Belfast Telegraph

Heroes of Irish music expected at funeral of guitar maestro and 'real gent' Arty McGlynn

Arty McGlynn and wife Nollaig Casey
Arty McGlynn and wife Nollaig Casey
Arty as a young musician
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Dozens of Irish musicians are expected to attend the funeral tomorrow of Omagh-born guitarist Arty McGlynn, who counted Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel among his greatest admirers and who played with showbands, traditional music groups and Sir Van Morrison.

Arty, hailed as one of Ireland's most gifted musicians ever, died in hospital in Enniskillen on Wednesday aged 75.

Strabane singer Paul Brady and Derry composer Phil Coulter led tributes to Arty, who talked to the Belfast Telegraph less than a year ago about an emotional memorial concert he was planning in Belfast for close friend Neil Johnston, who worked for this newspaper.

Arty performed haunting musical tributes, including The Hills Above Drumquin, at Neil's funeral, which he described as a "difficult day".

The two men collaborated on a song, Wrap It Up, for the group Four Men and a Dog.

Mr Brady said he was heartbroken to have said goodbye on Wednesday to his "dear friend and musical sparring partner". He added: "Rest in peace, cub."

Mr Coulter said Arty was a "monster musician and a real gent" who redefined the role of the guitar in Irish music.

He said he had known Arty from his earliest days in showbands and had played alongside him in Van Morrison sessions.

Former Planxty member Andy Irvine, who's touring in Australia, said musicians loved playing with Arty, who he described as "definitely the number one accompanist of most traditional musicians".

Rostrevor-based singer Tommy Sands said: "Arty's company and accompaniment, his humour and genius was eagerly sought by musicians from piper Liam Og O'Flynn to Van Morrison and back.

"He will be sorely missed by all of us who ever had the privilege of sharing a stage with him."

English folk singer and writer Mike Harding said that Arty was one of the great men of Irish traditional music.

Seven years ago Arty, who arranged and produced a number of albums for major Irish musicians, received prestigious awards from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and TG4 in the Republic.

Arty was born in the townland of Botera in Omagh.

His maternal grandfather was the poet and songwriter Felix Kearney.

By the age of five Arty had already mastered reels on the accordion, which his father played. His mother, meanwhile, was a fiddle player.

Six years later Arty's mum bought him a guitar and that was the start of a love affair which took him to the pinnacle of rock and traditional music.

He began playing with showbands in his teenage years and was a mainstay of the iconic Plattermen before moving onto the Buckaroos, led by singer Brian Coll.

Arty stayed with Coll for six years and, even though the music didn't stretch him to his full potential and he was bored with churning out covers of hits to dancers, his astonishing skills on the guitar started to attract attention across Ireland.

And that's where the poet Brian Friel entered the McGlynn story.

He introduced him to the legendary Belfast singer and broadcaster Davy Hammond, who encouraged him to complete an album on which he had been working.

Arty credited old friend Paul Brady as being a catalyst for his decision to quit showbands after 18 years on the road.

His 1979 album McGlynn's Fancy was greeted with critical acclaim and was acknowledged as having broken new ground in Irish traditional music.

His versatility and his amazing skills ensured that Arty was in huge demand as a session player and as a guitarist with renowned traditional groups and musicians like Enya, Planxty, Patrick Street and Christy Moore.

On social media yesterday, fans of Van Morrison paid tribute to Arty, who played for a number of years with his band and worked on a number of successful albums including Avalon Sunset and Inarticulate Speech of the Heart.

Coleraine musician Clive Culbertson, who once played with Arty on a Morrison album, said he asked the Omagh man for advice about what to expect from the singer.

Arty told him: "You have to listen to what he's doing and then we will play it in a minute."

After the Omagh bombing in 1998, Arty, who was married to fiddle player Nollaig Casey, took part in a concert to raise money for the bereaved families.

A wake was held for him in a funeral home in Omagh yesterday. There will be another this afternoon before tomorrow's Requiem Mass in the Sacred Heart Church in the Tyrone town, followed by burial at St Mary's Cemetery at Drumragh.

Belfast Telegraph

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