IT’S only the third day of the new year when I talk to Donal Lunny and he is in upbeat form, having enjoyed a pleasant Christmas and made many new year resolutions. “Only a few of which I’ve broken so far,” he quips.
It would be understandable if his upbeat attitude at the beginning of 2019 has been tempered by a feeling of happiness at seeing the back of 2018.
He sighs deeply.
“Well, it was a mixed year,” he reflects. “I think everybody’s aware of the fact that quite a lot of well-loved musicians passed on and that’s a sadness for me. Like Liam O’Flynn and Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and, sure you know yourself. I could go on. Anyway, these people will be missed for a long time to come.”
Describing him as an impeccable piper and a delight to play with, Lunny had been playing with O’Flynn since their Planxty days in the early 1970s. In 2009, Lunny was appointed Artist in Residence at University of Limerick, a post he owes to Ó Súilleabháin.
“I remember having a conversation with him about it and he did ask me directly,” recalls Lunny.
“And it was lovely because we weren’t on the same track, we were on kind of parallel tracks, if you like. Mícheál with his foot in the classical camp and me with my foot in the rock and roll camp as well as the trad, if you know what I mean — call it pop rock camp for me — that our paths didn’t actually cross that much. But I have an enormous respect for him and for his openness as well.”
Throughout 2017 and 2018, Lunny found himself the recipient of so many lifetime achievement awards he might have been forgiven had he thought his own obituary was being written. First there was the Gradam Ceoil TG4 Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, which was followed by the Folk Alliance International Lifetime Achievement Award. And then last year he was presented with the BBC Radio 2 Lifetime Achievement Award Folk Award in Belfast by none other than Van Morrison.
“I suppose people wanted to get me,” he says with a dry laugh when asked to speculate as to why all these occurred within this period. “Not before its time,” he adds with a twinkle.
He describes each one as an enormous honour, but it’s clear the Folk Alliance International award puts him in very auspicious company, with fellow recipients including Pete and Peggy Seeger, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Bob Dylan. Significantly, Lunny is the first person outside the United States to be so honoured.
“There were quite a lot of people I’m sure around the globe who would merit inclusion and I just thought well I know they have to choose somebody to kick off with but I thought it was great that they asked me so I was really delighted. And I got an actual award, which is one of the few pieces of decoration that I have in my apartment,” he says with pride.
Lunny’s appearance at the Ballincollig Winter Music Festival will see the bouzouki maestro join up with old friends Andy Irvine and fiddler Paddy Glackin as well as the fierce presence of Cavan singer Lisa O’Neill.
“I love Lisa’s singing, "declares Lunny “She’s fantastic and she’s a lovely person herself. She really has a powerful persona as a singer. She undergoes a transformation when she opens her mouth to sing. Something happens.
“She’s a true artist.”
Lunny anticipates a fairly lively evening ahead.
“I think Andy suffers more than most artists I know from having to do a short gig. He loves doing a long gig. So with Andy, you really have to negotiate with him to get him to drop one song, because he loves singing so much, and I applaud that. Andy obviously is one of my favourite singers and I enjoy and have always enjoyed being on a stage with him. For me it’s a pleasure.”
Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Paddy Glackin, and Lisa O’Neill perform at Ballincollig Winter Music Festival 10th Anniversary Celebration Concert on Friday, January 25.