Self-taught musician Fran was one of Wexford's last remaining big band enthusiasts

By Sara Gahan

The late Fran Phillips.
The late Fran Phillips.

Fran Phillips from Talbot Green who sadly passed away following a short stay in hospital, was one of Wexford town's last remaining big band enthusiasts.

Born in 1929, the first of eight children to Jimmy and Kitty Phillips, Fran grew up in Maudlintown with his siblings John, Jim, Madge, Joe, Kathleen, Bridie and Richard.

Fran was a self-taught musician after being introduced to music at a very young age by his father, who was a conductor and founding member of St Patrick's Fife and Drum Band. Fran together with his brothers played for many years with St Patrick's band. He was an accomplished fifer and saxophonist where, in his early days, could regularly be found playing saxophone in the old town hall.

He played with many local bands including New Eire, The Stardusters, Supreme 7 and many of Johnny Reck's and Joe Lowney's bands over the years.

When he wasn't playing music, Fran worked as a master moulder in Pierce's Foundry for many years. He would finish work at 5 p.m. and return home, often heading back out at 8 p.m. where he performed three nights a week in Kelly's Hotel, Rosslare as a member of the resident band.

Aside from Kelly's, he would often play sax in the old Whites Hotel, Pink Panther and the Talbot Hotel Sunday mornings.

When Fran was not on the stage, he could still be found sitting in his chair by the fire listening to Glenn Miller and other artists from the jazz and big band era. In his later years, Fran became a patron of the Sailing Cot Pub, The Faythe where he dished out advice to the regular musicians and critiqued their performance. Fran was also a great handyman in his spare time, always willing to lend a hand to family, friends and neighbours.

In 1955 Fran married his beloved wife Mai who shared his love for music and enjoyed going to see him perform. They were a very united couple and went on to have three children - Liam, Jimmy and Elizabeth.

Fran was a devoted family man and together with Mai they made sure that their family felt loved and supported in whatever they did, the door was always open. Fran's wife Mai suffered a stroke in 2004 where Fran took on the role as carer. His love and devotion to her was unwavering, caring for her at home where she was surrounded by her family until she sadly passed away.

During the funeral service in Bride Street church his coffin was carried out to the tune of Spanish Eyes, one of Fran's favourite songs which was played on the trumpet by former band mate Don Sadler. A fitting tribute to a man who devoted so much of his life to music.

Fran was laid to rest beside his wife Mai in St Ibar's Cemetery, Crosstown. He is sadly missed by his loving sons Liam and Jimmy, daughter Elizabeth, brothers Joe and Richard, sister Bridie in London, his grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, son-in-law, daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law, and extended family and friends.

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