Belfast Telegraph

Hugo Duncan: Hooley fans can thank Brian for pushing Declan centre stage 30 years ago

Star turn: Declan Nerney
Star turn: Declan Nerney
Brian Coll

By Hugo Duncan

Many years ago at a dance in the Seagoe Hotel in Portadown, Brian Coll and the Buckaroos were on stage offering their lively programme of top-class country numbers that kept the packed crowd enthralled.

But although the legendary Brian was very much the man of the moment at that time, given that he was up among the elite Irish singers, he still took time out to help a then unknown vocalist to plant his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder to the top.

That young man was Declan Nerney, who was then the lead guitarist with Brian's band.

As he was beckoned forward by Brian, Declan suddenly found himself in the full glare of the spotlight, with the star of the show temporarily taking a back seat - unheard of!

In introducing the young Longford musician, Brian predicted that he was destined for the top - and how right he was.

After Declan had belted out three numbers on that occasion in the Seagoe, which was then the mecca of country dancing in Ulster, he never looked back.

Today, after around 30 years as a top-flight singer, the personable Declan is putting the finishing touches to yet another 'Hooley in the Sun', his annual week-long safari to the continent which has become a must for many country music fans.

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What commenced as a modest trip with a handful of acts has now morphed into one of the best weeks in the entertainment calendar with hundreds of fans travelling to Spain along with a battery of top-class performers to have what one regular on the trip describes to me as "the time of our lives".

It's to Costa De La Luz, Huelva, Spain that the gang will head come September, and Declan, who was the big attraction at the Bushtown House Hotel, Coleraine, on Monday night, can hardly wait for departure date.

"We put a lot of work into the Hooley and I am so glad that the response over the course of recent years in particular has been absolutely fantastic," reveals Declan.

"We have a number of people for whom it is very much an annual affair, while for others who have come on board in more recent times to sample the week it has been a new experience.

"They have assured me that they have never had a more enjoyable time."

Among the artists who will be entertaining patrons at the Hooley are Dominic and Barry Kirwan, Philomena Begley, Ray Lynam, Brendan Shine, Susan McCann, John McNicholl and Gerry Guthrie.

Declan, who has had a string of big hits including Marquee in Drumlish, Stop the World and Let Me Off, Three-Way Love Affair and Where's the Party, is still performing with the same youthful vigour and enthusiasm that he displayed all those years ago in the Seagoe Hotel.

"I enjoy playing as much as ever and I'm looking forward to this year's Hooley," Declan tells me. "Every year it seems to get better and better and long may this continue."

Declan is also very much involved in the festival in his native Drumlish, which will take place in the latter part of next month.

"It's an event that has blossomed in recent years and we have a top class line-up again this year," says Declan.

Meanwhile, Brendan Quinn, who was a guest on my outside broadcast from Portstewart on Tuesday, tells me that his most recent CD, Tickin' Over, is doing well for him.

Brendan himself, who is now domiciled in Donegal, is certainly ticking over in fine style and he was in splendid singing form down on the north coast.

I well remember Brendan with the Bluebirds band before he moved on and the years have certainly not reduced his capacity for providing top-class entertainment.

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