Remembering Wandsworth Jones – Easter 1998

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There can be little doubt about it – Ireland is set to become a multi-racial society.  Provided the people who now see our country as an attractive place to live in, (and in many cases they do not have a choice), are made to feel welcome here, this development should have the effect of enriching our culture and our outlook on life, generally.

But while the present day residents of Ireland’s bustling cities are learning to adjust to this new experience it is worth remembering that the good people of Athenry and the Swingtime Aces Showband, in particular, were already doing their bit to encourage racial harmony as long ago as 1960.

In early June of that year, the “Swingtimes” had decided to add a pianist-vocalist, to their line-up.  But when Jimmy Reilly, Derek Kennedy, Jim Ruane and company placed the advertisement in the lrish Independent they little realised the impact it was going to have on their home town.  Among those who answered the advertisement was a law student from Trinity College who, no doubt saw it as a means of making money for the Summer holidays and having some fun into the bargain.  Wandsworth Jones was a native of Sierra Leone, West Africa where his father was a much-respected District Court Judge, and to say he was black left one open to the charge of understatement.

Whatever about his musical prowess, (he was no Ray Charles, apparently) the new lodger at Kathleen Curley’s boarding house was soon the talk of the town.  For the children, he held a particular fascination.  I, for one, have vivid memories of being part of a gang of youngsters who often took to trailing him faithfully up and down the streets of the town, from one shop to the next, like some modem day Pied Piper.  The bravest of us bombarded him with questions which he answered with both courtesy and good humour It’s a wonder the poor man didn’t crack-up but he seemed to suffer his newly acquired fame with quiet, uncomplaining fortitude.

As the Summer drew to a close however, the swallows were not the only ones making plans for the long trip back to Africa.  Wandworth’s father had been taken ill and he returned home to be with his family.  Alas, unlike his feathered friends, he did not return and according to Jimmy Reilly, was never heard from again.  Whether he holds his experiences of life in Athenry in great affection or not we will never know but it is, surely, a part of his life he could never forget.  Moreover, few would argue that he left his mark on us and the town was all the poorer for the loss of this man from far off, exotic shores.  But who knows?  Should you ever fail foul of the local Authorities in Sierra Leone and find yourself in front of the local judge, you may be in luck.  It may turn out to be our old friend, Wandsworth Jones………..



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About this record

Written by Gearóid O'Dowd

Published here 26 Mar 2023 and originally published Easter 1998

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