Dancing to the beat of her own drum

My recent trip to Loughglynn began with a hand-written sticky note left on my computer monitor. It read: Loughglynn – strange occurrences in small Irish villages – Knock apprication (sic) and also on the Late Late. The note ended with a phone number and the name ‘Mildred’. The person who left the note had not left their own name – understandably!

  Intrigued, I called the number on the note and was greeted by a very enthusiastic voice on the other end – Mildred. Mildred explained that she had appeared in a documentary about Our Lady appearing in Knock and that very little coverage of the documentary had appeared in the Roscommon media. I decided it was safer to make an appearance of my own in Loughglynn than push my luck with our lady, Mildred.

  Mildred lives in a bungalow which is set against the stunning backdrop of a lake and her well-maintained garden features a statue of Our Lady. Inside, her walls are adorned by pictures which hint at a wonderfully interesting life. In fact, one look inside Mildred’s home provides evidence that an appearance on the Late Late was just the tip of the iceberg.

  After she had finished making coffee with the care of a barista, Mildred sat down to talk about the Knock documentary and Late Late Show appearance. It was all very interesting and she certainly stole the show in Montrose, but it was only a part of Mildred’s story.

  Mildred, who I established plays the drum in the Castlerea Brass & Reed Band, hails from Carracastle in Co. Mayo. She moved to Loughglynn following her marriage to her beloved husband Leo Beirne, who sadly passed away thirty years ago.

  Mildred Regan met Leo Beirne through music. Leo was the manager of an all-girl showband and had placed an advertisement looking for a singer. Mildred takes up the story at this point.

  “I thought I was a great singer,” she laughs, looking back. “It wasn’t long before they told me they actually needed a drummer,” she says with a smile.

  Leo was a hard taskmaster as he set about turning his new ‘singer’ into a drummer.

  She remembers the difficulties that came with dating the boss too.

  “When I got engaged to Leo the other girls told me ‘Whatever you do, don’t tell him that we smoke!’ Leo hated smoking, so I never told him!” she says.

  Leo and Mildred had two children, Leo Jr. and Maria. Mildred’s music career took a back seat as she stayed home to look after the children. Leo continued to tour around Ireland with the girls until the group broke up in 1967. When that ended, Leo taught music until his death in 1987.

  Mildred says: “I didn’t go teaching music until Leo got sick. That’s how I got started, when he got ill I took over and when he passed away I continued teaching in the schools.”

  It’s a career that’s proved to be very rewarding with an appearance involving 290 children on RTE’s Live at Three show as well as a trip to America with a group of set dancers. She’s danced and played music for former presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, and there’s still time for Michael D. Higgins, she tells me!

  As if that wasn’t enough for our lady, her involvement with the Castlerea Brass & Reed Band has led to her performing at various high profile sporting events in the county and beyond and appearances at the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade as well as events in the UK. It’s something she really enjoys but it’s the dancing she really loves.

  As for her appearance on the Late Late Show, well that was as a result of her work as a handmaiden down in Knock.

  “Overall I’ve been a handmaiden for 25 years. This meant I worked voluntarily in Knock during pilgrimage season from May to October. You could be asked to do anything including helping with the sick, making sandwiches, processions and Mass intentions. We’re expected to do one Sunday a month but I go more often,” she says.

  It was during one such Sunday that Mildred’s Late Late adventure began. There was a crew shooting a documentary about the apparitions in Knock when the producer noticed Mildred dressed in her all-white handmaiden outfit.

  Mildred explains: “They stopped to talk to me and asked would I do the film. I said no problem and they came and filmed me at my house. The Late Late people were reviewing the documentary so they rang the producer asking for Fr. Richard Gibbons (Knock Parish Priest), Mr. Byrne (Knock business owner) and myself. It was a lovely experience.”

  Mildred was the star of the show that Friday and made the point that women should play a more prominent role in ceremonies at Knock and within the Catholic Church in general. She certainly hadn’t forgotten her roots as a member of one of the only all-girl showbands around. A lesson for younger readers that ‘Girl Power’ didn’t just begin in the 1990s with The Spice Girls!

  Mildred’s story certainly doesn’t end here. She comes across as a woman who’s determined to squeeze every drop out of life. As well as playing with the Castlerea band, she also has a regular slot on Midwest Radio and volunteers at Mayo General Hospital once a week.

  Before I left, she had some words of wisdom: “I got more opportunities in later life and was able to take them. I had more life experience you see, and the opportunities weren’t there when I was young. My one piece of advice to anyone would be…don’t try and imitate people, be yourself. Get out there and give whatever you’re doing 100 per cent!”

  With Mildred’s positive outlook and outgoing attitude, it would take a brave man to bet against yet another high profile appearance in the future.