A New York rocker recently visited west Donegal places where his ancestors lived more than a century ago.
“It was an indescribable feeling,” Brian Hurd, lead singer with the New York-based rock ‘n blues band Daddy Long Legs, said. “I saw the house where [his great-grandfather] was born and lived in as a child - I kind of saw it through his eyes, a little bit.”
The band played at Teach Hiudaí Beag’s in Bunbeg as part of their European tour, because Brian wanted to explore his family connections. “The place we played would have been his local pub, so that’s even more crazy,” Brian said.
Cousins and other relations, “reaching way back from pretty much every corner of our existence there in Donegal,” as Brian described it, were among those who filled the Gaoth Dobhair pub last Thursday for a cracker of a show.
Brian found the perfect guide in local historian Jimmy Duffy, who met Brian’s mother, Diane McBride of St. Louis, Missouri, when she visited the area, and who knew Brian’s Donegal cousins.
Brian is the great-grandson of Denis John McBride, who was born in 1882 in Arduns and emigrated to St. Louis in 1906. Denis’s parents were Maurice McBride of Ballindrait and Cecilia Boyle of the Carrickfinn Boyles.
“My mother is obsessed and fanatical about her Irish heritage and I’ve grown up with her and my uncles telling stories of my grandfather,” Brian recalled. Daddy Long Legs were also influenced by Irish rock and punk bands, such as the Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Them and Thin Lizzy, and Brian is also a fan of Irish trad music.
“So Ireland’s always been like a mythical place for me,” he said.
Brian mentioned his Donegal links during the band’s Irish tour a couple of years ago. So when this tour came up, the promoter contacted RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta presenter and Cabaret Craiceáilte host Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí, who helped organise the Gaoth Dobhair gig and got in touch with Jimmy.
Brian said Jimmy Duffy was, “something else”.
“He knows every family and every background, every house there,” Brian said. “And he was happy to show us around. It was just great.” Jimmy got permission from landowners for Brian to visit Denis’s old family home in Arduns and the ruins of a great-great-great-great-grandmother’s home in Carrickfinn.
Jimmy has long been interested in history. He recalled as a boy listening to his aunt Mary Duffy, who knew everyone from Middletown in Gaoth Dobhair to Keadue, including people of some of the islands.
“She would go through everybody - who they were and who they weren’t,” Jimmy recalled. “I can only remember half of it.” But the interest in history stayed with him.
Jimmy has set up a web site, rossesheritage.com; and Facebook group, Dúchas na Rosannach, or Lower Rosses/Gweedore History Discussion Forum. He developed an exhibition on Lower Rosses Men in World War I that was on at the Donegal County Museum, and this September, he plans to take history into the classroom in a new heritage in schools project.
“It’s life stories that I’m more interested in,” Jimmy said. “Everybody has a story to tell.”
Brian said he’ll be back. He said the Irish leg of Daddy Long Legs’ tour, including gigs in Derry, Dublin, Belfast and Cork, was memorable.
“The people have been amazing, the response has been overwhelming and we’re just happy to be here,” he said. There are videos of the band’s fiery performances and more on their CDs at officialdaddylonglegs.com, and on their Facebook and Twitter, and on You Tube.
Brian’s mother, who had researched the Donegal side of the family, was “over the moon” to hear of his experiences. “I’ve been talking to her over the phone and she’s been crying for about two days,” he said.