Watch: Six generations of Cork singer Margaret Barry’s family heritage brought full circle

Watch: Six generations of Cork singer Margaret Barry’s family heritage brought full circle

At Curraghkippane graveyard, Co Cork. (rear trio) Margaret Barry-Mooney with her brothers Eugene and Ronan Barry and (front duo) John Murphy of Cork Pipers Club and 12yo Eoin Barry seated together to play in the graveyard. Pic; Larry Cummins

A MUSICAL heritage spanning six generations of Cork street singer Margaret Barry’s family has been brought full circle at the grave of her grandfather.

Barry, who sang her way from the markets and fairs of Ireland to the Royal Albert Hall, in London, and Carnegie Hall, in New York, with songs such as ‘She Moved Through the Fair’, was the granddaughter of noted piper Robert Thompson.

A founder member of Cork Pipers’ Club, Thompson won first prize at the inaugural Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1897, but after repeating the feat the following year, in Belfast, he was told his success precluded him from competing for a third year.

Thompson died in 1903 and is buried at Cork’s Curraghkippane graveyard, to which his descendants recently paid their first visit.

Barry’s grandchildren, Eugene, Ronan, and Margaret, travelled from their home in Co Down with Eugene’s son, Eoin, who, like his great-great-great grandfather, plays the uilleann pipes.

Eoin, 12, paid his own personal tribute to Thompson by playing at the site of his grave, in the picturesque cemetery overlooking Cork City.

He was joined by John Murphy, a member of Cork Pipers’ Club, who played the air of ‘The Strayaway Child’, a song synonymous with Margaret Barry, whose RTÉ Radio 1 Hall of Fame Award (made posthumously in 2019) was placed at the graveside.

Robert Thompson was a piper and founder of Cork Pipers' Club. 
Robert Thompson was a piper and founder of Cork Pipers' Club. 

Thompson, who earned money by making funeral plumes for horse-drawn hearses, fell on hard times and pawned his uilleann pipes, suffering further misfortune when the pawnshop burned down with the pipes inside.

A decade later, he returned to playing after alderman William Phair, first president of Cork Pipers’ Club, lent him a set of pipes once owned by the scholar and music collector, Canon James Goodman.

Thompson, who was also an accomplished reed-maker, became a tutor with the nascent Cork Pipers’ Club, after its foundation in 1898, even performing at Cork City Hall.

The pipers’ club connection was further renewed when, during the Barry family’s visit to Cork, they were introduced to Cork piper and pipe-maker, Eoin Ó Riabhaigh, who is the custodian of the Goodman pipes, passed down by Phair to Eoin’s father, Mícheál Ó Riabhaigh.

Margaret Barry in Camden Town, north London, 1976. Picture John Harrison
Margaret Barry in Camden Town, north London, 1976. Picture John Harrison

Margaret Barry’s granddaughter, Margaret Barry-Mooney, said witnessing the connection of her family’s musical heritage at Curraghkippane was “just brilliant”.

“I got such peace up there. It was a lovely setting,” she said. 

“Robert Thompson was born in 1851 and I was born in 1951, 100 years later, and I just thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is brilliant, to have the wee fella playing the pipes like Robert Thompson would have played all those years ago’.”

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