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Barney McKenna

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Barney McKenna
Background information
Birth nameBernard Noël McKenna
Also known asBanjo Barney
Born(1939-12-16)16 December 1939
OriginDublin, Ireland
Died5 April 2012(2012-04-05) (aged 72)
Howth, County Dublin, Ireland
GenresIrish folk
Years active1962–2012
Formerly ofThe Dubliners

Bernard Noël "Banjo Barney" McKenna (16 December 1939 – 5 April 2012[1]) was an Irish musician and a founding member of The Dubliners. He played the tenor banjo, violin, mandolin, and melodeon. He was most renowned as a banjo player.


Born in Donnycarney, 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[2] 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.

Artistic performance[edit]

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 McKenna

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'.[3] 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, were 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 collected them for the book "An Obstacle Confusion: The Wonderful World of Barney McKenna".

Personal life[edit]

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

In 2006, McKenna suffered a mild stroke, which caused him to lose his sight in one eye, and have difficulty walking.[4][5]

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

Barney McKenna performing with The Dubliners 2010 at a folk festival in Germany


McKenna died unexpectedly on the morning of 5 April 2012 after collapsing in the kitchen of his home in Howth, County Dublin.[6][7] He was buried at St Loman's Cemetery in Trim, County Meath, on 9 April 2012.[8][9] At first it was unclear whether The Dubliners would continue their 50th Anniversary Tour in the wake of McKenna's death. However they soon confirmed that they would "do their best to honour all the concert dates for the rest of the year [2012]".[10]


  1. ^ Dennis Hevesi (11 April 2012). "Barney McKenna, Banjo Player in the Dubliners, Dies at 72". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Harris, Craig. "Biography: The Dubliners". Allmusic. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  3. ^ Lyrics and more about this song: "Apparently before this song went through the folk process, it was one of Vernon Dahlhart's country hits of the late 30s. It went under the title of "The Prisoner's Song" and a snatch of it is used at the end of the Bogart movie, Deadend. Sally Rogers learned this version from Lisa Null, who heard Irish singer Joe Heaney perform it."
  4. ^ "You are being redirected..." www.dib.ie. Retrieved 1 July 2024.
  5. ^ "Barney McKenna, last of the original Dubliners, dies in band's 50th year". The Irish Times. Retrieved 1 July 2024.
  6. ^ Mcgreevy, Ronan (5 April 2012). "Dubliners founder McKenna dies". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 11 April 2012. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  7. ^ "The Dubliners last original member Barney McKenna dies aged 72". Digital Spy. 6 April 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  8. ^ Carbery, Genevieve (7 April 2012). "Dubliner McKenna to be buried in Trim, Co Meath". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 7 April 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  9. ^ Kelpie, Colm (9 April 2012). "Last applause for Banjo Barney". Irish Independent. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  10. ^ "A Celebration of The Dubliners". Archived from the original on 13 July 2014. Retrieved 9 July 2013.

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