Signature reels to open McKenna funeral

Mon, Apr 9, 2012, 01:00

THE REELS with which The Dubliners opened hundreds of concerts through five decades will also open Barney McKenna’s funeral in Trim, Co Meath, this afternoon.

McKenna (72), the last of the original Dubliners, died on Thursday after losing consciousness in his kitchen in Howth, Co Dublin.

The tenor banjo-player’s funeral will open with Fermoy Lassies and Sporting Paddy, performed on banjo by musicians including Gerry O’Connor, Pádraig Drew and the late performer’s brother, Seán Óg McKenna.

“We will play him into the church with those reels, they were our signature reels, opening concerts all over the world for 50 years,” said John Sheahan, fiddle-player and member of The Dubliners since 1964.

He said Seán Keane, fiddle player with the Chieftains, classical guitarist Michael Howard who was with McKenna when he died, singers Fionnuala Howard and Noel O’Grady and President Michael D Higgins were all expected at the funeral.

“Banjo” Barney, as he was affectionately known, has been in repose in Howth and since yesterday in Trim. His funeral Mass takes place at 12.30pm today in St Patrick’s Church in the town before burial at St Loman’s Cemetery.

Although from Donnycarney in Dublin, his family was from Trim and he had a life-long affection for the town. It is understood he had been planning to go to a house he had there on the morning he died.

He started playing banjo at an early age as he could not afford the instrument he would have chosen – the mandolin. He went on later to play the mandolin and the melodeon as well as the banjo.

He played with The Chieftains for a time before founding The Dubliners in 1962 with Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew and Ciarán Bourke.

Kelly died in 1984 and Bourke in 1988. Drew died in 2008.

The way in which McKenna tuned the tenor banjo, using the GDAE scale, emerged as the standard method in traditional Irish banjo playing. He was a favourite with audiences for his unaccompanied renditions of such songs as South Australia and I Wish I Had Someone to Love Me.

His banjo solos included The Maid Behind the Bar, The High Reel and The Mason’s Apron.

He had just recently completed The Dubliners’ 50th anniversary tour of England, as well as concerts in Germany and Dublin.

The band received a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards in February.

His Dutch wife Joka (née Oldert), whom he met in Howth in 1965, died in 1984. His is survived by his partner Tina Hove, sister Marie and brother Seán Óg.