Barney McKenna was the charismatic banjo player in The Dubliners.
He was a crowd pleaser – fans loved his sense of humour and his lightning fast banjo picking.
With The Dubliners, McKenna helped to revive Irish traditional music and inspired a generation of young musicians to take up the banjo.
He was born in Donneycarney, Co Dublin in 1939. When he was a child he wanted to play the mandolin but his family couldn’t afford one so they got him a banjo instead.
He taught himself to play and by the time he was 12 he was an accomplished performer.
Folk revival at O’Donoghue’s
After McKenna left school he took on a series of jobs including working as a labourer, kitchen porter and glass blower. He was unable to join the Irish army band because he had bad eyesight.
In the early 1960s, McKenna would often perform at O’Donoghue’s pub in Dublin. It was at a time when there was not a lot of live traditional music around.
It was here that the revival of Irish folk music took place. While he was at O’Donoghue’s he became a founder member of The Dubliners along with Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly and Ciaran Bourke.
Barneyisms from popular story teller
McKenna wasn’t the main singer in The Dubliners but he would sing a couple of songs throughout the show.
He sang songs such as South Australia without musical accompaniment.
He was a great story teller and was very popular with audiences. He had a great sense of humour and often told rather farfetched tales. He became renowned with fans for his ‘Barneyisms’. Some of his most entertaining stories were even collected by band mate, Jim McCann, for a book.