There was a real buzz of excitement and not a little nervous anticipation in the Canavan Room in the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre. The U3A Party Piece Class gathered to make a recording with BBC Radio Ulster for the Programme Time Of Our Lives which is aired each Sunday at 2pm. This is the second time Party Pieces have been recorded for the programme. The first one was aired on three different occasions - due to popular demand no doubt!

Geraldine Egan
Geraldine Egan

Party Pieces was formed four years ago. It grew out of the tremendous work accomplished in the drama classes run by Kerry Rooney of Kaleidescope. Once the funding dried up for this particular project we were still able to share our talents with others in this new class. Initially this class was about giving people confidence to do a party piece if requested at any family function, but it has evolved into much more over the years. It now entails outreach to various groups in Residential Homes, Community Groups and to a larger radio audience.

We were happy to meet again with the producer Owen Mc Fadden and Presenter of Time Of Our Lives Colm Arbuckle who immediately put us at our ease. 21 members were recorded, offering a very varied programme, of music, songs and poetry. The Programme which was aired  Sunday 3rd June  and can now be heard on the BBC’s Radio iPlayer, opened and closed with songs from the ukulele group. This group attends classes directed by Vessie and Nikolay Ivanov in Accolade. There was a great variety of songs and poetry to cater for every taste.

I asked four of the people who contributed to the radio programme to reflect their experience of being in the Party Pieces and being recorded for radio. These are their responses.

Geraldine Egan says that although there was a lot of music in her home, she never performed in public as a child. Her father, Gerry Burns had a band, the International Ceili Band and was away from home a lot with recording and playing. Often she recalls he would start to sing in the house and the children would love to join in. Something that delights Geraldine now is that she has brought music and song back into her family. They say that this brings back very special memories of their father.

Joseph Alphonsus Morgan
Joseph Alphonsus Morgan

When she joined Party Pieces Geraldine really wanted to sing but was apprehensive about how the group would respond. The encouragement she has received has given her new confidence so that she really loves and enjoys the class. She has made many new friends, meeting socially as well as in class. Geraldine says “ Its a great way to bring a bit of life and music, love and joy into your life. Its a gift for people who are lonely or who live on their own”

Geraldine especially enjoys the outreach that Party Pieces do to various venues, where she says that residents and carers love the break in routine.  When she sees people join in a song   or enjoy a poem, she is happy that she and the Party Piece group can give something back to others.

Geraldine played the ukelele and sang L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole for the Programme.

Suzette Sweet, born in England and came to Ireland 18 years ago as her two daughters married Newry men.

She recently joined Party Pieces and while she loves the opportunity it affords her to write and do something creative, it is the encouragement of the group that has given her the confidence to stand up and share her writing. Suzette says she has been writing all of her life and refers to her pieces as odes. Party Pieces class has helped her to actually change her mode of writing. Suzette is very excited about being part of a radio programme. When she told her granddaughter in London who is in hospital in Bexley Heath, that she was going to be on Time Of Our Lives, her granddaughter said she knew of this programme. She said “Its a great programme - I've got a famous gran” Suzette feels so proud of this.

“Party Pieces has enhanced and opened up my life, helping me to find new things I could do” says Suzette. When she was only seven she loved when she was asked at school to read a piece from the bible. She couldn’t read because she was so nervous. A little later she asked to join the school choir and was refused and told to sit down. Suzette remembers keenly this rejection but

now she says “I’m living life and enjoying my life”.

Suzette read her own poem  “I’m a grandnan” for the Time of our Lives programme.

Stuart Taylor joined Party Pieces two years ago. He says that if anyone had told him two years ago that he would one day be singing a song on BBC radio he wouldn’t have believed them. Stuart says “All my life I lacked confidence in myself.” This was due to a misdiagnosis that left him  with a high pitched voice for many years. Since he came to Northern Ireland he has had treatment, singing classes and voice production which have helped to deepen his voice. But Party Pieces has given him the confidence to sing a song in public. Stuart is inspired by the encouragement and motivation of the group. He likes the way “It’s alright to make a mistake and know that the group laugh with you and not at you”.

Susette Sweet
Susette Sweet

“I was always very timid and shy but now I can Look people in the eye, talk to them and know that I have something worthwhile to offer” says Stuart.

My Old Man’s a Dustman” is the song Stuart sings on Time of our Lives which will be broadcast on a forthcoming Programme.

Joseph Alphonsus Morgan

Joe has been in Party Pieces for about six years. He says that Party Pieces was just one of the the many classes he joined in the U3A and included, art, drama, singing, and bowling. He adds “I took off at 82 years old.” Initially he liked to sing but he says he was introduced to “three men,” Patrick Cavanagh, WB Yeats and Seamus  Heaney. He says he loves to recite their poems.  Joe has an amazing memory so I ask him how he learns poems that are often quite long? He says that when he goes to bed at night he repeats the lines of the poems over and over for a long time before sleep. In the morning he gets up and writes down the words of the poems. Then there is no difficulty in reciting them out loud as he walks up and down the kitchen. This surely is an exam aid that should be passed on to all students?! I ask Joe what he likes about the Party Pieces class? “Firstly” he says  with a twinkle in his eye “I like the ladies!” Joe reflects on the friendliness of everyone and the talent within the group. I ask Joe is he aware of how members of the class are always happy to see him join the class? He thinks it might be something about him being a nonagenarian (Joe is in his 91st year!) He has been telling all his friends that he is now on Radio Ulster and feels justly proud of this. In Joe’s own words he is a “Great wee man.”

Stuart Taylor
Stuart Taylor

Christmas Childhood by Patrick Cavanagh: is Joe’s Poem on Time of our lives and will be broadcast on a forthcoming programme.

Don’t forget you can listen to all the pieces on the BBC Radio iPlayer


Newry U3A Party Pieces Class are deeply saddened by the very recent deaths of two of its members, Louis O Donnell and Benny Mc Kay. Both of these members gave very generously of their time and talents to Newry U3A.

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