Saturday 9 March 2013



The Dublin Legends

When the last founder member of the legendary Irish folk Group The Dubliners, "Banjo" Barney McKenna, died in April 2012 he was mourned not only by his fellow band members but throughout the folk and wider music fraternity. 

His passing away on April 5 at his home in Howth, North Dublin also brought about the end of an era and left the remaining members with a tough decision.
One of his colleagues and close friends, Sean Cannon remembers the colourful character he had worked with for more than 30 years but had known for much longer.

"Banjo" Barney McKenna, the last founder
member of The Dubliners who died in April 2012
“I knew Barney from the 60s. I live in Coventry and when the Dubliners were over this way, mainly in the Town Hall Birmingham, a gang of us would go over, mainly to the Shakespeare at the back of the Town Hall and the sessions would last until the daylight hours.
“I was quite close to him. We would drive all around Britain and then I used to drive my own car and Barney would come with me and we would often take a more scenic route than the others. There was many a time we stopped at a shipyard, as Barney had a great interest in boats and he had couple himself, he kept them at Howth in North Dublin where he lived. So he was very keen to go to these places and whenever we were in Dublin he would invite me to stay at his.
“Barney was a great character he mimed very well and he could take off accents. He would tell stories and anecdotes and he was a great player, I was going to say musician but am not sure what musician means, whether it’s someone who can read music or compose pieces or someone who could play the banjo like Barney. He couldn’t read music, he didn’t have that kind of training, he was a natural as it were.
“Barney’s passing away was a very sad moment. He passed away in the April and we had just received the Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement and we had a big evening at the Lowry. Don McLean was there and June Tabor and her band.”
The death of Barney forced the band members to do some serious thinking about carrying on.
“We toured Britain last March and it was Barney’s last tour with us. We played the Albert Hall among other places which was a great experience and only a few weeks later Barney passed away and all the organisers from the continent came over to pay their respects.

John Sheahan who will pursue his other
 interests of composing and poetry
“Then the morning after the funeral John Sheahan asked us collectively and individually what we were going to do because it was a shock for him as the last of his erstwhile colleagues had gone. We said all the promoters are here and so we should honour the agreements we had made with them at least until the end of the year and then see what happens and that’s what we did.
“We saw out all of our commitments and actually played our last concert in Vicars Street in Dublin. And John in the meantime decided he would bow out. He’d done 48 years with the band, Barney had done 49 and was into his 50th when he passed on. So that’s it, John has retired from being a member of The Dubliners after all these years. But the rest of us thought we might take it a bit further because we weren’t ready to quit and that’s what happening now.
Strangely enough John never thought of himself as an original member even though he joined the band two years after they were formed.
“He was there from 1964 and the band was there in 1962. I think he knew them when they were schoolboys, he knew Barney before the Dubliners were formed so it’s going back a long way.
“John composes a lot and he used to play them on the concerts. He’s also a prolific poet, he has written nearly 200 poems of one kind or another. He wants to dedicate more time to that and publish them. He’s been pretty busy. It occurred to John this was a natural point to call it a day, he was after all the last one, his original colleagues had all passed on.”
While John has decided to move away to pursue other avenues Sean along with fellow former Dubliners Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and newer addition Gerry O’Connor felt they would carry on in some form.

