The Johnny Doherty Festival in words and pictures

Doireann and Donagh Fee playing in Ardara

Donagh Fee is 12 years old. He and his family had made their first ever to Donegal, and Ardara was the venue of choice, the Corner House in particular.

By the time the Johnny Doherty Festival weekend was over, he had been approached by fans and fellow musicians alike and told he was a star in the making. The young banjo player was in good company...his brother Cian is also an accomplished banjoist and sister Doireann is a tremendous accordion player.

Cian Fee on the banjo

Parents Daithi and Tracey and Auntie Caroline had made the long trip from Mullingar and were knocked out by the scenery of Glengesh, Narin and Portnoo, and cannot wait to return again.

It’s appropriate that a festival which celebrates a fiddler, whose international fans include the legendary Ricky Skaggs, should attract musicians from all over Ireland and beyond. Packed houses were the order of the day...Steve Cooney, Brid Harper and Dermot Byrne packed them into the Beehive, while there was standing room only in the Nesbitt Arms for ‘Cherish the Ladies’. Their accordion virtuoso, and piano player, Kathleen Boyle, is  from Glasgow, daughter of talented musician Hughie Boyle who handed down his love of music to her. In 1999, Kathleen made history as the first graduate gaining a degree in traditional music from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Dancing was the order of the day, inside at workshops and on the street near the Johnny Doherty monument where Ann Conaghan and Connie McKelvey’s performance on a ‘boord’ enthralled the large crowd. Clement Gallagher looked after the Sets and Ceili and I ran into Joe McGuigan who was conducting the Sean-Nos workshop in the Heritage Centre. I met Martin McGinley before he took his trusty fiddle into ‘Nancy’s’ for the afternoon session, while Stephen Gallagher hosted ‘Dance the Tune’ in Riverside Park.

Mercifully, the weather had a bit of manners for most of the weekend, not that a skiff of rain would have dampened anybody’s enthusiasm. In the Corner House, the evergreen ‘Belfast Jimmy’ and the man I christened ‘Ireland’s Willie Nelson’ led the merry band of musicians from all other corners. They had come with tin whistles, banjos and fiddles from Drumsurn and Eglinton in County Derry, while local fiddler Paddy O’Rourke ensured that Johnny’s memory lived on, in that he is a grand-nephew of the Prince himself. I was reminded of a festival some years ago when I was recording a programme outside near Johnny’s memorial, when a visitor from the US looked at the quirky design and enquired: “Are you all commemorating a famous one-armed fiddle player?”

Listen boy, he was so good, many thought he had three arms!

* Photo Gallery by Matt Britton, photos with this story Frank Galligan

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