A Visit to the Resting Place of Margaret Barry with Paddy Joe Tighe
I was born on the 29th December 1942 in the village of Ardery in the parish of Aghamore Co. Mayo which is three miles from Tooreen village where the late great Monsignor James Horan of Knock Airport fame worked as a curate from 1944 to 1959. He was born in a village called Tooreen in the parish of Partry near Ballinrobe. In 1958 he introduced the late great Margaret Barry to sing in his renowned Tooreen dance hall. I was not in Tooreen hall that night for some reason.
I first heard her sing on Raidio Eireann as it was known back in the late 1950’s. Little did I realise then that I would have the pleasure of working with her in the music business in later years. She was born in Peter Street Cork City New Year’s Day 1917. Her father Tim Cleary was an occasional accompanist for silent films during the 1920’s. Her maternal grandfather Bob Thompson was a well – known uileann piper who took the top prize at the Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1898.
She was only 12 years of age when her mother Mary Thompson – Cleary died. She performed her first public singing at the age of 13 during a period following the death of her mother and her father having developed another relationship. Her father and eventual stepmother travelled the country with her on tour. Her father took a job in a circus in the town of Macroom, Co. Cork. She left home and was by herself at the age of 16. She took her mother’s name after her father got married; she travelled by bicycle from place to place and sang at fairs, markets and cinema queues. She lived in lodgings until she got her own horse – drawn caravan. In 1951 Irish folklorist Sean O’ Boyle discovered her when she was busking in Dublin, singing and accompanying herself on the five string banjo. He alerted the American music collector Alan Lomax in time for his Irish field trip of that year. Alan Lomax and his assistant Robin Roberts caught up with Margaret in the town of Dundalk. Alan was so impressed with her that in 1953 he took her to London where he presented her with on BBC television with fiddler and music teacher Michael Gorman from near Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo.
Margaret Barry made several record albums and she and Michael Gorman toured England and Ireland and America. Michael Gorman died in 1970 in London. Margaret had a daughter called Nora and Nora’s husband Paddy Barry was a blacksmith by trade, he was from Co. Kilkenny. Nora was a nicer singer than Margaret in my opinion; I heard a recording of her recently. People used to call Nora and Margaret the Barry sisters. Nora and Paddy Barry had 12 children.
Mary O’ Malley who was born in Skehannagh, Ballintubber, Co. Mayo in November 1919 was a PE teacher and she gave up teaching in the mid 1970’s and went on the music business full time with Margaret Barry and she could play the fiddle and dance to her own music. I was involved in helping them with their playing dates in 1981 an sometimes I would go to their shows and join them with my accordion. Then in 1986 at the time of Monsignor James Horan’s death Margaret Barry came from Laurence town, Co. Down and she stayed in our house in Ardery, Aghamore with my mother and I for three weeks. I had the honour of doing several shows in the pubs with her at that time and we were on Paul Claffey’s programme on Mid – West Radio.
Sadly, Margaret passed to her eternal reward on the 10th of December 1989 and I would have attended her funeral but I did not know the time. However on Sunday 19th of March this year Dermott Fallon and his good wife Brid from Carrowlaur, Drumkeerin, Co. Leitrim who are good friends of mine called here to Ballyhaunis in their car and brought me to Laurence town, Co. Down to visit Margaret’s grave. It was a sad visit but we had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Barry’s three grandsons, Eugene, Paddy and Ronan Barry. We were in Eugene’s house, his wife was not there but his lovely locking and lovely mannered daughters Hannah and Jessica and son Eoin were there. Paddy Barry is a good singer and guitar and accordion player. Eugene is learning banjo and played for us. Their sister Bernadette Barry was there her name is Siobhan and she is a lovely girl also. She and her cousin Hannah sang a song while Paddy Barry played guitar and I the accordion. So I have played with Margaret Barry, her grandson Paddy and two of her great granddaughters Siobhan and Hannah. I also want to mention Ronan Barry’s little girl was there also but her Christian name escapes me as I write, but she is a lovely looking child. The other girls are teenagers.
We also visited the grave of Margaret Barry’s daughter Nora Barry who died in 1981 aged 45 years and her husband Paddy Barry died in 1992 age 79 years.