William Francis Maher McNevin

Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

William Francis Maher McNevin


Stage name: Valentine (Val) Vousden - Actor - Entertainer

Val Vousden – Entertainer

1930's picture is taken from the front cover of his
autobiography 'Val Vousden's Caravan'.
Source: Gloria Pattinson March 2007.

William (Bill) McNevin, whose stage name was Valentine (Val) Vousden was born on 29th January 1885 at Number 2 College Street in Carlow Town. He made his first stage appearance at age of six when he played the part of Tiny Tim in a Christmas Carol in the Town Hall Theatre in Carlow. He had caused some consternation at home that day as he had been missing for several hours and he was located in the Town Hall where he was watching the stage being prepared and the actors rehearsing and since the touring company had no child to play the part they asked Val. Thus begun a lifelong interest in entertainment especially with the theatre.

By the age of ten he was in demand and he regularly performed impressions of local pulpit oratory for the students & lecturers of St. Patrick’s College, the entrance to which is opposite his home on College Street. This early influence of the church so to speak stayed with him all his life as some of his main characters were priests. Also in the shadow of his home on College Street was the Presentation Convent and during his childhood he regularly served as an alter boy in the Nuns Chapel. Ironically this part of the now former Convent will be the new home of Carlow County Museum.

During World War 1 he saw service in France having enlisted as a private while touring in Wales. He was later promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major.

During the early decades of the twentieth century he was undoubtedly one of Ireland’s leading character actors. He toured regularly and extensively in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. From 1926 to approximately 1950 he contributed regularly to Ireland’s national radio station, Radio Eireann, in fact he presented its’ first light entertainment programme. As well as acting he also wrote an extensive collection of monologues and character sketches particularly based around the ordinary people as well as his own experiences of touring the country.
The cover of Val’s book “Recitations, Monologues & Character Sketches” c1945.
Source: Gloria Pattinson March 2007.

He married Pearl O’Donnell from Belfast who was an actress and they had three daughters, Sheila, Mona and Patricia.

Val died in Clonskeagh Hospital, Dublin on June 6th 1951. His funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery was attended by a great host of troupers who regarded him highly as many of them had learned a lot from his acting and stage behaviour. On the day of his funeral his was the only funeral into Glasnevin Cemetery, the largest in Ireland, an event that hadn’t happened for over twenty years previously. As was so often the case during his life on many occasions he had the stage to himself, so it was also in death!

There is a Commemorative Plaque erected over the front door of the McNevin house on College Street, Carlow Town.

Private family picture c1945.
Image by Gloria Pattinson March 2007.

Rathoe is a village located in the middle of County Carlow and this poem describes an elderly emigrant in the USA trying to adjust to his new life and finding that it is a very different world to where he has left and he comes to the conclusion that he would prefer to be where he knows best – on the roads around Rathoe!

'The Roads Around Rathoe '
My son has brought me over, to end my days
Amidst the wealth and comfortin's that meet my worn-out gaze
I'm sure the boy manes well enough, and the wife's treasure, too
She calls me "Pop" an' "Popkins", and smiles with eyes of blue
Upon me every notion, an' sure I've many quare
She roared at my describin' the scenes 'round Carlow fair
Although they do their best to make me feel at home and safe
I'd rather tread this moment the brown of autumn lafe
That makes the thickened carpet along where streamlets flow
I'd rather be a strollin' on the roads around Rathoe.
There were forty friends last evenin' received by the son's wife
I never felt so out of place in all my mortal life,
Oh, glory be - the style o' them would make your head to ache
I wonder if the young ones, now, is any'thin but fake,
The way their mouths was painted, an' their eyebrows straked with black
They had no hair upon their heads to hould a comb or rack
Some 0' them you couldn't tell no difference from the boys,
An' they kicked up holy ructions - oh, they made an awful noise,
If this is called amusement, it's somethin' I'll forego,
I'd rather watch them wrestlin' on the roads around Rathoe.
They have their breakfasts in their beds, an' they call me dinner lunch;
If they're struck with an idea, sure they say: "I've got a hunch",
They never seem to walk at all - it's ayther car or 'plane;
I sometimes think they've got no sinse, they seem to be insane,
They gamble, sure from morn till night, an' never count the loss
Tho' none o' them could take a hand of honest pitch and toss
An' as for cards, such games they play, its bates - och, man alive!
You may as well ax for Heaven as a game of the ould Twenty-Five.
They can't address you dacint; if they're friendly they say "Bo";
Ah, the spakin's very different on the roads around Rathoe
The capers of the ould ones would make you stand and stare
You see ould ones of ninety years with their arms all wrinkled bare;
The ould lads bate the devil for makin' sport an' fun
You should see them in their bathin' dress - a leppin' in the sun
They danced like young ones all last night an' never stopped till four
And when the band was finished, th' ould lads shouted out for more
I think the world has all gone mad, I'm moidhered sick an' sore
You never see an' ould time crowd as we did in the days of yore
I'm going now to see my son, an' ax him lave to go
Across the broad Atlantic, to the roads around Rathoe

The above it is believed was written by Peter Cleary from Rathrush, Rathoe, Co. Carlow and not by Val as many think but it was Val who popularised this poem through his recording of it and its appearance on the primary school circulium.

Val’s Grand and Great Grand children on a visit to Carlow for the Val Vousden Commemoration as part of the Eigse 2004 Arts Festival. Pictured outside the McNevin home on College Street. Photo Carlow County Museum

 Source: Carlow County Museum

Images: Gloria Pattinson March 2007

Carlow historian Alec Burns says a few words at the unveiling of Plaque to William MacNevin on 2 College Street. MacNevin was better known by the stage name Val Vousden. Also in the picture is Kevin Kennedy and Cecil Whelan and pupils from the CBS assembled to sing a few Irish songs. Circa 1990s.
Source: Michael Purcell 2013


Val Vousden – Entertainer

Short note from Gloria Pattinson

My grandfather, William Francis Maher McNEVIN, 1885-1951, wrote a short biography in which he said that his mother, Elizabeth McNEVIN (nee MAHER) worked at St Joseph's National School, Carlow, before her marriage in 1873.

When I followed this up some 10 years ago, the Carlow Education Dept. told me that the school was originally only known as St. Joseph's locally. When it was awarded it's grant it was named "Carlow Female No.2"; shortly afterwards becoming "Carlow Infants", before finally becoming St. Joseph's.

My Gt. Grandmother Elizabeth and her friend Brigit KAVANAGH became Monitors (junior teachers under the Sister's) at the age of 18 in 1868.

William Francis Maher MacNEVIN, 1885-1951 (aka the actor and author Val Vousden). He was born in College Street, Carlow, the son of William McNEVIN and Elizabeth MAHER. I am extremely grateful to the members of Carlow Council and the Curator of Carlow County Museum who have honoured him as a son of Carlow, on the Carlow  County Museum website

Source: Gloria Pattinson Dec 2006

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