You may not know him as Cathal McCann but there are not too many who don’t know The Singing Breadman.
Indeed he is so famous that cards from as far as way as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Hong Kong have arrived at his Craigavon home, despite being only addressed to the Singing Breadman.
And it was the famous Hughie Green star, presenter of Opportunity Knocks, who gave him that moniker way back in the late 60s and it has stuck to this day.
Cathal, though grew up in Cushendall, and arrived in his father’s home town of Lurgan after Kennedy’s bakery was closed and he was out of work.
He stayed with his aunt Elizabeth Toman in Kilwilkie and travelled to work in Belfast before getting a job with Filbins bakery in Lurgan 55 years ago.
Though he retired as a breadman eight years ago, the 72-year-old had 47 years of unbroken service with the firm.
“I never had a day off sick,” he revealed though he does remember a time in early days when a lorry collided with his bread van and the fire service had to cut him out. But even that didn’t stop him and he was back on the road the following week.
In 1967, Cathal went to Manchester to appear as a contestant on the popular talent show Opportunity Knocks - the X-Factor of its day.
“I got on very well, said Cathal. He explained that before he sang on the show he was interviewed by Hughie Green who asked him what he did for a living. Cathal told him he was a breadman and Hughie said: “Well know you will be known as the Singing Breadman.”
After that his singing career rocketed and he even shared the bill with huge stars such as Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey.
Cathal recalled how he played gigs every night, in England and in “every hole in the hedge in the north of Ireland2.
It wasn’t easy playing all those gigs with an early start as a breadman. “I was getting home maybe at 1am or nearly 2am and then getting up to be on the road again at six in the morning but you just kept going on.
“I loved it. I made an awful lot of friends,” he said.
His highlights were winning dozens and dozens of cups at singing competitions across Ireland. Cathal also made two LP records, Red Sails in the Sunset and Songs of Ireland.
However the dozens of cards he has received from people all over the world over the past 40 years has been a constant pleasure to Cathal and his wife Patricia.
He has had some fantastic cards from all over the world including from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, from Hong Kong, from Mexico plus from MyJava, from the Floating Market in Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Vatican.
“When anyone was going away abroad I would ask them to send me a postcard. Half the time all they put on the card was ‘The Singing Breadman” Lurgan and it got to me’.
The postmen all know him and usually deliver them but sometimes the people in the sorting office would write down his address in Drumglass for new postmen who maybe didn’t know where he lived.
“I mind Jackie Balmer. He worked in the post office and he told me they were sorting out the letters and someone asked ‘Who’s the Singing Breadman’ and everybody at once shouted out, that’s Cathal McCann,” he said.
“If you asked someone in Lurgan, Do you know Cathal McCann and they probably would say no but if you said do you know Cathal the Singing Breadman, and they would know me alright,” adding that he had his name proudly displayed on the side of his bread van for years,
He often got asked to sing a song when he was out delivering bread. “If it was somebody’s birthday, I would have gone in and sang happy birthday to them,” he said.
He misses the bread van. “No matter who you were or where you were, I would have waved at you or flashed the lights. You wouldn’t believe how many cards that I got from people I met along the road, waved at and they would have sent cards to me saying, ‘you don’t know us but you waved at us every day and made us smile,’” he said.
His wife Patricia and four children Eamon, Colm, Cormac and Sheena plus his four grandchildren are all very proud of him.
Though he has officially retired, he still works mornings at Lavender Lane in High St, Lurgan and still sings away.