There’s a plea going out to musicians from all of Ireland’s 32 counties – come and break records in The Longest Traditional Music Session Ever.
The event is being organised in honour of a very special man and singer called John Norton – and to raise money for the hospice where sadly he died last year at the age of 82.
John was a much loved character in his native Armagh in the north of Ireland. He loved to sing and his rich baritone made him a popular performer at his local pub, O’ Hanlons, which has been a mecca for Irish folk music for many years.
John’s popularity spread way beyond his home area. Three years ago he was invited to sing at Pat Cohan’s Bar, the pub at Cong in County Mayo which was featured in the John Wayne film The Quiet Man.
It had been John’s lifelong ambition to perform at the famous bar and he celebrated by singing his favourite song, The Isle of Innisfree.
The event was televised bringing John to a nationwide audience but he was more impressed by the fact that his fans and friends had made the long trip from O’Hanlon’s in Armagh to support him.
John was a very special man who brought up his three children alone after his wife died of kidney failure. It was an enormous task but he succeeded brilliantly as both mum and dad, even after his family home was destroyed during the troubles in Northern Ireland.
His daughter Evelyn explains: “He provided for us in every way possible but sadly fate struck again when our home was hit during a rocket attack on the RUC station in Forkhill village.
“Me and my sister were both in the house but did manage to escape with minor injuries yet our home was destroyed. We were then given a house in Mullaghbawn about 2 miles away and Dad continued to care for us , work very hard and still managed to take part in shows and sing in concerts, clubs, pubs, family gatherings etc.”
John was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer last August. There was little the doctors could do for him and he knew he didn’t have long to live.
Evelyn takes up the story: “He went into St John’s Hospice in Newry at the end of the first week in September. The staff were wonderful. They looked after him with such care and dignity until he died on Friday 5th October.
“He even sang for the staff whilst there during the first week. Strangely, on the afternoon he died what should come on the television in the room opposite him but The Quiet Man movie.
“We listened with sadness knowing his end was near and indeed at 9pm he passed away.”
Evelyn and her family were so impressed and so moved by the care their dad received at St John’s Hospice that they wanted to do something to raise money for it so that others could benefit in future.
As their dad loved singing at O’Hanlons, they came up with the idea of breaking the record for The Longest Ever Traditional Music Session. The current record of 27 hours was set at Ennis in County Clare.
The team at O’Hanlons aim to extend that to 30 hours but they need more help. They’re hoping to get musicians from all of Ireland’s 32 counties to make it a special event in honour of a special man.
The music marathon begins on Friday 3rd June. If you would like to help or take part then please get in touch with Evelyn on 02830888961, or Bernard O’Hanlon at his pub on 02830888284.
For those who don’t know of Bernard O’Hanlons pub in Mullaghbawn, this is how Evelyn describes it:
“For generations it has been renowned in the area and further afield for its great music sessions. People just appear and often there are two or three different sessions going on in different rooms with musicians/singers moving around to suit their tastes as do patrons.
“Bernard himself is a very accomplished musician playing harmonica, uileann pipes, saxophone and tin whistle. They welcome every body …singers, musicians, dancers and patrons of all class, colour and creed regardless and it is an absolute gem of tradition …no fanciness, just plain and quaint but the atmosphere is something never to be found elsewhere.”