In the beginning ...

Kay O'Leary (manager) and Joe Harrington (producer) come from Lyreacrompane, a remote rural area in the Stacks Mountains of North Kerry. They are also very active within their own communities. The following is an account of the activities of the Irish Rambling House ...


The Story of The Irish Rambling House
By Kay O'Leary.

First published in the Lyreacrompane & District Journal no 11 

Twenty one of us have just arrived back safe and sound on a Bus Eireann coach at Colbert Station, Limerick having been on our sixteenth Irish Rambling House tour of England. On this occasion we entertained the exiles in Birmingham, Camden, Harrow and Derby. The shows are full of great Irish traditional, music, song, dance, very humourous storytelling… and the Craic. Right now I’m thinking about all the exiles we have entertained and the many venues we have performed in during those years – it’s just mind-blowing.

All of this came about from a weekly programme ‘Kingdom Corner’ broadcast on a pirate radio station in Limerick – Radio Limerick One (RLO). Presenter Joe Harrington initially invited musicians and singers into the radio studio to be part of a live broadcast.  After a while this led to Joe and a sound team doing outside broadcasts from many bars, community halls and private homes around Limerick. These outside broadcasts naturally led to the weekly radio programme been renamed ‘The Rambling House’.  The Rambling Houses of long ago ensured that the music, song, dance and stories was preserved and handed down the generations.  This tradition was recaptured in the Joe Harrington Rambling House programme.  The programme was broadcast every Monday night for three hours during which listeners were encouraged to phone in and go live on the air with news from their own place, tell a story or sing a song. The programme was also broadcast on the Astra Satellite to England and main land Europe. For a while the programme also went out on RLO TV.

Responding to the demand from exiles in October 1998 we travelled to the London Irish Centre in Camden to do a live broadcast.  We were welcomed to the Centre by the Mayor of Southend, Norah Goodman who has Lyreacrompane in her background.   During this broadcast we met many people but one person stands out for me, Hugh Callaghan.  Hugh, one of the Birmingham Six, a total gentleman, came along on the night to sing a song. He presented Joe with a signed copy of his book ‘A Cruel Fate’ - One Man’s Triumph over Injustice.

Back home we continued to go out to various venues around Limerick recording locals but by now we were also rambling into the neighbouring counties of Kerry and Clare.  At this stage the radio programme was been broadcast twice a week, every Monday and Thursday.  On one occasion when Joe and I were discussing the mighty talent we were encountering we came up with the idea of staging a concert in the one thousand seated University Concert Hall, Limerick, around St. Patrick’s Day. We put a cast of one hundred and thirty people on stage that night - we reckon it was the biggest traditional concert ever staged in Limerick.  It lasted three hours.  We released this show on video - Joe Harrington’s Rambling House 16th March 1999.  Prior to this we had also recorded and released an eighteen track CD – The Best of the Rambling House. So successful was the 1999 concert that the organisers of Limerick Civic Week Festival asked us to launch their Millennium festival with a similar show again at the University Concert Hall.  We did and once again it was a resounding success. We also recorded this show and released it on video. 

In May 1999 we rambled north to the Green Glens of Antrim where we met and recorded Eugene McGaughey. Yes, you’ve guessed it; the song he sung and did so very well was ‘The Green Glens of Antrim’ along with a couple of his own songs.
On Board

By this time we were getting more and more requests from Irish people/Centres to take our show to England.  For the staging of our shows we always use the setting of an authentic old Irish Kitchen – open fireplace, turf, skillet pot,  a dresser complete with crockery, a picture of John F and Jackie Kennedy, deck of cards etc.  Getting these props to England could present us with a problem.  Joe and I approached Bus Eireann/Euro Lines for a quotation.  At this time Euro Lines was a partner of Bus Eireann with coaches travelling to and from England.  To our amazement and surprise John McLoughlin and Ian Dodson of Bus Eireann/Euro Lines decided to sponsor a coach and driver for our tour.  It probably helped that Joe and John had known each other as members of the Limerick Council of Trades Unions. 

Clare man, Derek Lane, would be our driver. To date Derek has been the driver for fifteen of our tours.  We couldn’t have asked for a more obliging driver and all round helper.  During our shows Derek can often be seen selling DVD’s, manning doors and generally helping out during our tours.  At this stage we also decided to embrace the word ‘Irish’ in our group name and we became known as ‘The Irish Rambling House’.  

