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Saturday, November 27th, 1999

The Jimmy Woulfe Interview

Cusack's stand

GER Cusack spent his boyhood amongst hundreds of workers at Ranks flour mill on the Dock Road. As a young child, Ger was sent to live with his grandfather and uncles who resided in a bungalow in the yard of Ranks where they looked after the team of horses used to draw the flour carts around the city. Home was Ranks and when he left school he went to work in the flour mill.

"My father came from Park, Dublin road where a lot of the Cusacks lived. I was the eldest of eight and as the family began to increase I went down to stay with my grandfather Jerry O'Brien who was a caretaker in ranks. He had a bungalow adjacent to the stables where the horses used by Ranks for pulling the flour cars were stabled.

"He and my two uncles looked after the horses and the drays used for delivering flower around the city up to the railway station. Two of my uncles and an aunt lived there and none of them married. I was reared by them and I lived there for almost 19 years."

There were two bungalows in the yard, one occupied by the O'Briens and the other by the Hough family who looked after the main premises. The young Ger used to help out watering the horses and feeding them hay. His uncle, John O'Brien, took over this job from his grandfather.

"There were as many as 25 beautiful horses stabled there. They were like the Clydesdales you see in the Budweiser ads on television."

One of his treasured memories from those boyhood days was his regular meetings with the legendary Cork hurler, Christy Ring.

"He used deliver oil to Ranks and when he would arrive in his lorry the men would want to talk with him. I would often be playing soccer in the yard with the men. I had a ball made of paper wrapped in cloth which I was always kicking around. The men would play soccer with me at their lunch break.

"I got to know Christy Ring, although I didn't really appreciate who he was. One day he drove into the yard in his lorry. When he got out of the lorry he had a rubber soccer ball which he handed to me. 'Now,' he said 'you have a real ball to kick'."

From his home in Ranks, Ger commenced school in O'Connell Avenue.

"I went to the Model and then the tech after that. It was great living in Ranks as I was the only child amongst hundreds of men. Even to this day when I meet some of the old Ranks workers they still remember me as a boy going in and out with a schoolbag on my back."

Ger amused himself by raiding nearby orchards.

"There was a wall dividing Ranks and the Redemptorists and Laurel Hill which both had beautiful orchards."

After leaving the tech at 15, Ger not surprisingly went to work at Ranks which was like getting a job inside the walls of his own home.

Says Ger: "I went into the grain testing area and I qualified as a grain tester after three years. As a grain tester you busheled and weighed the wheat and you had to bring the moisture content of the wheat down to 13 per cent by the use of dryers to make it edible. Every hour you took a test of wheat from the dryers to ensure you didn't over dry it. If it was overdried it was useless.

"I had a very good job which I gave up to go into a band. My mother Chrissie, who lives in Lenihan Avenue, Prospect, was very annoyed at me giving up a grand job in Ranks which paid me about 30 shillings a week--good money in those days."

With a few others he had formed a skiffle group which were all the music rage at the time.

"With me in the group were Joe Browne, John Browne, Willie Browne and Tony Carey. By day I worked as a messenger around town."

Work in the band was uncertain and pay was even less assured.

"We might get 1 for a gig. That was to be divided between the five of us and our manager."

In his late teens, Ger decided to see the world . . . and headed for the Isle of Man.

"I got work there working as a kitchen porter in a hotel for a few summers. There was great music there and one of the big attractions in Douglas was an all-girl band. The woman who owned the hotel I worked in had a daughter in the band and she asked me to do a number, Mac the Knife, with the band in a talent contest. We came second, so I joined the band. It was an 18-piece band and Bobby Darren had a hit with Mac the Knife at the time and we sounded very like him."

The showband scene began to grip the Irish public and Ger felt there had to be an opportunity for another band on the growing dance hall circuit.

"I first joined the Billy Conway band in Limerick. We played every Friday night in the Stella. I sang and played drums. A few of us then formed The Empire Showband in 1960 and we went to every corner of the country.

"With me in the band were John and Joe Browne, Harry Hockedy, the late Mick Henchy and Matt Doherty. Later Johnny and Fred Hockedy joined the band along with Michael Cleary and Jim Whelan."

The Empire began to record locally with the help of Ray Heraty.

"I had heard of this song, Release Me, which was put out by an American group. We recorded it in the Royal George and sent it off to a few record companies and they told us it wasn't commercial enough. The following year Release Me sold nine million copies for Engelbert Humperdinck. And they telling me it wasn't commercial enough."

Not discouraged, Ger and The Empires recorded a number he had written himself, It's Only a Rumour.

"It did very well in the Munster area and got to about 15 in the Irish charts. Even to this day I am still asked to do it. I think I was the first in Limerick to write and record a number: that would have been in 1964. It was great fun at the time."

The Empire stayed together until 1966 when Ger formed the Ger Cusack Quintet before teaming up with Tommy Drennan and Bryan Meehan to do cabaret.

Ger's next recording success, came in 1978 when he recorded The Mighty Men of Munster which he wrote following the victory of Munster over the All Blacks at Thomond Park.

"I produced 1,000 copies of that and I should have done a lot more. Denis Allen made it and we had a lot of the Munster players taking part in the recording."

Ger and Bryan Meehan played together for almost 20 years, and now Ger says he is "tipping away" with his own two-piece.

Ger ventured into local politics last June when he unsuccessfully contested the City Council elections as an independent.

"I'll be better prepared next time 'round. I didn't realise what I was heading into and I got help from people I didn't expect and got no help from others who I thought would help. I only did a three-week campaign and for three weeks I did all right."

Ger feels there are many new opportunities for somebody like himself from a music background in Limerick.

"I can put together any kind of music for an occasion to cater for what people want and that's the direction I am heading. I have the know-how and the knowledge. There are so many different events. If somebody needs a vocalist for a wedding in a church I know where to go. And if somebody wants a brass ensemble to lead a couple into or from the church I can arrange it.

"There is a market there and I can solve any problems people may have with regards to getting the kind of music they want for a given occasion. And I would ensure a professional service which I would personally overlook myself."

Ger is married with four sons and a daughter. He has five grandchildren.


Copyright © 2000 The Limerick Leader.

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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006