Belfast Telegraph

Barnbrack set for big time again with comeback

By Eddie McIlwaine

The return to the stage six years after their last public appearance will coincide with the 25th anniversary of the summer Alex Quinn, one third of the line-up, wrote the ballad Belfast that had homesick Northern Ireland exiles around the world packing their bags and heading back to stroll up Royal Avenue once again with loved ones they had left behind.

The following year, 1985, Barnbrack took the plaintive Belfast, penned at the height of the Troubles, into the UK charts and toured America and Canada to sing it. They also topped the bill at the Opera House in Belfast.

And planes and boats were packed with Belfast folk coming back for a break after listening to the lyrics and the melody and getting all misty eyed.

“Definitely people who had been away for years were persuaded to return on holiday by my song,” Mr Quinn (58) said.

But in 2003, after the premature death of Mr Quinn’s wife Deirdre, Barnbrack, who had other hits with the novelty song Mickey Marley's Roundabout, Belfast Mill, When You Were Sweet Sixteen and The Old House, called it a day and he and the other two members of the group, Jimmy McPeake and Eoin McMahon, hung up their stage microphones.

“Belfast never went away though,” Mr Quinn said.

“It still gets played on the radio all the time. A friend called me the other day from Toronto to tell me he had just been listening to it on top presenter Frankie Benson’s show on his ZOOMER Radio station.

“The song’s secret is that it was written at a time when the city that inspired it was taking a battering in the Troubles.

“Homebirds loved the picture Belfast the ballad painted and exiles made up their minds without a lot of prompting to come home to breathe the city air again.”

Belfast stayed in the UK Top 50 for several weeks that autumn of 1985.

Jimmy McPeake, who has been restored to health after a heart operation, and Eoin McMahon, who is a technician at Stranmillis College, agreed at once to the comeback and now Barnbrack are poised for the big time once again.

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