So on Thursday 27 April 2000 thirty four people, aged between eight and eighty years, set out from Colbert Station, Limerick to stage our very first show on English soil.  That night we played at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester.  The next night we were down in the Haringey Irish Cultural and Community Centre, Tottenham, London.  On Saturday 29 we were in the Ulster Suite, Birmingham Irish Centre and on Sunday 30 we played in the Leeds Irish Centre.   Joining us on stage in Manchester was fifteen year old, accordion player, Patrick Doyle.  Patrick’s great Grandmother, Nora Walsh came from Spur in Lyreacrompane.  On returning home we held a show on November 9 in the Woodlands Hotel, Adare. The late Paddy Faley was one of our storytellers on the tour.  At the age of eighty it was Paddy’s first time out of west Limerick.  Paddy travelled on a few tours with us and he and Chrissie Roche, another storyteller, were mighty with the pen recording many goings-on that occurred while we were on the road. Also noting in humorous verse the many tour events were Peg Prenderville and Mary O’Keeffe.

So successful was this tour for both the Irish Rambling House and Bus Eireann that John McLoughlin, Business Development Executive with Bus Eireann, declared that he’d have no hesitation in supporting us again. 

Back in Limerick we continued to go out into communities recording the best of local talent. In July 2000 we staged shows at the Knockaderry Community Centre and we opened the Rathkeale Salsa Festival on Thursday August 10.  Then in October, with the backing of Bus Eireann once again, thirty-one entertainers headed back across the Irish Sea staging shows at Manchester, The Galtymore, Cricklewood, Haringey, The Arrow Valley Club, Redditch and Birmingham.

On New Year’s Eve 2001 a fundraising card game was ran in Castlemahon and the ramblers also took part in a wren competition in Tralee.   We were due back in England again with a group of thirty three in the spring of 2001 with planned shows in Manchester, Coventry, Galty-more London and a show in Dublin on our way home.  With the outbreak of foot and mouth in England we had concerns so we cancel the tour as many of our performers came from a rural background. 

Summer Shows

In 2001 Shannon Development asked us to organised shows during the summer months of June, July and August for the tourists visiting the region.  We held shows at the Woodland’s Hotel, Adare on Sundays, Jury’s Hotel Limerick on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s we were at the Courtenay Lodge Hotel Newcastle West.   We reduced the storytelling feature at these shows considering the various nationalities attending and who would have had problems with accents.  In September 2001 we took a group of ramblers into Madigan’s Thatched cottage in Stonehall, Co. Limerick where we had ‘Pat’s Tracks’ record a traditional rambling house session.  That DVD is still available under the title The Irish Rambling House at Stonehall.

Autumn 2001 saw thirty six ramblers back in England with shows in the Albert Halls Bolton, Manchester, London, Coventry and Liverpool.  The venues were packed with both young and not so young people.  Back home we staged a show at Friars Gate Theatre, Kilmallock, on November 25.  Before heading out on this tour the group put on a show at the Rathfredagh Cheshire Home in Newcastle West.  St. Stephen’s Night 2001 saw us running a dance at the Rathkeale House Hotel.  Dermot Lyons provided the music and the night will be remembered for Dermot, towards the end of the night, fainting and falling off his stool while playing.  On December 30 Chrissie Roche organised a fundraising, 45 Card Drive in Raheenagh. By now we and some ramblers had the idea of taking the Irish Rambling House to the United States.  Joe and I had gone there scouting and while we had got venues and people/groups interested we felt it would be beyond our budget.  The cost of taken the props along with ramblers would be prohibited. When we go on tour to England the Irish Rambling House cover all transport and accommodation costs.  All participants need to take with them is spending money.  During the early tours the funds had allowed us to cover the cost of a daily meal for tour members. Another requirement for tour participants is the ‘phone in’.  This has to be done at 3am, on the morning of departure, so that Joe and I know that group members are on their way to Limerick station where we board our coach at 4am to set out for the North Wall and the Stena ferry. 

