Legendary Irish musician and Mayo native Brendan Ward died Saturday, July 24th in Rochester, New York.
By Kevin O’Connor
Mr. Brendan Ward, who has died at his daughter’s home in Rochester, New York on July 24th was hailed in his native Mayo as a musical genius.
Foxford-born Brendan Ward (who was 97) learned the violin and piano at his local school and later became so proficient he joined the highly successful Mick Delahunty orchestra playing the tenor saxophone. Later he organised all the arrangements for the successful orchestra which toured all over Ireland in the forties and fifties.
He emigrated to the States in 1957 and launched his own orchestra, with the help of entrepreneur Bill Fuller who owned the New York city ballroom in New York City Center. The Glenn Miller style music appealed to the Irish fans who packed the ballroom every week. Romances flourished at the city ballroom which played Brendan’s music for almost twenty years.
To augment the weekly dance, he launched his own Travel Agency – Ward Travel – with his devoted wife, Breege. The Irish supported it, particularly when Brendan’s generosity became known. If the passenger did not have the fare to return for the funeral of his Irish relative, Brendan assured them there was no problem; they could pay him when they had the money. Ward Travel soon became the top selling Irish Travel Agency on the Eastern Seaboard.
In the late 70’s, he launched his own radio show, called the Brendan Ward show. Featuring quality Irish songs and classical music, he also availed of the opportunity to advertise his Travel Agency and the popular weekly New York City Center dance.
Brendan was a huge supporter of the Knock Airport project and worked closely with the founder, Monsignor Horan in ensuring it would be launched in the early 80’s. The tenacious Mayo priest continued working on the 7,500 feet runway – without planning permission and without the support of the then Coalition Government of Fine Gael and Labour. The Fianna Fail leader, Charles Haughey, a native of Mayo, was however, fully supportive of the initiative and ensured that his government would financially support it when they returned to power.
Knock, now called Ireland West Airport, was privately financed by funds from the States, which Brendan Ward helped to organise and by Government grants totalling €9.856m. The completion of the airport was funded by a €1.3m grant from the European Union, payable on condition that the airport’s developers – Monsignor Horan and his team – would provide a matching sum from their own resources. This they did and to demonstrate how successful the project has been over the years seven local authorities have invested €7.3m. to take a 17.5 per cent stake in the company. This places a value of €41.7m. on Ireland West……not bad for an airport on the side of a mountain!
I should mention that Brendan Ward was on the first flight from New York which touched down at Knock Airport to a huge welcome in 1986, despite the protests of Fine Gael and Labour who were totally against Monsignor Horan’s initiative.
Despite financial difficulties during the pandemic over the last 18 months, Ireland West has performed exceptionally well over the years and justified the financial contribution of the then Fianna Fail government and the faith of Monsignor Horan and his main American helper, Brendan Ward.
Brendan and his wife, Breege, owned an apartment in Pilot View in fashionable Dalkey, Dublin for many years. They later retired to Naples in Florida, where he participated for many years in the local choir.
He is survived by his wife, Breege, his daughters, Ann Marie, Erin and Fionnuala and son Brian; his sons in law, Scott Yohe, Michael Taylor and Sean Regan, daughter-in-law Nora and ten grandchildren – Christopher, Brian, Bridget, Michael and his wife, Gill, Matthew, Claire and fiancé, Mike Petrun, Eibhlin, Patrick, Eilis and Roisin.