"I’m thoroughly enjoying the long days of rehearsing and playing live with musicians and actors again."

We chat to Kevin McNally, Co-organiser of the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, which runs from September 10 to 19
"I’m thoroughly enjoying the long days of rehearsing and playing live with musicians and actors again."

Kevin McNally – Co-Organiser Clonakilty International Guitar Festival

Tell us about yourself:

I am a musician living in Clonakilty, where I help run the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, now in its 17th year. This year’s festival will run from September 10 to 19 , featuring virtual premiers, hybrid gigs, outdoor performances and the guitartown cinema.

I started out as a guitarist playing with bands around Cork city before studying classical guitar and eventually founding the West Cork Ukulele Orchestra.

I am assistant director of the Irish Gamelan Orchestra and teach gamelan and Irish music in UCC School of Music and The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in UL.

I run a community music group in Skibbereen, Gamelan Spreacha Geala, and am currently doing a PhD which tries to develop an ecocritical approach to community music practice.

Where were you born?

Born in Cork and raised in Carrigaline.

Where do you live?

My wife and I live just outside of Clonakilty, where we’ve been since 2007.


Three sisters who all have provided me with nieces and nephews to play with. My parents moved from Cork back to Louth when they retired so I do plenty of visits there where I have a big extended family.

Best friend?

I have a great bunch of friends, I couldn’t possibly choose one above the rest!

Earliest childhood memory?

Probably extended games of make-believe with the cousins in Louth, spending all day walking the fields and coming back to a feast of floury spuds.

Person you most admire?

My wife Eithne. Living with her is a lesson in how to live beautifully with the world and with others.

Where was your most memorable holiday?

Two places: Great Barrier Island off the coast of New Zealand, where we spent many happy months working back in 2006 and dream about returning to. The other place is Melbourne where we have great friends and is the best city I’ve ever been in.

Favourite TV programme?

Twin Peaks without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t obsessively trawl through the episodes for hidden meaning or anything, but the aesthetic of the show has informed pretty much everything I’ve ever produced creatively.

Favourite radio show?

Can we call a podcast “kind of a radio show”? If so, then The Second Captains are my go-to. I love sport, but don’t get to watch lots of it, so they cover it in such a way that I get the all narratives and the all the spectacular theatre of sport, without having to spend my weekends watching TV.

Your signature dish if cooking?

Anything that involves me spending two hours alone in the kitchen pretending to be busily preparing a masterpiece, when in fact I’m having a beer and listening to podcasts.

I also make incredible sandwiches, and that’s not even a joke, it’s one of my best characteristics.

Favourite restaurant?

Monks Lane in Timoleague is a heady mix of great food and the atmosphere of a rural pub, I love it. Special mention for Pilgrims in Rosscarbery too, whose takeaways gave us a reason to dress up during lockdown.

Last book you read?

The Animals Tn That Country by Laura Jean McKay. It’s a sci-fi novel in which a flu-like virus rages across Australia, the side effects of which leaves humans able to understand what animals are communicating. It’s a deftly-written book that doesn’t shy away from the uncanny and terrifying consequences of the premise. I did question why I was reading a pandemic book during a pandemic. I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess.

Best book you read?

Dreamtime by Kerry poet and philosopher John Moriarty. I only understand about 10% of it, and I feel like I’ll be trying to decipher it for the rest of my life, but reading it is like getting jolts of inspiration from another realm. I think Ireland is finally ready to listen to what he was saying decades ago, it’s just a pity he’s no longer with us.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

I just got Ronan Ó Snodaigh’s new album Tá Go Maith on Bandcamp. I love his voice and his willingness to make a groove out of very small pieces of text. The production by Myles O’Reilly pushes him into interesting other worlds too.

Favourite song?

Not fair to ask a musician that! Songs are like old friends – you lose touch and you reconnect over the years but you can never hold one above the rest. If you push for an answer I’ll have to misquote Fionn Mc Cumhaill and say that my favourite song is the Song of What Happens Next.

One person you would like to see in concert?

Not a person but Fir Beag are a local band whose members are some of my favourite individuals, and they just happen to play amazing pop songs. Any chance to see them play is a life-enriching event. They are my favourite boyband.

Do you have a pet?

No, but some day, when I’m responsible enough to have one.

Morning person or night owl?

There was a time when I would have considered going to bed before midnight as a personal failure, but since the pandemic I’ve actually become something of a morning person. Let’s see if it lasts.

Your proudest moment?

Multiple proud moments associated with bringing great artists into our little town during the guitar festival. In 2019, Áine Tyrell and Emily Wurramara from Australia dropped into the girls’ secondary school and played for them. That was one of those moments that make all the chaos and effort of organisation worth it.

Spendthrift or saver?

Sure lookit, you can’t take it with you.

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

I would love to be able to get around more easily without a car and that would mean better, cheaper public transport and more space for cyclists and pedestrians.

What makes you happy?

Seeing a gig in DeBarras, or having a pint with the neighbours, watching the sun goes down in O’Donovan’s bar in Fishers Cross. Getting on the bike and going for a long cycle followed by a dip in the sea.

How would you like to be remembered?

As the person who scored the winning goal for Ireland in the 2030 World Cup final. I’ve never played competitive soccer, but I feel I still have a lot to offer.

What else are you up to at the moment?

I’m currently working with the Irish Gamelan Orchestra to film Gare St Lazare’s production of How It Is by Samuel Beckett. It’s an extremely ambitious project and I’m thoroughly enjoying the long days of rehearsing and, of course, playing live with musicians and actors again. It will be available as a stream via the Dublin Theatre Festival in early October.

For more on the Clonakilty Guitar Festival see www.clonguitarfest.com

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