Clonmel honours trailblazer with a special gift, its very own ‘Fab Vinny’

front; Maria Phelan,Marty Whelan, Billy Shoer MAyor, Fergus and Melanie Hanley, back; Phil Prendergast M E P, Conor Hanley, Ger Walsh, Declan Hanley, Michael Hanley, Teresa Ryan Joe leahy, Helena McGee, Brian O Donnell, Siobhan Ambrose, Pat English, Richie Molloy, Seamus Healy, Denis Dunne, Gabrielle Egan,
Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

The sounds of Beat It and Very Superstitious played out on the streets of Clonmel by the award-winning Banna Cluain Meala last Saturday as a very special event unfolded - the unveiling of a plaque at 59 Kickham Street, the family home of pioneering radio and television presenter and producer, the late Vincent Hanley.

He was the man responsible for bringing the sounds, and indeed sights, of such music into Irish homes in the mid eighties after all, and Banna did him proud on the day.

A special reception accorded by Mayor Billy Shoer and Clonmel Borough Council preceded a procession from the Town Hall to the Hanley home, led by Banna Cluain Meala. Brother Fergus, his wife Melanie and their sons Declan, Michael and Conor, who still live in the family home, were joined by relatives from England, their neighbours from Kickham Street and many friends for the occasion, including Muiris Walsh, who instigated the plaque-unveiling plan about 14 months ago when he originally approached the Hanley family.

Special guests and long term friends of Vincent’s, RTE celebrity Marty Whelan and his wife Maria also travelled to Clonmel on the gloriously sunny day to mark the occasion when the town officially acknowledged Fab Vinnie’s significant role in music and popular culture in Ireland, as the brains, face and unmistakable voice of the ground-breaking show MT USA.

Vincent Hanley was a ‘trailblazer’ with a ‘special gift’ according to Mr Whelan, who spoke fondly of his old friend and colleague whom he met when he joined RTE in 1979 as a disc jockey (DJ) on the national broadcaster’s new dedicated pop station, Radio 2.

“This industry that I am in is a strange industry, it can be an easy ride for some or more difficult for others, but our friend Vincent Hanley was one of those people who had a special gift, simple as that. He had the gift to communicate. He was a special fella, the word ‘fab’ is used all the time, and he was,” said Mr Whelan, who last visited Clonmel in 1987, for Vincent’s funeral.

Mr Whelan praised the Council for taking the decision to erect a plaque on Vincent’s family home, to acknowledge what he did for music in Ireland.

Ever before Vincent set his sights on joining RTE, he had already carved out a name for himself as a talented broadcaster. Listening to Radio Luxembourg as a High School student in Clonmel in the early days enhanced his passion for music. He got his first taste of DJ-ing at local youth clubs the Rowing Club hops before moving to Cork at just 17. There he started presenting pop music shows on RTÉ Radio Cork in 1976 as well as stints in Dublin on RTÉ Radio One and RTÉ television. When he joined RTE in 1979, he was already a household name.

“When most of us joined RTE in 1979, Vincent was already a star because he had been in the organisation, people knew him all around the country so he had that allure, that glamour, at the time,” said Mr Whelan.

Vincent moved to London in 1980 where he worked for Capitol Radio and with London Weekend Television on the Six O Clock Show. But in 1983, he co-founded Green Apple Productions with RTE producer Conor McAnally, which went on to produce the music show synonymous with Vincent, MT USA. These were significant times, according to Mr Whelan.

“I am really thrilled that you have gone to the bother of giving him this honour, going to the bother of putting the plaque up on the house, because people are sometimes forgotten. And sometimes people think that what we did back in the 2FM days was irrelevant, because people thought we were just spinning records and amusing ourselves, but it was something, and the fact that you have decided to honour this friend of mine, this broadcaster, shows that you are saying it was important, you want to honour him and you do him proud today.”

Admitting that he still misses his dear friend to this day, Mr Whelan said he is so happy that Vincent has not been forgotten.

“Vincent’s name still comes up in conversation which I think is fantastic and which says an awful lot about the memory of this man because generations have moved on, he has been gone a long time, yet his name still comes up in conversation. It could be to do with a song, could be to do with MT USA, it could be to do with his style because he was a very elegant person, whatever it was, but what always comes up was the big heart, the good person, the fact that he was a good man to be with.

“Mad as a brush mind you, but great company, dangerous sometimes too, but that was OK because he always knew when to temper it and when to bring it down again. I miss him, I miss him still,” said Mr Whelan.

His brother Fergus said that he was so happy that Clonmel wanted to do this for Vincent, he paid tribute to Muiris Walsh for leading the way, and Clonmel Borough Council for making it possible.

“I have a feeling of great happiness but it’s welling up inside me as well, but they would be tears of joy,” he told The Nationalist. Mayor Billy Shoer said the occasion was especially important as it afforded the elected members the opportunity to pay tribute to a native son and to recognise the successful life and broadcasting career that he carved out for at both at national and international level. Cllrs Siobhan Ambrose, Pat English, Richie Molloy and Dinny Dunne addressed the council chamber on the occasion which was also attended by local Oireachtas members, an MEP, and former mayors.