14 Aug 2022

A musical fantasy as two Donegal legends Johnny Doherty and Rory Gallagher 'meet up'

A musical fantasy as two Donegal legends Johnny Doherty and Rory Gallagher 'meet up'

Ciarán Tourish and Seamie O'Dowd shortly after they finished their gig on Saturday.

More than one hundred people enjoyed what already is being regarded as one of the highlights of the 40th anniversary Ballyshannon Folk Festival.

The 90 minute session in the Bridgend Bar on Saturday afternoon featuring modern day legends Ciarán Tourish,  the renowned Donegal fiddler and Seamie O’Dowd, the Sligo rock and blues virtuoso, was an idea from long time festival devotee Anthony Travers.

It was a magical experience as the two musicians briefly winged it and merged their playing into something sublime that will live long in the memory. 

As ideas go, this was probably one of the best of them and should Anthony or others be so inclined, it’s an idea that certainly has more potential for Ballyshannon and for those who love all sorts of music.

‘Where Johnny met Rory’

Under the title ‘Where Johnny met Rory’, the idea, MC Dr Caoimhin MacAoidh explained to a captive audience, was simple enough:  to recreate “the musical conversation Rory Gallagher and Johnny Doherty might have had if Rory and Johnny had actually met at the Folk Festival in Ballyshannon at some stage over the 40 golden years of the


A tribute to two musical giants in their lifetimes who have become legends in the years since they died, Dr MacAoidh explained the meeting of the two was not entirely a flight of fancy as they shared more than a love of music, albeit very different genres.

“It is one of those strange synchronicities that the birthplace of Ireland’s foremost rock and blues guitarist Rory Gallagher would also be the final residence of one of Ireland’s magical fiddle players Johnny Doherty.

“They shared 32 years in this life and now share eternity together, perhaps united by the molecules of the Rock Hospital in Ballyshannon.”

From start to finish the mutual respect between Tourish and O’Dowd was obvious and both gave those fortunate to be there a master class in turning something from ‘the seat of their pants’ into pure gold.

When the big tent is long rolled up this year and resting for its winter slumber in some warehouse, I suspect those who were there will think back at 90 minutes that probably was one of the highlights of this year’s 40th anniversary of the Ballyshannon Folk & Traditional music festival.

The festival continues all day today (Saturday) with street music, pub sessions and big acts tonight and on Sunday in the marquee. Blessed with good weather on opening day Friday and today, the “calculated gamble” to go back ‘to the tent’ appears to have worked with great reaction to Friday night’s gig where Mundy and Altan were among the highlights.

In full flow earlier on Saturday, Kieran and Seamie in a session dubbed "Where Johnny met Rory"

The following information on John Doherty and Rory Gallagher was posted on the folk festival online platforms and is an interesting read also:

Who was John Doherty:

John Doherty was born in 1900 in Ardara, County Donegal. He came from a famous clan of Irish Travellers who worked as tinsmiths and horse traders. His birth certificate was uncovered in recent years by researcher Caoimín MacAoidh, allowing confirmation that his date of birth was 1900, rather than 1895, which has been recorded in error in several publications.

His father Mickey ‘Mor’ Doherty was a fiddler as were a number of his brothers and sisters. Mickey Mor married Mary McConnell, a singer (whose brothers Alec and Mickey were well-known musicians in south Donegal). Together they had nine children and John was the youngest.

John Doherty - image copyright Comhaltas.

In an interview in the 1970s he said that he had to practice in the barn as a teenager, and was not allowed to play fiddle in the company of his parents until he had mastered “Bonny Kate”. ]

He heard recordings of James Scott Skinner and imitated his style. His brother, also called Mickey, tended to play more in the style of Michael Coleman.

From the late 40s to the 1970s John was sought out by collectors. The Floating Bow contains recordings made between 1968 and 1974 by Professor Evans in the town-land of


This collection arguably comprises the most extensive collection of his music, and was made when some argue Doherty was at his peak as a musician. He played with much ornamentation, including bowed and slurred triplets, rolls, ‘cuts’, mordents (particularly on long ‘first-finger’ notes), doublestopping (based on standard western music principles, normally highlighting the tonic and third of a particular chord).

Heavily influenced by the Scottish bagpiping tradition, he often replicated the sound of the pipes’ drones, by either retuning the fiddle to an open tuning (‘scordatura’), or by maintaining the fourth finger on the string below the pitch of the melody.

According to Alex Monaghan in the magazine, “The Living Tradition”, he was a significant influence on the fiddle playing of The Chieftains and Altan.

John Doherty was also a storyteller, and some of his tales appear on the liner notes to “The Floating Bow”.

