Known as the ‘Beethoven of the Banjo’ Barney McKenna (72) passed to his eternal reward on Thursday April 5 last at his home in Howth, Dublin. A native Dubliner, Barney inspired many of Ireland’s great musicians of the 1960s, among them one Johnny Keenan.
“Johnny and Barney were friends for decades,” said Chris Keenan, wife of Johnny and a long-time friend of Barney. Chris is also one of the organisers of the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival, a festival that took place annually in Longford up until 2011.
She added: “Barney used to come down to the Banjo Festival all the time. He was down here in September and he got up on stage with the Carter Brothers. He was great fun and the world is completely a sadder place without him.”
Commenting on her own personal feelings at the loss of a friend Mrs Keenan continued: “I am devastated. He was so full of life and he was one of the most genuine caring people I have ever known. He was the one Barney – it didn’t matter what a person’s station in life was.”
On a music level, Mrs Keenan joins others close to the former ‘Dubliners’ banjo player in saying: “He was so highly regarded. Always swamped with people wherever he went. Always asked to join artists on stage. He lived for the buzz and loved the American mix of the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival. He was so full of music and knowledge.”
Barney McKenna’s sudden passing came eight days following the passing of another great world-renowned banjo legend, Earl Scruggs. Mr Scruggs, who was known as the father of bluegrass banjo, was also a great lover of the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival.
“I can’t believe that Barney’s passing came so soon after Earl Scruggs’,” said Mrs Keenan.
Barney McKenna was predeceased by his Dutch wife Joka and is survived by his partner, Tina, his sister Marie and his musician brother Seán Óg.
Local Fianna Fail TD Robert Tory gave his sympathies to the family saying: ““I want to extend my deepest condolences and those of the Fianna Fáil party to his partner Tina, his brother Seán Óg and sister Marie.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhílis.”