By John Cleere
The death of Eoin Mac Donald, lover of the arts, shocked the city, as people agreed that Kilkenny had lost a legend. Former classmate and friend John Cleere pays tribute to Eoin
“A pint of fizzy orange please.”
It’s an hour before doors open, but Eoin has arrived and has taken up position. The anorak will be placed on his stool at the back of the venue. Eoins is usually the only stool allowed on the busy nights.
How many shows has Eoin attended over the years? In Cleere’s it runs into the hundreds, plus shows in The Watergate, The Set, Billy Byrnes, Ryans, St Canices Cathedral, Kilkenny Castle and any other venue in town that ventured into the entertainment business. Eoin was primarily a music fan, but was also a regular at opera, classical, ballet, jazz, theatre. Standup comedy is the only format that I can’t remember him attending.
He was a huge supporter of young artists and bands taking their first steps on the musical ladder. Andrew Mc Guinness recalls him attending every “Battle of the Bands” gig in The Zoo Club and giving encouragement to all the young performers.
The Roots Festival played a special part in his life, but he was also a big supporter of the Kilkenny Arts Festival and a wide range of other events in Kilkenny. He ventured further to gigs, particularly in Vicar Street with his great friend, Paul Campion, on driving duties. I remember him telling me about being invited backstage to meet one of his favourites, Randy Newman. He told me behind him waiting to be ushered in were Paul Brady and Bono. I’m sure both of them were wondering who the tall guy with the long hair was ahead of them in the queue.
His nephew, Simon, told the story of him going to London for a gig and passing a driver changing a tyre. He asked Eoin could he give him a hand. “Sorry Billy, I know who you are, but I can’t help. I’d be late for the show.” It was Billy Connolly down on his hands and knees. The show always came first.
Eoin and I attended Kilkenny CBS at the same time. I was looking recently at a picture of our 1968 Leaving Cert class. The smiling Eoin is fourth from left in the middle row, with myself and Gerry Moran, of this parish, on the left in the front. There wasn’t a lot of music to be heard in those days, just the odd programme on Radio Luxembourg or pirate stations like Radio Caroline. Despite the lack of musical events, both live or on TV/Radio, we developed a huge interest in music, none more so than Eoin. When we opened our venue in Cleere’s in the early nineties, Eoin became our biggest supporter. Whether half a dozen or a full house showed up for a play or a gig, you could be sure that he would be there.
I’m not sure when the practice of keeping Ticket No 1 for Eoin began, but this became the norm over the years. All these were kept and meticulously filed at his house in New Street for every show he attended. There was consternation one year before the Kilkenny Roots Festival when some “Ticket No 1’s” were sold before being put aside. The buyers were tracked down and the tickets returned and allocated to their rightful owner. “Ticket No 1” has now been retired and will not be sold at future festivals.
Cleere’s presented Eoin with a “Golden Ticket” a few years ago, granting him admission to all future events in recognition of his support over the years. Warm tributes were paid by Kilkenny Arts Festival, The Watergate Theatre and various music venues also. Pat Crotty from Paris Texas related the story of Table No 8 in the restaurant, which was always held for Eoin and his brother, Dan. A good lunch, a pint of orange and a gig at any venue around town was the ideal day for Eoin. Not a bad recipe for life.
‘Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam dílis’
John And Phyl Cleere opened Cleere’s Bar & Theatre in 1988. The venue is now run by John Holden and Paul McCabe, who have continued to organise a full programme of events throughout the year.
John was among the founders of the Smithwick’s Kilkenny Roots Festival in 1998 and is currently Festival Director. He is looking forward to presenting an exciting range of acts on the 25th Anniversary in 2023.