle. Sound Assembly Chorus opened the convention with their rendition of "My Wild Irish Rose," followed by several other Barbershop selections. Also performing were Sound Accord Quartet (Wellesley, MA), Four-In-Bar (Dublin), and Peppercorn (LABBS) from the UK. The acoustics in the Dining Room were spectacular, and the audience exceptional. Many wore "period" costumes as part of the celebration of “Birr Vintage Week.”
The competition itself was held on Saturday afternoon at Marian Hall, just outside the stone wall of Birr Castle. The first quartet to compete at an IABS contest was the Midland Buskers from Athlone (Tenor Dermod Foy, Lead Ed Cowan, Bari Noel Henry, and Bass Joe Flynn). The Sound Assembly Chorus presented IABS with the 100-year traveling trophy called "The Wellesley Cup" to be awarded annually to the winning Irish National Men’s Quartet Champion. The first panel of judges consisted of Joe Mason and Leo Larivee from Sound Assembly Chorus and John Grant from BABS.
The winners of the first IABS National Men's Quartet competition were: GOLD: Four-In-A-Bar (Dublin), SILVER: Par Four (Cork) and BRONZE: Eight Feet (Tipperary).
The Polyphonics (Cork), directed by Morris Healy, won the GOLD in the IABS National Men's Chorus Contest.
In 1990, Leo Larivee was invited to Dublin to conduct the first IABS Workshop Weekend held at the Teacher’s Club, Parnell Square, in Dublin. They enjoyed singing through a dozen or so “good” barbershop arrangements. They also learned a great deal about the barbershop style of music and how it differs from traditional choral singing. There were sessions on Saturday morning and afternoon and a show at night that featured all three of the IABS National medalist quartets of 1989.
On Saturday evening, a group of ladies (mostly wives of IABS members) performed “My Wild Irish Rose” in four parts! Brilliant! Olga Reynolds had decided that the women could sing barbershop, too! Olga directed and organized The Chordbuster's men's chorus of Skerries and also sang bass with “Lida Rose” quartet which became the first IABS National Ladies Quartet Champion in 1990.
Leo began coaching in Ireland on a relatively regular basis heading off to Ireland for a week-at-time. As time went by, Leo began to bring along a second coach as well to provide more expertise and to better help the ladies choruses. Among those coaches were Dick Naas, Bob Beaver, Tancey Bosna, Maggie Swift, Bob Coant, and Beverly Miller.
In 1991, Olga Reynolds became the first female director to win an IABS National Men's Chorus Contest when the Chordbuster’s Chorus from Skerries took home the GOLD in Limerick. It was a Skerries Sweep. "The Lost Chord" won the National Men’s Quartet contest and “Lida Rose” repeated as IABS Ladies National Quartet Champions. Sound Assembly Chorus was once again in Ireland as the featured performers on the Saturday Night Show.
Leo has remained in close contact with IABS since the beginning. Through TLC Tours he has brought more 2,500 Barbershoppers, friends, and family to Ireland. International Quartet Champions Happiness Emporium (1975 SPEBSQSA) and Old School (2011 BHS) have served as featured quartets at IABS Conventions. Change of Heart Quartet (HI & SAI) became the first quartet from America to medal in an IABS International Ladies Quartet Competition. In 2006, they won the 3rd Place Bronze Medals in Cork. In 2011, Class Ring (BHS) became the first American Quartet to win gold medals in an IABS Men’s International Quartet Competition. They won the Gold in 2011 in Galway.
The Kanawa Kordsmen (BHS) and River Magic Chorus (SAI) both from West Virginia traveled to Ireland and the IABS Convention only 2-weeks after 9/11. Among the other choruses who have traveled to IABS Conventions with TLC Tours include the Johnny Appleseed Barbershop Chorus from JAD (BHS) in 2011, Cincinnati’s Southern Gateway Chorus (BHS) in 2013, and Chesapeake Harmony (SAI) from Maryland in 2015, Tropical Haromony Chorus (SAI) in 2017, and Harmony Katz from Syracuse, NY in 2019.
Leo Larivee is honored to have served many times, over the years, as an MC at IABS Conventions. He has continued to attend IABS Conventions as often as possible.
Cherry Hartshorn is the Director of the National Ladies Chorus called “Ireland Unlimited,” who for many years have brought ladies from all corners of Ireland to meet up one Sunday per month. Under her guidance and direction, Ireland Unlimited has risen to great heights both in Ireland and abroad. There is now a Men’s National Chorus in Ireland called “Harmony Federation” and they have been improving and growing each year.
As I look back over the past 30 years, there is one person who stands alone in the crowd. The person whom I credit as being the driving force behind the formation and early success of Irish Barbershop is "Baz" Millar of Shannon Development Corporation! She was the guiding light of the Irish Association of Barbershop Singers through her retirement. In my book, she the “Most Valuable Player” in the organization of Barbershop Harmony in Ireland. Long live "Baz" Millar!
IABS Executive Directors (Chair) over the years: Barrie Brown was the first and served for several years. Others include Mark Elmes, Olga Reynolds, Dermod Foy, Eithne Mooney, Chick Curry, Pauline Edmonson, Catherine Gallagher, Gunnar Karlsson, Graham Sutton, Michael Mac Giolla Ri, Liz Nolan, Maire Hunt, and Liz Quinlan.
Four-In-A-Bar Quartet from Dublin became the first IABS National Champion Quartet back in 1989.
L-R: Tenor Joe Walsh, Lead Tony O'Reilly, Bass John Clarke, and Bari Paul Walsh.
25 Years Later!
Sound Assembly Chorus at the first IABS Convention in Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland August 19, 1989.
Birr Castle Ireland memories.
Music provided by Gary Lewis
Many people have gone "above and beyond" in support of IABS and TLC Tours. Thank you to Bill Trehy (Skerries), Chick Curry (Dublin), Pauline Edmonson (Bray) Marie Powers (Athlone), Dermod Foy (Athlone), Ed Cowan (Athlone), Noel Henry (Athlone), Catherine Gallagher (Athlone), Paul Walsh (Dublin), Olga Reynolds (Skerries), Baz Millar (Limerick), Ursula Mulvihill (Cork), Clare Hunt (Cork), Maire Hunt (Sligo), Ed Lyons (Cork), Tom Scannell (Cork), Tom O'Donohue (Tipperary), Vincent Gilligan (Tipperary), John Hayes (Tipperary), Colm Nally (Tipperary), Dympna Binchy (Athlone), Deja Vu Quartet (Cork), Liz Nolan (Cork), and Beating TIme. I'm sure there are more.
Connection (formerly known as Cabinteely Connection) from Dublin has been of monumental help in their support of TLC Tours. Walter, Brendan, Joe, and Tony are multiple winners of the IABS Men's National Quartet Contest and have appeared countless times with TLC Tours barbershop nights. Sadly, their great bass Tony Lawless, passed away. We were all glad to see "We Three" perform at the Bowling Club in Crumlin, last year. They now sing as a trio.
See photos of Connection below. Just click on each photo below to see the captions