A four-year-long story, as it turned out…
A part-time musician and folk singer at the time, Seán Donnelly was a busy man running his shoe shop in Newcastle, Co. Down when his recording of The Homes of Donegal was played in 2010 by BBC Foyle’s Éamon Friel – a man who likes a good song.
Éamon was not alone in that. The song caught Gerry’s ear at the same time, and something about it resonated deep within him and his childhood memories in Donegal.
Striking a Donegal Chord
Seán isn’t from Donegal – he’s from Killyclogher in Co. Tyrone. His father did not die a wealthy man, but left Seán a pocketful of songs going right back through generations – riches beyond compare. Seán’s style of singing spoke to that ancient folk tradition carried on from generation to generation in those northern counties. His soft and unassuming voice, singing those songs was reminiscent of what Gerry had heard during his time at Shandrum from the local singers and musicians – it was part of who those people were. It was part of who Gerry was.
Play it Again, Gerry!
And so it began. Gerry borrowed the CD from Éamon and played the song regularly, so much so that Seán wrote to thank him for the regular airplay. Such was the public demand that there followed a call from Gerry in a desperate attempt to find out where people could buy copies of the CD (all stored neatly under Seán’s bed at home).
One thing led to another, and Seán agreed to visit Gerry at the BBC studios in Belfast to play the song live on Gerry’s show, which he did, once he realized that he did not, in fact, have to read the news at the top of the hour as Gerry had mischievously intimated before he left Seán for a quick cup of tea. A taste of what was to come!
Meanwhile, the song garnered an incredible 70K views on YouTube. Something big was happening.
Tea and Notions in Newcastle
On his return from mass one Sunday morning soon after, Seán was taken aback to find one Gerry Anderson standing on his doorstep waiting for him. Once he and his wife, Elizabeth, had made a cup of tea to get over the shock, Gerry spoke to Seán about a burgeoning idea he had about a touring act featuring Seán’s singing and playing, and Gerry’s readings.
And so Tall Tales and Short Songs was born, with ne’er a script ever written or a plan ever made – each night took on a personality of its own, whether in a theatre, arts centre, or community hall.
The banter between the two performers developed, and Seán (sometimes referred to by Gerry as “Killyclogher” because the placename amused him so) gradually unveiled his sharp wit and rose to Gerry’s challenges and cheeky jibes to the great entertainment of all who came to hear them.
Tall Tales and Short Songs
If you were lucky enough to attend one of those events, you’ll treasure the memory. For those who did not see it in flight, watch it on YouTube for a taste of what it was all about.
The Homes of Donegal lives on, and Seán sings it now as well, if not better than he ever did – listen to Seán singing it on YouTube.
Our Time Together
In 2014 shortly before Gerry left us, he called Seán to say he was feeling much better and that he’d been planning a couple of gigs to happen soon after. All was apparently taking off again, much to Seán’s surprise. Sadly, it was never to be, as he soon found out. He realized then that Gerry’s phonecall had been his dear friend’s goodbye.
Seán’s album called “And our time together” is dedicated to Gerry, their friendship and the times they shared. If you can get your hands on it, do. I’ve got mine, and I’m reliably informed that there are some copies left in the box under Seán’s bed…
Seán’s website is www.seandonnellyfolkmusic.com