The four Diver sisters grew up in a family rich with the tradition of Irish Ceili music and song and here is a little bit about their Irish roots background.
The girls maternal grandfather Richard Fitzgerald came from Killenaule, Co Tipperary and grew up in a very musical family of seven. Richard emigrated to the U.S. and met and married the girls' grandmother Ann Begley from Carrickmore Co Tyrone. They settled in Elizabeth New Jersey where the three oldest children were born, Richard Jnr (Richie), Barney and the girls' mother Kathleen.
Ann then returned to Ireland where she raised the family and established a hotel that in the following years became famous as a home of great Irish music and tradition. Richard Snr who stayed on for a while in the U.S. after Ann and the children returned to Ireland sent home a piano accordion to the family and Richie immediately showed an interest in the accordion. As there was no one around to show him how to play, he worked on it for a while on his own and started to show an incredible talent for music. His mother then put this talent to good use by having him play in the little shop and cafe she had attached to the hotel, the aim was to attract in customers. At this stage Barney had also started to play the accordion and would harmonise with Richies lead playing.
A talent scout from Belfast who happened to be passing the shop one day, noticed the crowd gathered outside and heard the great music coming from inside. He managed to get in and ordered a cup of tea and spent some time listening to the boys playing. He was at that time involved in promoting Jimmy Shand, the great and legendary Scottish band leader who happened to be touring Ireland. He was so impressed with the playing of both Richie and Barney that he asked them to join the members of the Assaroe Ceili Band (a local group from Ballyshannon) who had been hired as a support act to the Jimmy Shand Band for the tour. This resulted in the Fitzgerald brothers first tour of Ireland.
When this tour ended, Richie formed his own Ceili band 'The Richard Fitzgerald Ceili Band' which Kathleen later fronted as lead vocalist. The band went from strength to strength, so much so that they were voted Irelands Top Band in a competition sponsored by RTE and Michelstown Creameries. The prize was 15 minutes of airtime every week featuring the bands music. This continued for 11 years and subsequently led to widespread acclaim for the band and their music.
The addition of Kathleen as lead vocalist added a new and interesting element to the bands sound. Kathleen's hit song Beautiful Bundoran, written by Waterford native Mai O Higgins, and her renditions of other popular ballads increased the popularity of the band at home and with the Irish overseas. This catapulted the band to new heights which could be seen clearly in the band's constant sold out shows of the late 60's and into the 70's. They recorded for His Masters Voice (HMV), Dublin and Polygram records, performing for both the BBC and RTE TV channels.
Coming from such a musical family background it was no wonder that the girls started playing at an early age. Their early musical training came from the local nuns and this can be seen in the early recordings of Marie Thérèse and Gráinne aged 3 yrs old respectively. Through their mother and uncles they learnt a massive repertoire of Irish folk, pub and ballad songs as well as the music of O'Carolan.
The girls also were exposed to the constant sounds of music in the house as their mother Kathleen continued to make recordings after she left the band so musicians were always down at the house rehearsing and their Uncle Ritchie came down every Friday night to teach them the traditional tunes that had made the Fitzgerald Ceili Bnad so famous. Their dad, who had served in the U.S. army when he was young, also had a large record collection of old time country music collected during the time he spent in the U.S., and these with the traditional Ceili tunes and songs learned from their mother and uncles became the soundtrack to the girls early life.
It was only natural that the girls would form a band of their own and they were named (the very un-original) Diver Sisters. This became their summer job and they played for the tourists in hotels around the county and got a lot of the local support slots to big artists at the time such as Paddy Reilly, The Dubliners and The Furey Brothers and Davey Arthur to name but a few. During this time they also toured the UK, Scotland and Germany extensively with their mother as lead singer and learned many hundreds of songs, including emigrant ballads that were popular at the time with a large amount of ex-pats that came to their shows. This was a great learning curve for the girls and has shaped them into the performers they are today.
When the girls reached their teens they decided that they had outgrown the name the Diver Sisters and so adopted the name The Screaming Orphans and thus the second stage of the band came into being. Although they are known for their pop songs they have never lost touch with their roots and can easily switch from an original pop song into a trad tune or a verse of the Galway Shawl.