Person to Person: I'm humbled by all the friendships in my life

Ray Blackwell, who works at DeBarras Folk Club in Clonakilty, is working hard on pandemic proofing this year’s Clonakilty Guitar Festival, in September
Person to Person: I'm humbled by all the friendships in my life
Ray Blackwell of DeBarras. Picture: Brid O'Donovan

Tell us about yourself;

My name is Ray Blackwell. I work at DeBarras Folk Club in Clonakilty, Co Cork. DeBarras is a 150-year-old Irish pub and independent music venue. It’s been in our family for many years and I’m currently the third generation running it with my brother. I am a founder and co-organiser of the Clonakilty International Guitar festival, now in its 16th year, and I am also a member of The South of Ireland Band Championships committee for the last 11 years.

Where were you born?

My mom is from Clonakilty and my dad is originally from Portlaoise. They both met in the midlands and we lived there for a spell in my early childhood. I was born in Dublin.

Where do you live?

I live in Clonakilty, West Cork. Bang in the middle of the town. It’s a great place to live and I feel very lucky. All the more so during these strange times.

Family?

I’m the eldest of four siblings. While not always, we all currently live in Clon’ which is great. I have a wife, two little boys, and three nephews.

Best friend?

I am humbled by all of the friendships in my life. I’m still best friends with people l went to school with and it’s definitely helped during lockdown being able to call them up and give each other the odd roasting in our different whatsapp groups. I have also made many friendships through working in DeBarras. To still be able to make lifelong friends at this stage of your life is so beautiful and enriching.

Earliest childhood memory?

I remember going for walks with my mam and dad up the Rock of Dunamase in Portlaoise when I was very young. Or at least I have convinced myself of this memory!

Person you most admire?

I have been very fortunate to have a life full of real time heroes and inspirational people. From family to friends. My mom and dad are two of those, as is Eileen Kingston (South of Ireland Band Championships — among many other things). Eileen’s wit, poise, passion, integrity and indomitable determination has influenced me greatly and I am full of admiration for her and all her achievements.

Where was your most memorable holiday?

My wife and I have just celebrated our five year wedding anniversary and we’ve been reflecting a lot on this and all that has happened since. For our honeymoon we went to the west coast of America and had a once in a lifetime adventure driving from San Fran’ to Yosemite National Park and on to the Big Sur down along the Californian coast, ending up in LA — we went from the woods to the weird — it was all wild!

Favourite TV programme?

Ever? Twin Peaks.

Favourite radio show?

The Irish Jam — on Riverside Radio.

Your signature dish if cooking?

I love cooking and have certainly been using lockdown to further my skills in the kitchen. I have been trying lots of new recipes and have loved the comfort and regularity of getting to cook for and eat with my family. My little boy loves sausage rolls and we have had great fun making these together.

Favourite restaurant?

My pal Gavin Moore and his wife Michelle’s restaurant, Monks Lane in Timoleague.

Last book you read?

Billy — a book about comedian and musician Billy Connolly by his wife Pamela Stephenson.

Best book you read?

Not sure about this but gonna say William Gibson, Neuromancer — just because of the effect it had on me when I first read it as a teenager. it blew my mind.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

I just bought Bleeding Heart Pigeons’ new record Stir and it’s brilliant.

Favourite song?

Chris Cornell, Seasons.

One person you would like to see in concert?

The way things are going at the moment, it might just literally be ‘one person’ you’re allowed see at a concert… Billy Connolly.

Morning person or night owl?

Since I was young I’ve always preferred getting up early in the morning. However, at different stages of my life this wasn’t always possible. In a weird way, lockdown has really helped me to get back some sort of good sleeping habits. I defiantly have had more of a regular sleep pattern over the last few months due to not having to stay late in the pub — it’s great to be reclaiming my inner morning person.

Your proudest moment?

Personally, falling in love, getting married and starting a family. Professionally, I’m very proud of the Clonakilty International Guitar festival and what we have achieved for our community with it over the last 16 years.

Spendthrift or saver?

I’m not too bad to be honest, I manage to walk a fine line between both.

What makes you happy?

Spending time with my family and friends. Going to gigs. Watching movies. Playing computer games.

How would you like to be remembered?

I’m not really sure about that, I guess, as a good friend, husband and dad. But outside of the personal, I think I would like some of the things that I am involved in — once they remain viable and relevant — to be continued after I’m gone. That’s my ideological hope, to try to pass DeBarras and the Clon’ guitar festival on to another generation that will maintain their core beliefs of artistic integrity and community and as far as that goes… I guess we’ll see. Alternatively, if you’re asking me for my epitaph it would be something like. ‘so long and thanks for all the fish’ .

What else are you up to at the moment?

Currently we are working hard preparing to reopen DeBarras in a Covid-19 world and also getting ready to add some new elements to our website, www.debarra.ie, which will include archived gigs, video footage as well as high quality live streamed performances in the future.

We are also working hard on pandemic proofing this year’s Clonakilty International Guitar Festival which will take place from September 14-20 — we are going ahead with our festival although it will be very different from previous years and most importantly in line with all relevant NPHET and HSE regulations regarding Covid 19.

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