In Spring 2002 we had shows in Manchester, Mapperley Plains Social Centre Nottingham, Galtymore London, Birmingham and St. Patrick’s Club Leamington Spa.  On 14 April we held our first show in Co. Clare at the Glór Theatre.  We returned with another show on November 2.  We also ran summer shows in conjunction with Shannon development, in the Woodlands Hotel Adare, Jury’s Hotel and the Glentworth Hotel Limerick City.  Autumn 2002 saw twenty seven of us perform in Bolton, Leamington Spa, The Galtymore, Birmingham and St. Finbar’s Club Coventry.  The first appearance of the Irish Rambling House in the Kingdom of Kerry was on December 21 when we held a fundraising show in conjuction with Tralee Carers Association at Siamsa Tíre, Trá-lí.

In 2003 we held summer shows at the Two Mile Inn Hotel, Ennis Road, and Jury’s Hotel, Limerick. With the continued support of Bus Eireann we were back in England in October 2003 with shows in Bolton, Huddersfield, Redditch, Harrow and Birmingham.  On returning home we were invited to perform at the Scartaglin Heritage Centre on November 29. During our early tours we had people offering to pay to travel with the group for the experience.  While travelling with us they got stuck in helping out so it soon reached the stage that Joe and I felt we could no longer charge them.  As we were already taken back- stage people on tour we ceased taken paying passengers. Also during our earlier tours we always stopped off at The Red Cow for breakfast.  Tom Moran always opened early and had staff on hand to serve us pretty quickly so as to get us on the road to the North Wall in time to board the ferry.  With the change of road design we had to stop this practice.

On March 13 2004 we staged a show at The Millennium Theatre, Moylish, Limerick.  Then we got a phone call from John McLoughlin, Bus Eireann wanting to see us. John was retiring and Eurolines had seized the opportunity to close their Limerick office from 2005.  All further correspondence including sponsorship would now be dealt with by their Dublin office. Needless to say they forgot about us.  Our 2004 tour took us to Bolton Redditch, Huddersfield Birmingham and Harrow.

While on a visit to London in February 2005 I phoned Johnny Byrnes of Byrne Bros Contractors seeking sponsorship.  The Byrne Bros come from our parish of Duagh/Lyreacrompane and I knew that they would have an understanding of what our annual tour meant to the exiles.  Johnny agreed and they gave us some sponsorship for our tours between and including 2005 and 2010.  Twenty nine people took part in 2005 tour playing in Derby, Harrow, Manchester and Birmingham.  It was during this tour that the Irish Rambling House performed at the same venue two nights in a row – the Salvatorian College Hall, Harrow. The dates were Friday 4 and Saturday 5 November. Both shows were packed.  On returning home we performed in Duagh on November 25.  Thirty two entertainers headed to Leads on 1 November 2006 then onto Lincoln, Harrow for two shows again and Birmingham.  We were back in Duagh Hall on November 18. We also had a new DVD ‘Live from Harrow’ on sale during this tour and much to our surprise it was highlighted on RTE’s Podge and Rodge show.

Fundraising for Cricklewood Homeless

Our 2007 tour had a diverse twist to it.  We had been asked by a group in London if we could do something for the Cricklewood Homeless Concern organisation.  Having thought about it Joe and I decided to undertake a fundraising walk and to hold a concert for the group during our tour.  We asked Donncha O’Dulaing, of RTE and a well-known charity walker, to join us.  Joe wrote a song ‘Walk around London’ for the fundraiser.  Donncha narrated part of it and Billy Donegan sang it.  We released it on CD and the income from the sales went to the group.  On our way through Dublin on Wednesday October 31 we collected Donncha from outside the Point Theatre. We did a ‘bucket’ fundraising walk from Quex Road Church in Kilburn to the Crown Moran Hotel.  That night we featured the ‘Maids of Erin’ in concert at the Crown Moran Hotel.  The Maids of Eireann consisted of the very talented female singers and musicians of the Irish Rambling House and we had taken this group into the recording studio and recorded the ‘Maids of Erin’ CD. The proceeds from this show also went to the Cricklewood Homeless Concern group.  In total, our voluntary community group, The Irish Rambling House, were delighted to present £3,000, to the Cricklewood Homeless Concern Organisa-tion. On another occasion we responded to a request for the Maids to entertain at an old folks home in London and we also took the Maids of Erin to the RTE studios in Dublin at the request of Donncha to be part of his Christmas Failte Isteach programme.

