Declan Coyne pictured at a singing event in Derryglad Folk and Heritage Museum as part of the South Roscommon Singers Festival some years ago. Photo: Ann Hennessy

Declan Coyne Q+A: Looking forward to South Roscommon Singers Festival

The annual South Roscommon Singers Festival kicks off today, Friday, October 25, and as usual promises a programme full of delights for music and song fans with events, sessions and talks in Knockcroghery, Roscommon town and Kilteevan over the weekend.

Declan Coyne has been of one of the main driving forces of this popular event from its inception, and is looking forward to more great music and song this year with an Irish and international flavour. The ‘I’ll Fly Away’ church concert on Saturday in St Patrick’s Church, Knockcroghery promises to a highlight with gospel and spiritual songs of inspiration, featuring headliners Landless, an all girl, bi-national, four-part harmony group, London duo Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter, and guests galore!

  • First musical/singing memory?

My father was always singing or lilting to himself as he went about his work. I remember him shaving with the cut-throat razor on a Saturday night and he humming Delia Murphy’s, ‘If I Were A Blackbird’.
Then when I was about, maybe, eight years of age, I remember being sent to bed one night when this voice came on the radio and it stuck me to the floor. I refused to budge until it was over – it was the voice of the great sean-nós singer Joe Heaney (Sheosaimh Uí Éanaí) from Carna in Conamara. I could still listen to him all day.

  • How did you get involved in singing groups?

I’ve been going to the Willie Clancy Week in Miltown Malbay for nearly 40 years and it was there I got to know the late Robbie McMahon from Spancil Hill. While I’d have gone there, primarily, to listen to the music, Robbie was the first one to rope me into sessions and he introduced me to a lot of singers and musicians over the years. Then in September, 1991, I invited Robbie and a few more singers from that neck-of-the-woods to a singing session at the Fair in Knockcroghery. It was meant to be a one-off session, but a lot of local and not so local singers turned up and it has been running ever since – once a month in Murray’s in Knockcroghery.

  • How did South Roscommon Singers Festival come about?

The festival came about eight or nine years later. Annie McNulty, matriarch of The McNulty family of New York, came from the next parish of Kilteevan, so we thought it would be nice to remember her and to present an award in honour of her, so the festival was primarily built around that.

  • What are the event highlights in 2019?

The Soapbox & Songs at the Harrison Court on Friday at 3pm and at 8pm, London duo – Stick in the Wheel will be performing. Their singer, Nicola Kearey has an amazing voice. I’m really looking forward to that. The Saturday night concert in St. Patrick’s Church in Knockcroghery, starting at 8pm, will be something special with Landless, Stick in the Wheel and Alice Wylde, from West Virginia, with her husband David, headlining a magnificent programme. The Annie McNulty Award show in Kilteevan on Sunday afternoon should be another highlight. Also Sunday evening’s ‘Landless’ concert; I’m looking forward to that. There’s something for everyone over the weekend – song talks, recitals, concerts and sessions galore – non-stop from Friday afternoon ‘til early Monday morning.

  • Singer you’d love to drop by the festival?

Radie Peat from Lankum and Lisa O’Neill. That would be amazing! Lisa will be with us for the November session anyway and I believe some of the Lankum gang are dropping by on the Sunday of the festival. It would be great if Radie was with them.

  • Your festival highlight to date over the years?

There were many, many highlights over the years, but last year having Grammy Award winner, Rhiannon Giddens, has to be up there.

  • Best thing about a sing song?

Being among friends.

  • Favourite song right now to sing?

Sean Mone’s, ‘Rosalita’ and Jack Campbell and The Last Minstrel Show, are two I’ll never tire of, but the one I get most satisfaction from is the John Keegan Casey classic, ‘Costello’s Lament’ – brilliant composition.

  • Last music you loved?

There are only two types of music – good and bad. I like the good.

  • Favourite place in the world?

Anywhere there’s a good session.

  • Best advice ever given?

Don’t imitate, make the song your own.

  • Three things you can’t live without?

My hearing, my armchair and ‘Alexa’ ..... Haha!

  • What are your hopes and dreams for the rest of 2019?

To continue to see the grass grow – from this side!