The following story, I am assured, is absolutely true and it is a fascinating tale of hidden treasure in Carrick-on-Suir, of a sort at any rate. The treasure in this instance is an old Fender Stratocaster guitar. To those who don’t know about such instruments, I should explain that the Fender Stratocaster with its double cutaway body is arguably the most iconic of all rock instruments and its shape has been used in logos for some of the biggest concerts in the world.

The US Fender company was founded by a man named Leo Fender who was born in California in 1909 and died in 1991. He invented the first solid-body electric guitar to be mass-produced known as the Fender Broadcaster. He went on to create a range of superb guitars and basses and the famous Stratocaster first hit the shops in 1954 and has been a much copied best seller ever since. In the mid 1960s, Leo Fender sold his company to the giant CBS Corporation which continued to manufacture and sell the famous range of instruments under the Fender name.

However, as they years went by, enthusiasts and collectors eagerly sought out guitars that had been made by Leo’s company prior to the takeover and the phrase ‘Pre CBS’ entered the language of guitarists all over the world. Such guitars became quite valuable and even more sought after were guitars that had been worked on by Leo himself.

Our part of the story begins in the early 1970s in Michael Foley’s Music Store in Carlow where a second-hand Stratocaster was for sale. Brendan Ryder, the well-known singer and guitarist with the band Tweed, bought the guitar. Nobody can quite recall but it seems likely that Brendan paid over some money and used an old amplifier or some other piece of equipment as a part trade-in. Either way, he used the Stratocaster for some time before he swopped it with Carrick singer/guitarist Andy Burrows for a Fender Telecaster which was said to have a sharper ‘cut’ than the Stratocaster. Andy played the guitar at numerous gigs around Carrick, Waterford and the South East before deciding that an electrified acoustic guitar was better suited to his needs. The story gets a little muddy at this stage but it would be fair to say that the guitar spent a lot of time under Andy’s bed but it was also borrowed from time to time by various people so it was well travelled around the Carrick and Waterford area.

Then, relatively recently, the Carrick born and Dublin based jazz guitarist, Ger Kiely, bought the guitar from Andy Burrows. Ger used it as one of his instruments at gigs and, on one occasion, it caught the eye of one of Ger’s friends, Harry Crosby, who is the owner of the Point Depot or ‘O2’ as it is now known. Harry ended up buying the guitar from Ger and duly told his friend, Dave ‘The Edge’ Evans of U2, about his purchase. The Edge had a look at the guitar and suggested to Harry that, perhaps, he should have it restored by an expert and helpfully supplied him with the name of a person in London who had previously worked on U2 instruments.

So, across the sea to London went the Carrick Stratocaster and into the workshop of the restorer who immediately set about carefully dismantling its various components. And (imagine claps of thunder and flashes of lightening here) as he separated the guitar’s neck from the body, out dropped the back of a cigarette packet signed on the blank, white part by none other than Leo Fender! It was known that when Leo personally worked on an instrument he always tore up one of his cigarette packs which were suitably thin, signed it and screwed it deep into the neck of the instrument.

Further examination of the instrument unearthed the letter L stamped into the guitar’s chrome plate which signified it was one of about ten guitars that were hand-built by Leo Fender. The Carrick Stratocaster really was a piece of treasure. Needless to say, there was great excitement in the music world at this new discovery and, the last we heard, Harry Crosby turned down an offer of €500,000 for the guitar. The lads in Carrick are just a little sick!

Incidentally, the Carrick guitarist and bandleader, Gay Brazel, who would have played with Brendan Ryder in Tweed, also has a Pre CBS Stratocaster that is actually some months older than the instrument in question. But, even though it is a valuable guitar, it wasn’t hand-built by Leo Fender so it doesn’t have the required provenance to propel it into the superstar league.

The young and very busy Louis Walsh

Still on an entertainment theme, X-Factor judge and Westlife manager Louis Walsh is one of the most famous names and faces on television at present but many of his younger fans don’t know that he cut his managerial and marketing teeth in the showband business.

Recently, the Athlone based Westmeath Independent newspaper was trawling through its archive when it unearthed one of the earliest public utterances of the superstar manager.

What materialised was an interview with the late showband singer, Doc Carroll of the Royal Blues (his big hit was ‘Old Man Trouble’), conducted 37 years ago this month. Credit for much of the information in the interview is given to 17-year-old Louis Walsh who, at that stage, had been the band’s PRO for two years. He certainly started young! Acknowledging the great work Louis was doing for the Royal Blues, Doc Carroll pointed out that the young man had successfully combined his PRO work with preparations for his Leaving Certificate which he had just passed with honours in Art, Geography and History.

Property raffles are back

Remember, years ago, when there was a rash of people raffling pubs often by selling tickets to tourists from the United States who really fancied the idea of owning ‘ a real piece of old Ireland’. Well the concept is back and there was a lot of publicity last week

about an out-of-work Limerick man who can’t afford his home-loan payments so he intends to raffle his €400,000 house in order to pay off his mortgage and emigrate to Australia.

Thirty-nine year old Tony Browne from Corbally is waiting to be granted a lottery licence and, when that comes through, he will attempt to sell 800 tickets at €500 each over a one-month duration. His sister, who is a solicitor, is handling all the arrangements to make sure everything is legal and transparent and, if successful, he will be able to pay off his loan and still walk away with about €20,000.

New poor

Listening to a member of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society last week, I heard her describe many of the new poor in this country as ‘people with cars parked outside cold houses with empty fridges’. It was a devastating phrase that really hit home because, without doubt, there is a lot of hidden poverty and hardship out there.

That golfer was no lady!

A man walked into the clubhouse at Waterford Golf Club the other day and noticed a friend sitting in a corner wearing a neck brace. He sat down and asked his friend what had happened. “Well”, said the injured man who was clearly in a lot of discomfort, “I was driving down the 17th. when I hit my ball into the rough. I was searching for my ball when I spotted a lady golfer doing the same thing and, having located my own, I did the gentlemanly thing and offered to help her.

“There was no sign of it but then I noticed a cow in the next field behaving very oddly and furiously swishing its tail. So I went over and had a look and, believe it or not, there was a golf ball stuck in the poor animal’s behind. I lifted up its tail and called out to the lady. ‘Madam, does this look like yours?’ And that’s when she hit me in the neck with her six-iron.”