Sometimes he did not carry a fiddle with him on his travels because he knew that, if needed, he was always likely to be provided with one when he visited “house dances” (folk music

parties hosted by a family in their own house). The Floating Bow was played on a borrowed fiddle (owned by Professor


John was first recorded in 1945 by The Irish Folklore Commission during one of his trips to Teelin in Southwest Donegal and later by the BBC (Peter Kennedy) in Belfast in 1953.

10 of these 1953 recordings were issued on Traditional Dance Music of Ireland (various artists). Kennedy’s recordings were later issued in three volumes on the Folktrax label, the first of which was Pedlar’s Pack (1964). These recordings are available from Topic Records who now own the copyright.

Paddy Glackin first met him in 1965, and was heavily influenced by John. He could probably be described as the last of the travelling fiddlers.

Johnny Doherty died in Ballyshannon Rock Hospital, in 1980.

Who was William Rory Gallagher:

William Rory Gallagher; 2 March 1948 – 14 June 1995) was an Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader. Born in the Rock Hospital Ballyshannon and brought up in Cork, Gallagher recorded solo albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, after forming the band Taste during the late 1960s.

He was a talented guitarist known for his charismatic performances and dedication to his craft. Gallagher’s albums have sold over 30 million copies worldwide. He received a liver transplant in 1995, but died of complications later that year in London, UK at the age of 47.

The famous Rory Gallagher statue at the Diamond in Ballyshannon.

Early life

Rory’s father Daniel was employed by the Irish Electricity Supply Board, who were constructing a hydro-electric power plant on the Erne River in Ballyshannon at the time. The family moved, first to Derry City, where his younger brother Dónal was born in 1949. His mother, Monica, and the two boys then moved to Cork, where the brothers were raised. Rory attended North Monastery School. Daniel Gallagher had played the accordion and sang with the Tír Chonaill Céilí Band while in Donegal; their mother Monica was a singer and acted with the Abbey Players in Ballyshannon. The theatre at the Abbey Arts Centre in Ballyshannon where Monica once acted is now called the Rory Gallagher Theatre.

Both sons were musically inclined and encouraged by their parents. At age nine, Gallagher received his first guitar from them. He built on his burgeoning ability on ukulele in teaching

himself to play the guitar and perform at minor functions.

After winning a talent contest when he was twelve, Gallagher began performing in his adolescence with both his acoustic guitar and an electric guitar he bought with his prize money. However, it was his purchase three years later of a 1961 Fender Stratocaster for £100 that became his primary instrument and most associated with him for the span of his lifetime.

Gallagher was initially attracted to skiffle after hearing Lonnie Donegan on the radio. Donegan frequently covered blues and folk performers from the United States. He relied entirely on radio programmes and television. Occasionally, the BBC would play some blues numbers, and he slowly found some song books for guitar, where he found the names of the actual composers of blues pieces.

While still in school, playing songs by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, he discovered his greatest influence in Muddy Waters. He began experimenting with folk, blues, and rock music.

Unable to find or afford record albums, Gallagher stayed up late to hear Radio Luxembourg and AFN where the radio brought him his only exposure to the actual songwriters and musicians whose music moved him most.

Although Rory played the mandolin, it was not his main instrument. He is reported to have played it on four songs: Going To My Hometown, Brute Force and Ignorance, I’m Not Surprised, and Leaving Town Blues.

He also taught himself to play slide guitar and later began learning to play alto saxophone, bass, mandolin, banjo, and the coral sitar with varying degrees of proficiency.

By his mid-teens, he began experimenting heavily with different blues styles.

Rory began playing after school with Irish showbands, while still a young teenager. In 1963, he joined one named Fontana, a sextet playing the popular hit songs of the day. The band toured Ireland and the United Kingdom, earning the money for the payments that were due on his Stratocaster guitar. Gallagher began to influence the band’s repertoire, beginning its transition from mainstream pop music, skirting along some of Chuck Berry’s songs and by 1965, he had successfully moulded Fontana into “The Impact”, with a change in their line-up into an R&B group that played gigs in Ireland and Spain until disbanding in London. Gallagher left with the bassist Oliver Tobin and drummer to perform as a trio in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1966, Gallagher returned to Ireland and, experimenting with other musicians back home in Cork, decided to form his own band Taste, a blues rock and R&B power trio, in 1966.

Initially, the band was composed of Gallagher and two Cork musicians, Norman Damery and Eric Kitteringham however, by 1968, they were replaced with two musicians from Belfast,

featuring Gallagher on guitar and vocals, drummer John Wilson, and bassist Richard McCracken. Performing extensively in the UK, the group played regularly at the Marquee Club, supporting both Cream at their Royal Albert Hall farewell concert, and the blues supergroup Blind Faith on a tour of North America.

