Hugo Duncan: Live legend Declan gears up for annual sunshine hoedown
Declan Nerney has been part of the Irish country dancing scene for more years than he might care to remember, yet his enthusiasm for performing remains as strong as ever. After 30-plus years fronting his own band, Declan still retains his love of performing, and that's one of the reasons why he is looking forward to his annual Hooley in the Sun, which takes place next month.
For a number of years now Declan, who will be performing at Lola's in the Silverbirch Hotel in Omagh tonight, has led a party of his followers on a continental musical journey, and this year their destination is the Costa De La Luz, Huelva, Spain.
When Declan first mooted his Hooley in the Sun concept, it was treated with apprehension and an element of cynicism.
But over the years many people have come to make the trip an annual event, something which they look forward to with unbounded enthusiasm.
And why not when it is considered that several of Ireland's leading entertainers will be joining Declan in his nightly shows from September 22 to 29?
"The whole idea started from a very modest base, but over the years more and more people have become regulars on the trip to the extent that is now something akin to a club outing," says Declan.
"We have people from all over Ireland and the UK booked to go again this year, and I can't wait for the clock to tick round to September 22.
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"I must say we are looking forward very much to going back to Spain, where there is always a warm welcome on the mat. The folk who come on the trip certainly love their dancing, and we aim to ensure that they will enjoy themselves."
Having just performed at the famous marquee in Drumlish last weekend along with Mike Denver, Declan is in fine fettle and is particularly looking forward to his Spanish jaunt.
"This is always the highlight of the year for us as a band," he explains. "While we enjoy playing here in Ireland, it's still nice to get away now and again.
"We have a great line-up on the Hooley this year, and that makes us even keener to get away.
"We have been enjoying considerable success with our album, Where's the Party?, and we are keen to get back into the studio again to lay down tracks for another album, but we are so busy fulfilling dates right now that this is easier said than done.
"However, we hope to get down to work shortly after we come back from the continent."
Among the artists who will be helping to provide the entertainment at Declan's Hooley in the Sun are Philomena Begley, Patrick Feeney, Gerry Guthrie, Mick Flavin, Dominic Kirwan and Paddy O'Brien.
With a string of hits to his credit such as Stop the World and Let Me Off, The Marquee in Drumlish and Let's Dance, Declan's versatility is well-known in Irish entertainment circles.
Not only is the popular Longford man a highly regarded vocalist, he is also a talented lead guitarist and comfortably fulfils both roles in his band.
His most recent album shows Declan at his most versatile, and it's the reaction to Where The Party? in particular that has made him so determined to get back into the studio again.
"I have tracks swimming round in my head that I would like to lay down, as well as a couple of original songs," he tells me.
"But you can't be in two places at once, so it's on with the dancing and the craic."
Tullyglass ready to roll out red carpet for rising starlet Cliona
Cliona Hagan is creating a big impression right now with her high-energy stage show and bubbly personality.
Over the course of the summer the Tyrone lass has been wooing crowds at festivals up and down the country, and tomorrow night she and her band will be the main attraction at the Tullyglass House Hotel in Ballymena.
When she last visited the venue, she created a huge impression, and that's probably the reason why the red carpet will be out for her tomorrow night.
She may have only been on the road for about two years but Cliona, who is also a qualified teacher, has certainly created a niche for herself on the country dancing circuit.
"I love playing at dances because everybody usually enters into the spirit of the occasion," she tells me.
Cliona will shortly be releasing a new album, but in the meantime she will continue to notch up the miles on the road.
She has enjoyed hits with One, Two, Three, Let Him Go, Let Him Tarry, and Dance On, and she is hopeful of achieving further success in the recording sphere.
Along with her band, Cliona is in demand to appear at concerts as well as dances, and this allows her to add another string to her bow.
She has also made several trips to the continent to appear at country music festivals in places such as Spain and Portugal.
Raining on my parade
I presented my BBC Radio Ulster programme from an outside broadcast unit at Kesh last Friday as the rain poured down.
To say I was soaked through would be putting it mildly, but the weather was to have a greater impact on other parties.
My wife, Joan, and two of our grandchildren were there, but they remained in their car at one side of the stage. Brendan Shine, who was one of my guests on the show, brought his wife, Kathleen, and their grandson along, and they stayed at the other side of the stage.
They hoped to meet up after the show, but such was the relentless nature of the rain that so no one ventured out of their cars - and before Joan knew it, the Shine family had taken their leave at the end of the show.
I found myself changing my trousers for the second time that afternoon as Brendan Shine, Patrick Feeney, Mick Flavin and the other programme guests laughed and joked through it all.
It was a definitely a case of the show must go on.
Michael thrilled to be taking centre stage at Ulster Hall
Michael English will break new ground when he appears in concert with his band at the Ulster Hall in Belfast this October.
Over the course of the past couple of years, Kildare-born Michael has attained considerable status as a concert artist, his wide-ranging repertoire invariably proving a winner with his audiences.
Since going on the road with his present band, he has become a firm favourite in dancing venues throughout the country and now he is preparing to scale a new peak on the concert scene.
Michael's success as a recording artist has helped to bolster his personality, and he is looking forward to performing at the Ulster Hall in particular.
"I enjoy playing in Ulster, where we are always very well-received, and it will be a big thrill for me to play at the Ulster Hall. It is an iconic venue, from what I am told, and I am honoured to be going to perform there," says Michael.
When I celebrated my 65th birthday (very recently!), the affable Michael along with Nathan Carter and a few others popped along to my party and entertained everyone there with his fine singing and superb piano playing.
Naturally, they were accorded a tremendous welcome and since then Michael's career has gone from strength to strength.
He spent two weeks in June on the continent, where he proved a huge hit, and over the autumn he will bring his concert show to many top venues.
He will be supported by Brendan Shine on most of the shows, so that should help to make them an even more enjoyable experience.