Bernard Noel “Barney” McKenna


Bernard Noel “Barney” McKenna

County Dublin, Ireland
Death 5 Apr 2012 (aged 72)
Howth, County Dublin, Ireland
Burial Trim, County Meath, Ireland
Memorial ID 88086184 View Source

The last surviving member of the original four man lineup of The Dubliners

In the band, he played the banjo/mandolin/melodeon and also did vocals.

Other members of the group were,
Luke Kelly
Ciaran Bourke
Ronnie Drew

Later members to join at various stages included,
John Sheahan, 1964 to 2012,
Bobby Lynch 1964-1965, d. 2 Oct.1982.
Jim McCann 1974-1979, d. 5 Mar. 2015
Seán Cannon, 1982 to 2012,
Eamonn Campbell, 1984 to 2012,
Paddy Reilly, 1984, and 1995-2005,
Patsy Watchorn, 2005 to 2012,

He collapsed at his home in Howth on Thursday morning, in the presence of his friend Michael Howard, a classical guitarist, and was pronounced dead at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, before lunchtime.
He is survived by his partner Tina Hove, and his brother Seán and sister Marie.
He was pre-deceased by his wife Joka Oldert, who died in 1984, and his sister Nuala.

Death Notice.
Published in The Irish Times, Saturday 7 April 2012.

McKENNA Barney (Howth, Donnycarney, Donore, Longwood and Trim, Co. Meath) - April 5, 2012. Suddenly, at his home. Predeceased by his wife Joka. He will be greatly missed by his sister Marie, brother Sean Og, partner Tina, nephews, nieces, cousins,extended family, his colleagues in The Dubliners and his legions of friends and fans. Rest in Peace. Reposing at the Church of the Assumption, Howth, from 3pm to 6.30pm today (Saturday) and at Heffernans Funeral Home, High Street, Trim, from 3pm to 7pm tomorrow (Sunday), with removal from Funeral Home on Monday at 12 noon to Saint Patrick's Church, Trim, to arrive for Funeral Mass at 12.30pm. Funeral afterwards to Saint Loman's cemetery, Trim.
"Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam"

Published in The Irish Times, Saturday 14 April 2012.

Barney McKenna, the last member of the original Dubliners, died as a result of a heart attack at the age of 72. As the band celebrated its 50th year on the road, he still held audiences in thrall with his trademark tenor banjo, his indefatigable, droll wit and his penchant for "Barneyisms". Alongside his widely-revered delicate banjo style, such linguistic sleights of tongue were his calling card. A variation on one of his favourites was "This is a solo, so we'll play it on the banjo and guitar".

Barney, Noel "Banjo Barney" McKenna was born in The Coombe in 1939, and grew up in Donnycarney on the north side of Dublin. His father, Jack McKenna, who played the melodeon, was an Army cook from Trim, Co Meath; his mother, Kathleen Corcoran, was from Dublin. He was the eldest of four children and from a young age was fond of visiting Trim, where he learned the mandolin by ear from his uncle Jim McKenna.

His mother bought him his first Glee Club banjo, in Goodwin's of Capel Street. He was the first musician to tune it from ADGC to a lower octave, EADG, which allowed him to accompany the fiddle of The Dubliners' John Sheahan with finesse. While much has been made of McKenna's and The Dubliners' rambunctious years on the road, he was widely admired for his musicianship and his disarming charisma. With his trademark Breton-style fisherman's cap, he had very natural phrasing and a relaxed sense of rhythm.

The twinning of McKenna's tenor banjo with Sheahan's fiddle were the backbone of The Dubliners' sound (alongside Ronnie Drew's and Luke Kelly's barnstorming vocals of course). But McKenna was also known for his playing of the mandolin and melodeon.

He had a unique plectrum style on the banjo, which Sheahan tried to analyse on occasion, and which has since become known and widely imitated as "the McKenna grip".

Musically, the banjo was a natural extension of McKenna himself. Any musician who knew him spoke of how he embodied the banjo in the same way that Django Reinhardt or Andrés Segovia personified the guitar.

He first encountered Sheahan when they both frequented The Pipers' Club on Thomas Street and The Fiddlers' Club on Church Street. In his graveside eulogy, Sheahan likened these sessions to "serving an apprenticeship for a career that would unite us for 50 years".

He picked up a lot of tunes from Dublin accordion player Sonny Brogan, with whom he played in O'Donoghues, that 1960's Mecca for traditional and folk musicians, and the adoptive home of The Dubliners. He had played for a time with "The Chieftains", before joining The Dubliners in 1962, with Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly and Ciarán Burke.

