‘Finest local singer of his generation’ dies aged 86

Leo with performer Jacquelyne Haynes.
Leo with performer Jacquelyne Haynes.

An Irish-born tenor hailed as the region’s “finest singer of his generation” has died in South Tyneside at the age of 86.

 Tributes have been paid to Leo Connolly, who passed away suddenly but peacefully at his home in Thirwell Grove, Jarrow, last week.

The former master shipwright had a reputation as one of the foremost vocal interpreters of traditional songs from his beloved homeland.

Tony Corcoran, secretary of Newcastle’s Tyneside Irish Centre, where Mr Connolly was a frequent performer, said his death was a “massive blow to the heart of the Tyneside Irish community and an irreparable loss to his close family and many friends”.

He added: “Without doubt he was the finest singer of his generation in the North East and if he had an equal in England, I haven’t met him. Indeed Aidan Butler, the RTE producer, said the same to me when Leo sang ‘Christmas 1915’ on the live broadcast from Newcastle in 2009.

“Only a few months ago Aidan asked me if he was still in good voice. I was pleased to report that, despite the death of his wife Sheila last year, he was singing as well as ever. As we sang “Amhrán na bhFiann” recently, ending another Sunday night in the Tyneside Irish Centre , we heard Leo’s mellow tones ringing round the room.

 “Little did we know we’d hear him no more, but how fitting strangely that the last song was the anthem of his beloved Ireland.

“Throughout, he kept on singing and keeping the Irish tradition alive in South Tyneside and beyond. And how he succeeded. The Galway Shawl became his signature tune, as Connemara, where his family came from, was ever close to his heart. He still went back every summer and had just recently returned.”

Mr Connolly is survived by his daughters Maureen and Angelina and grandchildren Martin and Francesca.

He will be received into St Matthew’s RC Church, Jarrow, on Monday, at 5pm, prior to requiem mass on Tuesday, at 9.30am, followed by interment at Jarrow Cemetery at 10.30am.

All are welcome afterwards at the Iona Social Club in Station Road, Hebburn.