Meeting Danny

It was during our fundraising concert at the Crown Moran Hotel that we first met South Kerry man, Danny O’Sullivan. 

Danny O’Sullivan, sponsor of the Irish Rambling House, welcomes
the Ramblers to London.

At the time none of us knew Danny and as he has often said to me since that night “you didn’t know what to make of me when we first met” and as the saying goes “sín scéal eile”.  Since that meeting Danny has become the sponsor of the Irish Rambling House and I couldn’t speak highly enough of him.  Since that first meeting every tour that we have taken to England Danny has always met up with the group and he has often joined us on stage.  That year we held shows in Derby, Birmingham, Lincoln and Harrow.  Twenty nine peopled travelled. Since we first went on tour we have always taken our own sound. Cork man, Dan O’Callaghan, has fulfilled this position for us since 2007 and he is one of the best at his job.  During our shows Dan has often hopped on stage and played the Uilleann pipes. We were also delighted to be invited by Donncha to the launch of his book ‘Donncha’s World’ in Dublin last September.  We were also pleased to see that Donncha had included photos of the Maids of Eirn and the recording of a programme for RTE ‘Fáilte Isteach’ outside the Crown Moran Hotel during that tour.

Thursday October 30 2008 saw us in St. Patrick’s Club Leamington Spa, Haringey, Harrow and Birmingham and back at home in Duagh.  Twenty-six people were on this tour.  On this occasion we supported the Fireside Charity, Birmingham with a €500 donation.  On all of our tours we either share the takings with the local organising groups or we pay individuals who help organise our shows.   We always have a session on board the Stena ferry while crossing the Irish Sea much to the delight of fellow passengers who often tell us we shorten their journey.

In 2009 we performed two shows at home.  We were in Duagh on October 23 and the Devon Inn on December 3.  Between these two shows a twenty three member group entertained the exiles in Newark-on-Trent, Haringey, Harrow and Birmingham. Again in 2010 we staged two shows in Munster.  October 13 saw us performing at the Devon Inn and November 13 we were in Lisdoonvarna before twenty one of us headed to England with shows in Derby, Birmingham, Haringey, Harrow and Manchester. 

In 2011 I decided to put the story of the yearly Irish Rambling House tour in verse.  Doris Shire, also known as the ‘Mungret Nightingale’, recorded it at Pat’s Tracks in Causeway. Doris is the only entertainer who has been on all our shows and on all our tours.

The Irish Rambling House Song

 The ramblers gather in at dawn
To board our Rambling Bus
As we set out on that highway
A familiar route to us.
We’ll cross the dear old Irish Sea
With our music, songs & craic
We’re going to the exiles
To take the exiles back.
We’ll take them back in time
Their memories we’ll arouse
And paint for them a picture
Of an Irish rambling house.
A Rambling House so cosy
Where music, dance and song
Would echo to the rafters
In a time that’s long since gone
With Holyhead behind us
We’re touring ‘round in style
The music rings around the coach
And there’s dancing in the aisle
The welcome at the venues
Is mighty to relate
And eager exiles pack the halls
When our shows begin at eight
The M1 leads to London
We’ll stage our show again
And at the Irish venues there
We’ll meet our kith & kin
and the sessions they are mighty
In each Irish neighbourhood
And we always stay in Moran’s
In the heart of Cricklewood
We’ll take them back in time
Their memories we’ll arouse
And paint for them a picture
Of an Irish rambling house.
A Rambling House so cosy
Where music, dance and song
Would echo to the rafters
In a time that’s long since gone
The props are loaded up again
And the ferry lies ahead
Weary bodies stretch about
Sure we rarely saw the bed
But already plans we’re making
For we’re wanted back next year
And we’re happy that the exiles
Hold the Irish ramblers dear
We’ll take them back in time
Their memories we’ll arouse
And paint for them a picture
Of an Irish rambling house.
A Rambling House so cosy
Where music, dance and song
Would echo to the rafters
In a time that’s long since gone

In 2011 we had a show in Lisdoonvarna on October 1 before heading on a Bus Eireann coach to Birmingham on Thursday October 20 followed by performances in Haringey, Harrow and Newark-on-Trent. Twenty five entertainers toured on this occasion. In 2012 we had twenty one people on stage at a show in St. John’s, Listowel before heading to Birmingham on November 1.  Haringey November 2, Harrow November 3 and Derby November 4.

