Folksy Gerry’s life in music

Siobhan McNamara

Reporter:

Siobhan McNamara

Gerry Meehan - a singer most of his days, the Drimarone man has lived and breathed music at home and at work, but he’s spread his wings in recent years to writing plays too.

Gerry Meehan - a singer most of his days, the Drimarone man has lived and breathed music at home and at work, but he’s spread his wings in recent years to writing plays too.

Gerry Meehan is best known as Folksy Gerry but the popular Drimarone man is also a writer, actor, songwriter, DJ and shop manager.

His earliest memories are of people calling to the house to share stories and play a few songs.

“One man, Johnny Monaghan, wanted me to play the button accordion. He would call to the house and try to get me to play.”

Gerry’s mother Margret was herself an accordion and harmonica player. His father Anthony was postman for Letterbarrow post office.

“He started off with a bicycle but then got a motorbike. It would take longer to get the post round at Christmas because he got a drop of whiskey in every house.

“The main rambling house was Amby and May Meehan’s. There could be 15 people there, from teenagers to a 90 year old man who came to watch television.

“If there were enough of us, we would play poker. It wasn’t too serious but you could still go home broke if you had a bad run.”

“At home the television was only put on for particular programmes. We watched The Reardon’s on a Sunday night and Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Greene on Monday. Apart from that it was mostly football and snooker.

“My mother wasn’t a fan. She said the television would mark the end of the rambling.

“There was a youth club in Drimarone Hall. We had boxing, table tennis and indoor soccer. When we got older we helped out with the young members. It was a great community to grow up in.”

After leaving school at 14, Gerry worked in Magee’s factory.

In his late teens he taught himself to play guitar.

“Fr. Cleary, the Drimarone priest had started to play too. He encouraged me to keep it up,”

Performing

Gerry began performing with The Shamrock Ceili Band with Rosabel Kerrigan, Tommy Burke and the late Joe Feely.

“They were a traditional ceili band but they started to branch out. They asked me to join them to do singing lounges.”

Gerry joined Glenties group Silver Stars with Charlie McGlynn from Edeninfagh and Patrick Browne from Glenties.

“We practised in Edeninfagh Hall near the Glen of Glenties. It was a popular place for dancing.”

In the 1980’s Gerry began playing on his own.

“I loved the freedom although it was pretty challenging. It was a great time to be playing music. It was around that time that I started to write my own songs.”

In 1984 he opened Gerry’s Music Centre in the Manhattan Arcade. Three years later the business was bought by Sligo man Pat Ely and became Melody Maker. Gerry stayed on to run the shop.

“Games were in cassette form. The main consoles were Commodore 64, Amstrad and Spectrum. It was ground-breaking at the time.

On the way out

“Music shops seem to on the way out. The one thing that sells is Irish Folk and Traditional music. Some people still like to get advice and listen to music before they buy.”

During the 1990’s Gerry played with The Travelling Folk. They split up in 2000 but reformed this year to play the summer season in Rosnowlagh.

“I still enjoy playing,” Gerry says. “In the last two years I have been sitting in on sessions. I get to play with a lot of different musicians and I find that interesting.

“In 2007 I decided to write a play. If it came together, great, if it fell apart it would go in the bin.

“The first time The Tinkerman’s Daughter was read by the Bluestack Players they said “This is good Gerry, but it’s far too long.”

“I put a lot of work into stripping it down. When it was staged I was a bit nervous but it drew in big crowds.”

Barney’s Misfortune was based on the characters Barney and Agnes, who have their origins on Glencoe Radio where Gerry had a music show during the 1980’s.

“Agnes was the cleaner at Glencoe, voiced by John O’Donnell. Eddie Mulligan became Barney, her husband.

“Eddie, John and myself came up with the bones of a sketch for a charity event that was cancelled. I said “I’m not going to let this go” and turned it into a play.”

It was staged in the Bluestack Centre in 2009. Both plays are available in print.

Gerry met his wife Sussanne in Glencolmcille while she was back-packing in 1990. She returned to her native Germany but soon came back to Donegal. She married Gerry in 1994. They ran Bosco House hostel in Mountcharles for a while, then rebuilt on the site of the thatched cottage where Gerry was born and bred.

Folk sound

They are involved in Drimarone Church Choir, formed nearly 30 years ago by the late Cathal Cassidy. Cathal and Gerry played guitar, establishing the folk sound that it still carries today.

The Irish economic situation concerns Gerry.

“I was never a big fan of the Celtic Tiger. It brought a lot of bad things. It would be nice if the economic climate got a bit better but I would be afraid that the money would go to those at the top.”

Speaking of living in Drimarone, Gerry says “It hasn’t much but at the same time it has everything – a place to pray, a place to dance and a place to drink!”