Legendary cabaret artiste’s life and music remembered and celebrated

By Mary Dennehy

ONE of the country’s cabaret legends took his final bow on February 17, when the well-known Tallaght performer and father-of-five, Tony Johnston, passed away.

Dean Swift, known at home as Tony Johnston, lived in Old Bawn for the past 45 years with his wife Maureen – where he kept neighbours entertained as he practiced daily in his box-room studio.

Tony Johnston

Over the years, Tony, with his band Dean Swift and the Boys, was a resident act in venues such as the Embankment, Johnny Mac’s in Blessington and Molloys in Tallaght Village – where they played themselves and introduced guest heavy hitters such as Dickie Rock and Red Hurley.

In later years, Tony also brought his music into local nursing homes, including Kiltipper Woods, Glencarrig in Firhouse and Whitechapel, where he entertained residents weekly.

Tony Johnston 2

Tony was part of Ireland’s golden cabaret era and according to his wife Maureen, whom he met when he was only 13, music and family was his life.

“Music was Tony’s life, music and his family that was what was important to him”, Maureen told The Echo. 

“I met Tony when we were 13 and he always loved music, singing and dancing.”

Meeting when they were just 13 on Donore Avenue, South Circular Road, a young Tony and Maureen became a couple at the age of 15 and four years later they tied the knot – moving to Old Bawn in Tallaght in the early seventies.

Maureen, who had five girls with Tony, said: “One night Tony was doing an impression in a local pub when he was spotted and his career started from there.

“He loved every minute of it and while Dean Swift was his stage name, he used to call himself Tony, Harry, Henry and Anthony – people used to be calling and I’d be sending them away thinking they had the wrong house.

“Even though it used to belt it out on stage and was always in the limelight, Tony was quite quiet off stage and was just into his family and music.

Tony Johnston 1

“He’d come home from work as an electrician and would be straight upstairs to the box-room where he practiced with his piano.

“In the summer some of the neighbours would ask me to tell Tony to sing louder when he was practicing and they’d stand out at their walls for the evening with a cuppa and listen.”

She added: “I would have been lost without all of the great neighbours who live on my street, and my children, since Tony got sick – I can’t thank them enough.”

Tony passed away on February 18 at the age of 72 and was celebrated and remembered at a service in Newland’s Cross Crematorium – during which Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water was played, the song that Maureen most liked Tony singing.

 

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