In 2013 we were invited by the Leamington Spa Irish Centre Committee to be part of their, week long, fiftieth anniversary celebrations.  We normally organise our tours around the mid-term break/Halloween but to facilitate Leamington we had to go a couple of weeks earlier than usual.  Before heading off we went down to South Kerry for the first time.  We were invited by Danny O’Sullivan to stage a show at the Foilmore Community Centre on Friday October 11. We hired a coach to ferry the performers to Foilmore.  Oh boy! Were we impressed with the beautiful centre and the facilities there are brilliant.  The stage was mighty with loads of room to show off our traditional Irish kitchen and for our entertainers to show off their talent.  From the moment we arrived the kettle was continuously on the boil for us.  Leaving the venue that night we were stuffed. Aren’t the community of Foilmore/Kells lucky to have Danny O’Sullivan.  On the night it was very evident to us the esteem that Danny is held in by the locals and it’s also very obvious that Danny has never forgotten his own place. He came on stage that night to sing a song and got the biggest round of applause. 

Prior to this show we had performed in St. John’s Listowel.  After our Kerry shows twenty one of us set off across the Irish Sea to entertain the exiles in Leamington Spa October 16, Birmingham, Camden and Harrow. We always stay at the Crown Moran Hotel while in London. On this occasion our tour coincided with the holding of the annual Kerry Association Dinner Dance at the Crown Moran.  Danny O’Sullivan is Chairperson of the Association and he had reserved a table for the Irish Rambling House.            


The Irish Rambling House project has been a great adventure and like all adventures it had its odd moments like the time we arrived in Lincoln to discover that the stage was carpeted and not suitable for our step dancers.  Panic stations. Three sheets of plywood was the answer but the hardware store was two miles down the road. The coach was our only answer so down we went and pulled the 53 seater into the yard, bought the sheets and used their pliable nature to get them into the aisle of the coach.  As we were pulling away we noticed a crowd looking on. All the staff of the store and the offices were out to see the unique sight in Lincoln of a Bus Eireann coach picking up timber!!! Or the time we sort of gate-crashed the Kerry Association Dinner Dance, met the Rose of Tralee and asked her to officially open the Dan Paddy Andy. Clare Kambamettu said yes! Or the time we could find no overnight parking in Birmingham. Derek and Joe dropped us at the hotel after the show and drove down to Birmingham Coach Station which we knew we would have needed to have booked a month before.  Derek boldly drove in. The guy in charge ran forward with a look of authority but quick as a flash Derek stuck his head out the window and said “Where will I park her up mate? “Mr Authority”, now not sure if he had forgotten a booking, said “over there”.  Derek parked in record time and himself and Joe cut out the gate in quick time in case your man would realise he had been conned. Next morning there was a different guy on duty and we told him “Mr Authority” had given us permission! Or the time Joe told the audience in Birmingham that he was delighted we were in Dublin or like myself this year when I stood on the stage in Camden to introduce the show and declared that I hadn’t a clue where I was! It can become confusing whizzing around to the different venues. And the embarrassing thing about this one is that it was being recorded for our next DVD.

Between the years 2000 and 2014 I reckon Joe and I have had one hundred and eighty three entertainers on stage for Irish Rambling House shows at home and on our tours of England.  I couldn’t begin to count the number of people Joe recorded during his time with RLO.  Maybe someday we’ll get around to looking back at those recordings. Our motto always is “If laughter is the best medicine than an Irish Rambling House show is the prescription”. 

The introduction to all our shows, at home or abroad comes from a poem Joe pinned and it will be very familiar to entertainers and exiles alike;

Pull up your sugán chairs my friends

Beside the fireside glow

and let’s go back to how it was

In the Ireland of long go.  


See a full list of our DVD's click here



Irish Rambling House,  Lyreacrompane,
Co. Kerry. Ireland.

Tel: 00353 (0)6848353