Former boy sopranos Tom and Brian honoured for their achievements

Former boy soprano Tom Duggan (4th from left) pictured with his family in St Patrick’s NS Mallow at a special get-together in his honour.

The opening day of the Mallow Art Festival featured an event titled ‘The Sopranos’ which was held in the hall of St Patrick’s Boys National School. This event, which was hosted by Festival Chairperson Tadhg Curtis, remembered and celebrated a time when two pupils from the school, Tom Duggan and Briain O’Gráda, won numerous titles for being the best boy sopranos in Ireland,
In the late, 50s and early 60s, the Feis Ceoil was a huge national event and both boys were coached by Brother Cletus to bring honours to their school.
Tom, who was the star of many operettas such as ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘The Mikado’, which were staged in the school, was the first to win the prestigious Gold Medal, followed soon after by Briain who not alone won the Gold Medal for Irish singing, but also won the Benson Cup for singing in English.
The newspapers carried a report that this was the first time that anybody had won both of these titles on the same day. This report was subsequently carried by RTE News and BBC News and led to Briain’s mother receiving a letter a few weeks later from a woman, stating that this information was incorrect, as her late husband had accomplished this feat. The letter came from the widow of Count John McCor-mack!
Both boys went on to make vinyl LPs, each featuring 10 tracks – this in itself was an accomplishment, as both of them had records out before the first showband record was made in 1962. Tracks from both recordings were played during the event last Wednesday. Briain was unable to attend, but his brother Michael and sister-in-law Judy were present. Tom, who is now in a nursing home in Bray, attended with his wife Colette, son Cian who travelled especially from the U.K., and daughter Grainne and partner Gordon who travelled especially for the event from Canada. Festival Secretary Sharon Simcox relayed the event live via Facebook to Tom’s other daughter Eimear in Canada.
Details of both men’s subsequent careers were given to the 40-strong audience which included a number of former classmates.
Many of the attendance were reduced to tears when Tom, who has been battling dementia for a few years, sang along to his recording of approxim-ately 64 years ago.
In bringing the event to a close, the M.C. Tadhg Curtis made a presentation to both families on behalf of the Arts Festival to mark the achievements of over 60 years ago.