By Ger Cody
The death was announced last week of Stephen street resident Johnny Barry. His love and promotion of Irish country music, his easy going ways, his good humour and above all his daily acts of kindness made him a legend to family, friends and fans. Irish country music was Johnny’s true love and passion .
What is it about these singers and musicians that is so appealing to the thousands of fans who pack out halls and hotels week in week out?
Well, there are a few reasons. It goes without saying of course that audiences love them for the quality of their voices and their choice of songs.
After that it is the special relationship that artists have with their fans. The presentation of the singers and band members is second to none and of course time given by performers to their fans at the end of a night’s entertainment is legendary.
It is probably fair to say that although Irish country music and its stars are adored by hundreds of thousands of people the length and breadth of Ireland, the air time allocated to this genre of music on the national radio and television falls short of the expected mark.
And therefore it falls to local radio stations to take up the slack.
And boy they do that in style.
THIRTY YEARS PROMOTING COUNTRY MUSIC
A case in point would be the Johnny Barry show that lasted all of thirty years, eighteen of them on local radio station KCLR.
Johnny was asked to present a thirty minute programme a couple of times a week. “When I asked what I should play, I was told they would leave that to myself. So I started playing Irish tunes by Irish artists and I haven’t stopped since,” said Mr Barry.
“That was twenty eight years ago explained Johnny”,when he spoke to The Kilkenny Observer, earlier this year.
As a young man Johnny was a member of the Kilkenny fire Brigade. He was later to become apprentice projectionist at the Regent cinema, then later at Stallards on Patrick Street. Following the closure of Stallards, Johnny joined Jackie Parle at The Savoy as assistant projectionist.
A love of music was always part of Johnny’s make up and especially Country and Irish.
Today, it is probably fair to say that there isn’t a country singer in Ireland who hasn’t reached out to Johnny to give his or her song a spin on his late night radio show on KCLR.
Having entertained the masses for thirty years, Johnny hung up his microphone last Easter, much to the disappointment of his thousands of fans.
IT ALL STARTED IN THE ARCADE
Johnny’s journey as a radio presenter started in the Arcade on High Street, when along with John Walsh and Seamus Brophy they started a radio station called AMS, (Astra Media Services).
Speaking about his colleague, Radio presenter John Walsh had this to say about Johnny. “My observations are that what made him so popular is the common touch. He connected with the music community, what they like and what they want. It’s been a pleasure knowing Johnny all these years and in a world gone mad it’s great to see people like Johnny holding on to that simple understanding of what real people want”. Mr Walsh said that he was deeply saddened, as all in KCLR were, at Johnny’s passing.
PROGRAMME WAS MASSIVE
His audience numbers were huge and his programme was heard all over Ireland as well as a devoted listenership in parts of the UK.
Of course his hard work has not gone unnoticed. In 2018 and 2020 Johnny was awarded the Hot Country award for his contribution to Irish Country Music.
For a radio station to receive this award twice in three years was some achievement and one which no other radio station has matched.
THE MAYORS AWARD
Recently in city hall Johnny was to receive another award.
For his contribution to Irish music in general and the promotion of Iris Artists, Johnny received the Mayor’s award.
Mayor Mc Guinness congratulated Johnny, saying his recognition was well deserved.
Speaking on the announcement of the sad news, Chief Executive of KCLR John Purcell said; “Johnny Barry was an absolute legend in Irish radio and all in KCLR along with his many thousands of fans in Kilkenny, Carlow and beyond are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of his sudden passing. He was in the station for a meeting during the past week and in great form, discussing plans for the future. We are comforted by knowing that in June he had the opportunity to hear what he meant to people of all ages from all backgrounds.”
Mr Purcell went on to say that Johnny was unique in all that he did on local radio. “Johnny was a man who knew what he wanted to deliver and nothing has ever stood in his way, said Mr Purcell”.
Recently Mr Purcell also announced that Johnny was to be Irish Country music ambassador for KCLR.
RADIO PRESENTER WAS NUMBER ONE
One quick story to finish.
I remember one night of Country music at the Watergate Theatre when the entertainment was complete and the artists gathered in the foyer to meet their fans. We wondered what the problem was, as the singers waited to sign autographs, but there was no sign of the audience leaving the auditorium. I went into the auditorium to see what the issue was and could only smile at what I saw.
The audience of about two hundred were queued up alongside the wall and at the main door signing autographs was none other than Johnny Barry. Priorities, I guess.
In an interview with the Kilkenny Observer recently Johnny was asked what the secret of his longevity and popularity as a radio presenter was. Johnny replied, “believe in what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to show your passion for your work, and stick to your guns”.
And, that sums up Johnny Barry.
Rest in peace Johnny.
Message from Mayor of Kilkenny Cllr David Fitzgerald
“Johnny Barry’s unique music collection and his friendly presentation style endeared him to a huge audience of loyal listeners and genuine fans. I’ll never forget attending his 70th birthday show in Springhill Court hotel where a thronged audience came from far and wide to celebrate with him. Kilkenny has lost one of its great characters whose warmth radiated from the radio. He will be greatly missed. RIP.”
Mayor Fitzgerald with Johnny’s long-time friend and driver, Des McGrath. Des drove Johnny to gigs across the country for years.
Message from Irish country singer Trudi Lalor
“ I was so very sad to learn of the passing of my great friend Johnny Barry. Johnny was such a wonderful friend and a huge support to everyone in the Irish Country Music Family.
This photo was taken in Nowlan Park when I recorded the video for The Rose of Mooncoin which Johnny joined me in,along with the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Team . We had many wonderful days over the years and all over the country at various concerts and shows and would meet regularly for our lunch catch ups in Kilkenny.
Johnny was the first man to play me on local Radio , he was an incredible ambassador for our music and I cannot thank him enough for that …
I only spoke to him on Wednesday and I am deeply saddened to hear this sad news.”