By Martin Gleeson
Tom O’Donnell and Paschal O’Grady were born and bred, or bread and buttered as they themselves would have put it, in the centre of Limerick City – Thomas Street and Ellen Street, to be precise.
Tom was an active member of the Boy Scouts and became a Scout Master. Paschal joined a few years later.
At a Scout Camp in Dunmore East, there were five troops and the Limerick troop was the host. Tom and Paschal got together and put on a show for them, singing funny songs like The Spaniard that Blighted My Life, and the audience loved them. This was the start of a partnership that lasted for nearly forty years.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Tom and Paschal put on comedy shows in halls and venues all around Co. Limerick. Many were fundraisers for churches, schools, GAA clubs and other sporting bodies.
During their travels, they shared the stage with stars like Bridie Gallagher, Val Doonican, Josef Locke and Chubby Checker.
Years later, while travelling around the country, Tom or Paschal could show friends the clubhouses and school extensions that might not have been built without their fundraising.
In Limerick they put on their famous Christmas Crackers show in the Mechanics Institute, and later this show became an annual fixture in the City Theatre for fifteen years, usually running for five or six weeks.
Limerick people still talk about the hilarious duo doing their impressions of the two shawlies, Kattie and Nonie. In 1963, the show attracted 63,000 patrons!
When Telefís Éireann opened on January 1, 1961, Tom and Paschal appeared on that very first night in a show called Céad Míle Fáilte. This was followed in 1965 by regular performances in a Country and Western show, Jamboree, which featured artistes like Maisie McDaniel.
Tom and Paschal’s careers took them to the dizzying heights of venues like the Royal Albert Hall in London, which can hold an audience of 4,000.
In 1962 they topped the bill for seven nights at The Theatre Royal in Dublin. But the pinnacle of Tom and Paschal’s success had to be their performance in front of 5,000 people on St. Patrick’s Day in Carnegie Hall in New York. For that reason, the biography of Limerick’s comedy duo, written by Gerard Hannon, is titled From Campfire to Carnegie Hall.
Both comedians were given a Civic Reception by Mayor Maria Byrne in 2010.
The pioneer of comedy, Tom O’Donnell died in February 2013. Paschal still gives the occasional solo benefit performance. And why not? Making people laugh is in his blood.