McKenna's playing style was all embracing. On a set of reels, (which he preferred to play a little on the slow side), such as the Dubliners' trademark opening pair, "Fermoy Lassies" and "Sporting Paddy", he could be wild and exhilarating, yet when he sang a song, he inhabited it completely, as he did on the aptly-titled "I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day" and "I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me". The reels most closely associated with him were "The Mason's Apron", "The High Reel" and "The Maid Behind The Bar".

He had a capacity to immerse himself completely in slow airs too, and one of the last airs he played was a poignant reading of "Ar Éireann Ní Neosfainn Cé Hí", which he played with Sheahan at the funeral of Dara Ó Broin, just a few days before his own death.

He played from the heart, and with emotion, so unsurprisingly with that approach came a certain unpredictability. Alongside his elastic sense of time, his banjo solos could expand from a planned 10 minutes to 20 minutes, embellished by an impromptu lesson in history, conservation or whatever subject was preoccupying him at a given moment.

He made his home in Howth, where the two main strands woven into the tapestry of his life: music and fishing, found real purchase. One acted as a counterbalance to the other. He owned two fishing trawlers, the "Dara Liam" and the "Berni". His diverse interests touched upon the more esoteric aspects of fishing, nature, and the ethos of the American Indian, whom he believed to live in greatest harmony with nature.

As a result of diabetes, he lost the sight in one of his eyes in 2006, which was a source of great frustration to him, and he also suffered a mild stroke some years ago.

This being The Dubliners' 50th year, he had the pleasure of playing sold-out concerts in Christ Church Cathedral, the Royal Albert Hall and Croke Park.

He died peacefully at home in the company of classical guitarist and long-time friend, Michael Howard.

His legacy is his introduction of Irish music to a worldwide audience, and his embedding of the banjo at the heart of Irish traditional music. He died within days of another widely admired banjo master, bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs, with whom he shared a headline bill at the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival in 2004.

His Dutch wife, Joka (née Oldert) and his sister Nuala pre-deceased him. His is survived by his partner, Tina Hove, his sister, Marie, brother Seán Óg, his godson, Phelim Drew, and his many nieces and nephews.

Please note that this bio is incomplete, and will be upgraded on a continuing basis.

Bernard Noël "Banjo Barney" McKenna (16 December 1939 – 5 April 2012) was an Irish musician who played the tenor banjo, mandolin, and melodeon. He was most renowned as a banjo player. Born in Donnycarney, County Dublin), McKenna played the banjo from an early age, beginning because he could not afford to buy the instrument of his choice, a mandolin. He was a member of The Dubliners[1] from 1962 and was the only living member of the original (1962) formation at the time of his death. Prior to joining the Dubliners, he had spent a few months in The Chieftains. In addition to his work on traditional Irish music, he also played jazz on occasion.

Barney used GDAE tuning on a 19 fret tenor banjo, an octave below fiddle/mandolin and, according to musician Mick Moloney, was single-handedly responsible for making the GDAE tuned tenor banjo the standard banjo in Irish music.

Barney remained a great favourite with live audiences, and some of the loudest and most affectionate applause followed the tunes and songs on which he was the featured performer. He was well known for his unaccompanied renditions of songs such as 'South Australia' and 'I Wish I Had Someone to Love Me'. His banjo solos on tunes such as 'The Maid Behind the Bar', 'The High Reel' and 'The Mason's Apron', where he was usually accompanied by Eamonn Campbell on guitar, are often performed to cries of "C'mon Barney!" from audience or band members. Another featured spot in Dubliners performances is the mandolin duet that Barney played with John Sheahan - again with Eamonn Campbell providing guitar accompaniment. As Barney often pointed out to the audience: "It's an Irish duet, so there's three of us going to play it".

Barney's tendency to relate funny, and often only marginally believable, stories was legendary amongst Dubliners fans and friends. These anecdotes became known as Barneyisms, and Barney's friend, and former Dubliners bandmate, Jim McCann has been collecting them for a book.

Barney was a keen fisherman, and many of the songs he has recorded with The Dubliners have been shanties and nautical ballads.

Barney McKenna is mentioned several times in the song 'O'Donoghue's' by Andy Irvine, which describes the Dublin traditional music scene of the early-mid 1960s that found a spiritual home in O'Donoghue's Pub in Dublin's Merrion Row.Legendary Banjo player for the Dubliners.

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  • Created by: John
  • Added: 5 Apr 2012
  • Find a Grave Memorial ID: 88086184
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Bernard Noel “Barney” McKenna (16 Dec 1939–5 Apr 2012), Find a Grave Memorial ID 88086184, citing St. Loman's Cemetery, Trim, County Meath, Ireland ; Maintained by John (contributor 47032041) .