Managed by Eddie Kennedy, the trio released the albums Taste and On The Boards, and two live recordings, Live Taste and Live at the Isle of Wight. The latter appeared long after the band’s break-up shortly after their appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

Solo career

After the break-up of Taste, Gallagher toured under his own name, hiring former Deep Joy bass player Gerry McAvoy to play on his self-titled debut album, Rory Gallagher.

It was the beginning of a twenty-year musical relationship between Gallagher and McAvoy; the other band member was drummer Wilgar Campbell. The 1970s were Gallagher’s most prolific period. He produced ten albums in that decade, including two live albums, Live in Europe and Irish Tour ’74.

November 1971 saw the release of the album Deuce. In the same year he was voted Melody Maker’s International Top

Guitarist of the Year, ahead of Eric Clapton. However, despite a number of his albums from this period reaching the UK Albums Chart, Gallagher did not attain major star status.

Rory played and recorded what he said was “in me all the time, and not just something I turn on …”.

Though he sold over thirty million albums worldwide, it was his marathon live performances that won him greatest acclaim. The band line-up line-up which included Rod de’Ath on drums and Lou Martin on keyboards performed together between 1973 and 1976. However it dropped down to just bass, guitar and drums, and his act became a power trio.

Other releases from that period include Against the Grain, Calling Card, Photo-Finish, and Top Priority.

The Gallagher band performed several TV and radio shows across Europe, including Beat-Club in Bremen, Germany and the Old Grey Whistle Test. Along with Little Feat and Roger McGuinn, Gallagher performed the first Rockpalast live concert at the Grugahalle, Essen, Germany in 1977. Rory collaborated with Jerry Lee Lewis and Muddy Waters on their respective London Sessions in the mid-1970s. He played on Lonnie Donegan’s final album. He was David Coverdale’s second choice (after Jeff Beck) to replace Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple.

In the 1980s Rory continued recording, producing Jinx, Defender, and Fresh Evidence. After Fresh Evidence, he embarked on a tour of the United States. In addition he played with Box of Frogs - a band formed in 1983 by former members of The Yardbirds. Becoming obsessive over details and plagued by self-doubt, Gallagher nevertheless retained a loyal fan base.

Gallagher was always associated with his well-worn sunburst 1961 Stratocaster (Serial Number 64351), (which is now officially retired.) It was reputedly the first in Ireland, and was ordered from Fender by Jim Connolly, a showband member performing with The Irish Showband.

Connolly ordered a cherry red Stratocaster through Crowley’s music shop in Cork in 1961. When Fender shipped a sunburst Stratocaster instead, it was put up on sale in 1963 as a second-hand instrument, which Gallagher bought in August 1963 for just under £100 at Crowley’s Music Store on Cork’s McCurtain Street. He justified the investment by saying it would save money as he could play rhythm and lead and save money on a rhythm player in the band.

The guitar was extensively modified by Gallagher. The tuning pegs are odd (5 Sperzel pegs and one Gotoh), and all of these have been found to be replacements. Second, it is thought that the nut has been replaced and interchanged a number of times. Third, the pickguard was changed during Gallagher’s time with Taste. Only the middle pick-up is original. The final modification was the wiring: Gallagher disconnected the bottom tone pot and rewired it so he had just a master tone control along with the master volume control. He installed a 5-way selector switch in place of the vintage 3-way one.

Most of the paint was removed from the guitar in 1967 or 1968 during the Taste period, as evidenced from contemporary photographs. No further paint loss was seen over the subsequent twenty five years. Although the Strat was left abandoned in a rainy ditch for days after being stolen from the back of a tour van in Dublin, this is not believed to have caused any ill effect.

The paint removal and appearance of extensive road wear was in keeping with Gallagher’s public persona and image. A borrowed Telecaster was also stolen at the same time but never recovered.

When the Strat was recovered after two weeks, Gallagher swore he would never sell it or paint it.

It also had a period of time of having a replacement neck, with the original neck bowing due to the amount of moisture it absorbed during continuous touring. The neck was taken off and left to settle, and was eventually reunited with the Strat after returning to its correct shape. Other quirks include a ‘hump’ in the scratch plate which moves the neck pick-up closer to the on the bass side, and a replacement of all of the pick-ups, though this replacement was due to damage rather than the perception of a tonal inadequacy.

One final point of interest is that one of the clay double-dot inlays at the 12th fret fell out and was replaced with a plastic one, which is why it is whiter than the other clay inlays.

By the time of his final performance on 10 January 1995 in the Netherlands, he was visibly ill and the tour had to be cancelled.

Gallagher was admitted to King’s College Hospital in London in March 1995, and it was only then that the extent of his ill health became apparent; he died on 14 June 1995, at the age of 47. He was unmarried and had no children. Gallagher was buried in St Oliver’s Cemetery, on the Clash Road just outside Ballincollig near Cork City, Ireland.

His headstone is a replica of an award he received in 1972 for International Guitarist of the Year.

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