Belfast Telegraph

Tributes paid as 'The Bard of Cullybackey' John Kennedy dies, aged 91

 

John Kennedy with his family
John Kennedy with his family
John Kennedy

John Kennedy, the Ulster traditional musician and singer who was a musical legend in his lifetime and known as The Bard of Cullybackey, has died at the age of 91.

He was born on August 31, 1928 in the Craigs, near Cullybackey, and was one of four children.

His first job at 14 was with Fraser and Haughton, a local dye linen factory, and he later joined Northern Ireland Electricity, where he worked as a labourer until his retirement at 65.

He was a gifted musician, and early in his musical career he teamed up with the outstanding fiddler Hughie Surgenor, playing at a wide range of local socials and dances.

He was skilled at playing many different instruments, including the flute and fife, the banjo-mandolin and the tin whistle, although according to a family member he "never mastered the fiddle".

He was at home in many different settings, whether fifing on the Twelfth, Lambeg drumming, or instructing marching bands.

He also taught dance at Dunloy and Portglenone Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) classes, which also provided lessons on a range of instruments associated with traditional music.

He was the founder of Craigs Accordion Band in 1974, and won many awards for his singing and playing. These included a number of All-Ireland titles, including at a championship in Clonmel in 1994, just a year after his retirement from his day job.

He also featured in 2007 at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington DC.

In the early years of his retirement, John Kennedy began composing tunes and setting the words of local poets to music.

His life story - John Kennedy: Together in Time - was published by the Lough Shore Traditions Group in 2001.

In a foreword, John Moulden wrote: "John Kennedy is an ordinary man... who has worked with his hands for almost all of his life.

"He is an extraordinary man too, a lifelong musician on whistle, fife, flute, banjo-mandolin, and accordion.

"A teacher of music, a singer of old songs, a maker of songs; a lilter, a composer of tunes, a storyteller-and a maker of flutes.

"He has enormous knowledge of the songs, the music, the singers and the players of his area.

"He knows how the tunes were used. He knows what they mean to the people.

"He has played in flute bands on the 12th July, and he has travelled to Wexford to sing songs from Ulster.

"He is uncompromisingly himself, a passionate musician first and foremost, and he has won the respect of all who know him, in all the aspects of his musical life."

John Kennedy was awarded an MBE in 2006 for his services to music in Northern Ireland.

His eldest grand-daughter Mrs Shirley McCudden said: "My grandfather loved a yarn, and he told stories all the time of where he had been and what he had done.

"There was never a dull moment. He loved the tin-whistle and he never went out without one.

"He was a lovely grandfather, and we all loved him.

"He will be sorely missed."

Mr Kennedy is survived by his wife Moyra, his sister Jean, now 97, his children Annie, Mary and Russell, and the wider family including seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

He is predeceased by his sister Annie. His brother Robert emigrated to Australia in 1949.

The funeral is taking place today at noon in Logan's Funeral Home, Ahoghill, followed by interment in St Andrew's Parish graveyard, Rasharkin.

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