Sean Cannon will continue touring and playing
under the banner of  The Dublin Legends
“We thought we would carry on but John had other ideas and decided that was the cut-off point at the end of last year. So The Dubliners are kind of a protected name so that’s why we now go as the Dublin Legends.
Sean, the only Dubliner from Galway, is pretty confident the loyal army of Dubliners’ fans will continue to support them as they embark on this new phase of their careers.
“By all accounts ticket sales are going well and we will give it our best shot. We will hopefully satisfy people’s expectations in that we will sing all the old hits where people can join in and have a drink and fun night out. That’s not say we won’t do one or two fresh numbers as well. We can at least try to please everybody.
“There was a certain set format with the Dubliners which was a tried and tested formula that worked very well, and why interfere with it, you knew what you were getting. We were playing in Germany once and we went into an Irish pub after the concert, and why wouldn’t you, and people were coming up to me and saying you only played the old songs and then others were saying all I heard was the new stuff but by and large there is a good reaction.
“Our loyal following is in the nature of the music, mostly we play a repertoire of upbeat happier tunes, the jigs, reels, the hornpipes and lively drinking songs etc most of the time. We do some reflective songs, you have to pepper it up with that, it’s what appeals to people, it’s quite remarkable really.
“Our music transcends cultures and languages. One thing The Dubliners were often asked though is what have we got against women, we have never had a woman in the band? I said well we couldn’t get one with a beard and when we did find one she couldn’t sing.”
Although Sean’s association with The Dubliners spans more than three decades he has also done one man shows and even played with his sons James and Robert who have followed him on to the music circuit
“I don’t have any plans to play any more one man shows, however my two sons have gravitated towards music. At times we have done duos and different combinations.
"Recently we were at the Town Hall in Birmingham as a tribute to Mick Hipkiss who lived in the city for many years and he led a band called Drowsy Maggie. It was a sell-out. I was asked if I would do a short turn there and I did and I brought Robert with me and he sang too.”
Sean’s other interests lie outside the world of folk music they are mostly cooking, languages, classical music and opera and although he is 73 he keeps a track of his passions with the latest communications and technologies. His interests in being a polyglot started when he was a young man.
“When I was 21 I went off to Germany and got a job a painter and I spent nine months in Germany, learned to speak German and then I moved to Switzerland with a view to learning French but when I got there, there were only other foreigners in Geneva. I was working on a block of flats and I liken it to the Tower of Babel there was every language Turkish, Italian but I didn’t hear much French.
“I spent nine months there and then moved to Spain and got away with teaching English and I spent a year there and picked up Spanish and now I am learning Latin.
"You can get it on your iPhone and get dictionaries and instructions it’s a whole new world. I even have an ancient Greek dictionary which I refer to from time to time. I write a bit of Latin now and if I give an autograph I write songs will never die in Latin.
“I do sing the odd Spanish song, I even recorded one with The Dubliners, myself and Ronnie (Drew) did a duet we sang Clavelitos. Ronnie was over in Spain too and from time to time we would speak to one another in Spanish.
“I am also interested in classical singing and listening to opera. I was brought up on it really, my mother had an old wind up gramophone and the 78rpm recordings in shellac of John McCormack, Gigli and Caruso from the 40s and 50s and that’s always stuck with me. Maybe somewhere along the line I should have taken a few classical lessons.

The Dublin Legends from left, Gerry O'Connor, Sean Cannon,
Patsy Watchorn and Eamonn Campbell
“I would like to able to sing those classical things and record them, but I don’t have the voice. I don’t have a strong tenor’s voice but I would like to do it. Perhaps religious pieces such as Panis Angelicus which was done superbly by Andrea Bocelli or the other famous arias such Il Donna Mobile or something like that.
“I listen to a lot of folk music as well. I have a lot of records and LPs of folk artists. And using YouTube I can see people such as Kate Rusby who I have known since she was only a school kid.”
The Dublin Legends’ tour should have started early last month, a 15 concert schedule, mainly in Scotland, but unfortunately due to Eamonn needing to undergo some serious surgery that all had to be postponed until May or June.

“I think Eamonn expects to be back on the first date which is March 12 in Dunstable. I hope he makes a good recovery.”

The full itinerary for March is:

March: 12 The Grove, Dunstable; 13 Forum Theatre Malvern; 14 Regent Centre, Christchurch; 15 Town Hall, Birmingham; 16 Royal & Derngate, Northampton; 17 The Lowry, Salford; 18 The Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells; 19 Hall for Cornwall, Truro; 20 New Theatre, Oxford; 21 The Wyvern Theatre, Swindon; 22 The Anvil, Basingstoke; 23 Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage; 24 Cliffs Pavilion, Southend; 25 Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury; 26 The Orchard Theatre, Dartford

For more information about the Dublin Legends’ tour visit,

Other links:

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