Wednesday 17 July 2019

Show goes on as The Dubliners pay tribute to Barney

The new Dubliners – Eamonn Campbell, Sean Cannon, Gerry O'Connor, John Sheahan and Patsy Watchorn – in their
dressing room at the National Concert Hall
The new Dubliners – Eamonn Campbell, Sean Cannon, Gerry O'Connor, John Sheahan and Patsy Watchorn – in their dressing room at the National Concert Hall
the original line-up, 1970

Allison Bray

THE Dubliners paid an emotional musical tribute last night to the band's original banjo player Barney MacKenna.

Just a week after he died suddenly at the age of 72 following their 50th anniversary tour, the band dedicated last night's performance at the National Concert Hall in Dublin to 'Banjo Barney' the last surviving member of the original lineup.

It was the first gig that the band played after burying him in Trim, Co Meath, earlier this week and his beloved bandmates fought back tears during last night's rehearsal as they braced themselves to go on stage without him.


"Everything is grand now but when you go out there, with the audience and all that. It's so soon," said guitar and mandolin player Eamonn Campbell.

"I still can't get me head around it. Barney was one of these people who would live forever. We'll do our best, the show must go on," he said.

Quoting one of his legendary "Barneyisms", he added: "It's too late to stop now."

Despite celebrating their 50th anniversary this year after the original band -- including Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly and Ciaran Bourke -- formed at O'Donoghue's pub in 1962, Mr Campbell said no one expected they would go on to play for half a century. "The Dubliners never had long-term plans. We took it one year at a time."

Fellow bandmate Patsy Watchorn (67) said the band decided to carry on with the gig and dedicate last night's show -- part of the 'One City, One Book' celebrations honouring James Joyce's masterpiece 'The Dubliners' to "poor old Barney".

"He's sadly missed. It will be very emotional but we'll just carry on," he said.

Renowned session musician and banjo player Gerry O'Connor (52), performed a rendition of 'Fiddler's Green' in honour of his former teacher and close friend.

"I'm in a very privileged position but it's slightly surreal," he said of taking Barney's place on the stage last night.

"But there's a calmness about us tonight and I think we'll be glad when we come through the other side," he said.

"But if ever there was a person who was born to play the banjo, a combination of a human being and an instrument, it was Barney," he added.

The Dubliners' 1960s classics 'The Fermoy Lassies' and 'Come West Along the Road, which opened the show, were dedicated to Barney's memory.

Fiddler John Sheahan (72), meanwhile, spoke of the wonderful send-off the band gave Mr McKenna at the funeral, which he planned to share with the audience last night.

"It's been a very traumatic week but there's a good feeling and there so many well wishes and messages of sympathy and support. We feel fit enough to give it a go," he said.

He added that they all believed Mr McKenna would have wanted them to go on with the show.

"He's been such a larger than life character for all of these years and contributed so much to the group. There will be a lot of readjusting to do. Even the banter we used to have together and a bit of slagging. That's all going to be missing, so we'll have to readjust to the absence of that," he said.

"It will take a while to see how it feels. But sometimes in life, things come to a natural end beyond which they shouldn't be forced to continue, so we'll keep an open mind," he added.

Meanwhile, their performance, which elicited a standing ovation from the audience, was the highlight of the "flagship" event held to celebrate Mr Joyce's novel from which the late Luke Kelly famously named the band.


Writer and playwright Peter Sheridan -- who directed 'The Borstal Boy' -- read from his childhood memoirs '44'.

It features an anecdote in which his father stood on their snow-covered rooftop in Dublin's East Wall in 1959 for five hours to adjust their TV aerial so they could tune into the BBC.

"When I was writing it, I was very conscious of the homage to James Joyce's 'The Dead' which ends with those wonderful lines 'snow is general all over Ireland'," he said.

Writer Dermot Bolger also read from a selection of his poems, while actor Karl Shiels read passages from 'The Dead'.

Comedian Karl McSavage also entertained with a "potpourri" of impersonations of Dubliners from "D1 to D4".

Irish Independent

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